Never underestimate the power of a person with a dream. The women featured in this list have found the drive to reach the pinnacle of their athletic success, the realms of outer space, beyond the glass ceiling and into the hearts of young people who will follow in their paths. For many of them, there is so much more to come.
Best known as Canada’s first woman in space after a mission on board the shuttle Discovery in 1992, Roberta Bondar had accomplished so much more than one voyage into the heavens. To earn a spot on the NASA flight, she earned degrees in neuroscience and medicine, then stayed with the agency as its head of space medicine for more than a decade.
From Earth, she and her team studied data from astronauts returning from missions, building on the understand on how the human body recovers from gravity-fee environments. She started her own foundation in 2009 to reflect “sense of awe, respect and appreciation for other life forms that share our planet” that she acquired while orbiting the plant.” She served as chancellor at Trent University and continues to inspire with her nature photography.
In 2011, Bondar received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame, a fitting tribute to a woman who once shot up into the stars.
The Law Society of Ontario’s youngest elected board member, Lewis shot to public view as she acted pro bono for the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers to fight systemic racism at the Supreme Court. She argued for peremptory challenges, a motion in which a defendant or the Crown attorney can exclude a juror without explanation, weeding out jurors with a potential racial bias. Even though she was unsuccessful, Lewis already has racked up a number of wins and not just in the courtroom. In 2019, she was named one of Lexpert’s Rising Stars: Leading Lawyer Under 40. The year before, she earned an Arbour Award in recognition of her outstanding volunteer contribution. Outside of work, she is an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and lectures on litigation strategy. At the Law Society, she is a champion of equity and diversity within the legal profession, serving as vice-chair of the Equity and Indigenous Affairs Committee.
The issue of intimate partner violence has gone under more public scrutiny since the release of Attiya Khan’s ground-breaking documentary, A Better Man. In the film, Attiya shares her personal experience where she reconnects with her abusive ex-partner to illuminate her survivor experience. She co-wrote and directed the film which asks tough questions that have rarely been asked in this format. Khan is painstakingly honest about how she entered an abusive relationship at age 16 and escaped two years later. She explores why men exercise control using violence and what happens when they take responsibility for their actions. The interactive production, It Was Me, was nominated for a Canadian-Screen Award based on six men’s personal stories about overcoming their past behaviour to form healthy, caring relationships.
Dr. Samantha Nutt
After more than two decades on the front line of many of the world’s major crises, in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Darfur, Samantha Nutt has become a leading authority on current affairs, war, international aid, and foreign policy. A physician and founder of the internationally renowned non-profit War Child, she understands and can explain why wars begin, why they continue and how to prevent children from having their lives destroyed. When back in Canