Herstory 2015 preview: Centenarian Thelma Finlayson

Thelma Finlayson, via Simon Fraser University.

Thelma Finlayson, via Simon Fraser University.

Born in 1914, Thelma Finlayson is a retired entomologist living in Burnaby, B.C. She was the first woman to be hired at Dominion Institute for Biological Control, but when she married in 1940, government regulations restricting married women from public service forced her to retire.1 Later, she and other female scientists fought the regulation, and won.

Her lengthy publishing career extends from 1938 to 2012, and she has two insect species named after her: a moth (Anisota finlaysoni) and a wasp (Mesopolobus finlaysoni).2 She’s spent over four decades volunteering as a student adviser,3 and has received many honours for her work, including the Order of Canada. To read all about this amazing woman, pick up a copy of the new calendar!

At the beginning of July, the herstorian who profiled Thelma had a chance to meet her in person. Kristine Flynn was in Vancouver for work, so she delivered Thelma’s complimentary copy of the calendar in person.

“Thelma Finlayson turned 100 just a couple of weeks ago,” said Kristine of the visit. “I visited her in her condo on the 18th floor of a highrise in Burnaby overlooking the Sky Train. When I commented that her view must be very different from when she moved to the city, she shared stories of travelling around her hometown in Ontario by horse and buggy and her first rides in her father’s motorcar.

“She is a delightful person who insisted on giving me a big hug on my way out. After researching her life and interviewing her by phone, it was like meeting a celebrity. I had a giant smile on my face for the rest of the day. It was a wonderful experience and one that would not have been possible without Herstory.”

While Herstory focuses on the many amazing women who have made a difference in Canada, the calendar is also a fantastic experience for the people who are involved in producing it!

1 Finlayson, Thelma. Interview with Simon Fraser University, July 2011. http://youtu.be/zFkvHe9XGLc
2 Western Front Insect Work Conference, “Photos from the WFIWC Archives: WFIWC — General.” http://www.fsl.orst.edu/wfiwc/admin/history/general-2.htm
3 “Finlayson made the twice-weekly post-retirement trips to campus — by taxis when she could no longer drive — until [2009] when, at 95, she was no longer physically able to do so.” Simon Fraser University.

Posted in 2015, British Columbia, Ontario | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

From the archives: Judy LaMarsh (Herstory 1977)

Judy LaMarsh, via the Niagra Falls Public Library.

Before her entry into politics, Judy LaMarsh had trained as a teacher, mastered drafting and the Japanese language while in the army, and had realized her life-long ambition to become a lawyer. Her ability won her the Minister of Health and Welfare portfolio after the 1963 election. During the next eight years, her determined leadership ensured the passage of the Canada Pension Plan. Canadians can be grateful to Judy for single-handedly persuading the Cabinet to hook the pension plan to an index, and to lower the eligibility for old-age security payments to age sixty-five. Ms. LaMarsh is also responsible for the introduction of Youth Allowances, and for organizing the framework for the National Medical Insurance Plan.

Judy LaMarsh

Art work used as the cover of Judy LaMarsh’s biography “Memoirs of a bird in a gilded cage,” via the Niagra Falls Public Library.

She instigated the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. Women’s groups across the country, organized by Mrs. Laura Sabia, were so enthusiastic in their response to the idea of such a commission that Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson reluctantly agreed to it and asked Judy LaMarsh to appoint its officials.

Judy LaMarsh wrote Memoirs of a Bird in a Gilded Cage after she left the “parliamentary fishbowl,” wiser, very tired, and much poorer than when she entered it, but with a bright vision of finally being able to run her own life. A ten-day trial convinced her that managing a cosmetics firm was not for her. She made the same decision when she left the CBC in April 1976. Besides practicing law, she now teaches law at Osgoode Hall, and has many other interests. She has leisure to enjoy friends and her home. Hers is a success story. She tried the rat-race, did very well, and has had the courage to choose instead to live her life in her own style.

Judy LaMarsh

This postage stamp issued in 1997 commemorates Judy LaMarsh’s public service. Via The Canadian Museum of History.

In December 1979, Judy was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. She was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada at her hospital bed in July 1980. She died on October 27, 1980, aged 55. At her funeral, she had six female pallbearers, including Edith Druggan and Florence Rosberg of Niagra Falls, broadcaster Barbara Frum, B.C. Judge Nancy Morrison, lawyer Pamela Verill Walker, and Doris Anderson, president of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women. (Wikipedia).

Posted in 1977, From the archives, Ontario | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

From the archives: Ellen Neel (Herstory 2012)

Ellen Neel, via theCanadasite.com.

Ellen Neel, via theCanadasite.com.

Ellen May Neel was the first and most famous female carver of West Coast totem poles. She was born in 1916 at Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Her parents were Charles Newman, an American sailor, and Lucy James, daughter of the famous Kwakwaka’wakw totem pole carver, Charlie James. From an early age, Ellen learned to draw and carve at her grandfather’s side and, as a youngster, made small totem poles for tourists at Alert Bay.

Ellen married Edward Neel and they had six children. In 1943, the family moved to Vancouver. When Edward suffered a stroke and was unable to work full-time, Ellen and her children began carving mini totem poles in the Kwakwaka’wakw tradition for tourists. Realizing the popularity of their craft, the City of Vancouver provided them with a workshop in Stanley Park.

Ellen was commissioned to restore damaged totem poles and to carve full-size totem poles such as the Thunderbird Pole in Stanley Park, which she carved in 1955 for the Woodward’s department store. As the popularity of her mini totem poles grew, the art community began to debate the artistic merits of the modern craft, some contending that only the traditional full-size totem poles warranted attention. Ellen strongly countered that misconception in an address at the University of British Columbia in 1948:

Our art continues to live, for not only is it part and parcel of us, but can be a powerful factor in combining the best part of Indian culture into the fabric of a truly Canadian art form…. Were it not for the interest created by the tourist trade, the universities and the museums, we would no longer have any of our people capable of producing this art.1

In 1961, her son and protégé David, died in a car accident. Ellen’s physical and mental health deteriorated. Unable to pull herself out of poverty (and having been denied a Canada Council grant), her caving tools and family heirlooms were sold for cash. She died in Vancouver in February 1966 of ill health and was laid to rest in the Kwakwaka’wakw cemetery in Alert Bay.

“To me, the art is a living symbol of the gaiety, the laughter and the love of colour of my people – a day-to-day reminder that even we had something of glory and honour, before the white man came.” – Ellen Neel, 1948

"Kaka'solas" by Ellen Neel Stanley Park, Vancouver, B.C., via Cathedral Grove.

“Kaka’solas” by Ellen Neel
Stanley Park, Vancouver, B.C., via Cathedral Grove.

Kramer, Pat. Totem Poles. Canmore, Alberta: Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd., 2004.
Neel, Ellen. Address at University of British Columbia, April 1948. Website: http://www.neel.org/2008/04/10/the-words-of-ellen-neel-april-1948.
“Totem Pole Carver Ellen Neel 1916-1966.” The Great Canadian Website.
1. Neel.

Posted in 2012, Art, British Columbia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

From the archives: Violet McNaughton (Herstory 1974)

Violet McNaughton, via The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan.

Violet McNaughton, via The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan.

Violet McNaughton came to Canada in November 1909 to join her father, William Delamark Jackson, who was farming in Saskatchewan. For a year she lived in a sod hut on the prairie, sleeping at night in a room which served also as a granary.

Following her marriage to John McNaughton in 1910, she became involved in the Grain Growers Association, and believing that farm wives should share benefits of the organization, she formed, in 1914, the first Women’s Grain Growers’ Association and became its first president.

Two significant achievements of the farm women under her leadership were giving leadership to the movement for woman suffrage, and conducting a campaign for medical aid throughout the province, resulting in the establishment of the present union hospitals.

She was a well known and widely read newspaper columnist as women’s editor of the Western Producer and one of the original signatories of the charter which established the Progressive Party in Saskatchewan.

She was a Canadian delegate to the Congress at Prague held by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and was called to Ottawa during the Great War to act in advisory capacity with respect to the conservation of Canada’s natural resources. As western vice-president of the Canadian Council of Immigration of Women and Children, she worked to establish women’s hostels throughout the dominion. About the same time she assisted with the organization of farm women in Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario, and in 1918 became the first president of the Women’s Section of the Canadian Council of Agriculture.

In 1934, Violet McNaughton was honoured by King George V for her services to the welfare of rural women with the conferral of an Order of the British Empire.

Posted in 1974, From the archives, Saskatchewan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Herstory 2015 hot off the press!

Herstory 2015 cover

The Saskatoon Women’s Calendar Collective received its copies of the 2015 issue of Herstory: The Canadian Women’s Calendar today! The beautiful cover art is by Iris Hauser; see more of her work at http://www.irishauser.ca.

Posted in 2015, Art | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Remembering Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014)

Maya Angelou, poet and author, died May 28, 2014, at age 86. The American activist was best known for her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but she was a prolific and celebrated writer, with a career spanning 50 years.

Posted in American, News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

From the archives: Akua Benjamin (Herstory 2007)

Akua Benjamin, via University of Windsor.

Akua Benjamin, via University of Windsor.

“Why don’t we have social workers at the airport? The need is so great, considering that a large majority of immigrants and refugees arrive in Toronto, yet there are no social workers attached to immigration.” – Akua Benjamin, 2005.

Akua Benjamin, born as Lorna Benjamin, spent her early years in Trinidad, volunteering with community and church organizations, helping women in prisons and children with disabilities. Dr. Benjamin is currently the director of the School of Social Work at Ryerson University and is a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize nominee for the 1000 Women of Peace Project.

Akua explains, “I look at the world through the prism of social work. That’s who I am, that’s who I’ll always be. You become a social worker because you want to reduce human suffering. It’s not for the money, it’s not for the status.”1

Akua immigrated to Canada in 1969, right “in the middle of the radical ferment in Toronto’s black community.”2 During this time of civil rights activism, when “Blacks were reclaiming their identity… she took on the Continental African name, [Akua], which means girl born on Wednesday.”3 In the early 1980s, she received her PhD in social work from the University of Toronto and began teaching at Ryerson in 1988.

Over the past 30 years, Akua has worked as a grassroots and academic leader. Early in her career, she did “outreach to women of colour in about thirteen communities.”4 She was president of the Congress of Black Women (Toronto chapter), and a founding member of the Coalition of Visible Minority Women. Her community and academic work addressed poverty, oppression and discrimination at local and national levels.

Dr. Benjamin describes her experience at the 2001 UN Conference on Racism: “I learned… that you cannot take up the issues of difference, whether it be race, gender or poverty, without a process of healing.” Applying this to her earlier years, she explains “there was shared responsibility for the tasks, but not for our healing…. we never recognized sufficiently how we ourselves need to heal from all the history of difference that has dvided us.”5

Currently, Akua is working on a five-year study examining the impact of violence and racism on the health and wellness of African-Canadians. As Ryerson’s director of social work, she pushes the field beyond traditional areas and moves it into visible facets of society.

Thanks to Dr. Benjamin and to Brian Cameron for their generous assistance.
Ontario Association of Social Workers (OASW) website. “Profile: Akua Benjamin.” “Celebration of Social Work Week: Profiles of social work leaders.” 2005.
Rebick, Judy. Ten Thousand Roses: The making of a Feminist Revolution. Toronto: Penguin, 2005.
University of Windsor, Advancement and Women’s Studies departments. “Distinguished visitor in women’s studies – Akua Benjamin.”
2. Rebick, 9.
3. University….
4. Rebick, 136.
5. Rebick, 140.

Posted in 2007, From the archives, Ontario, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,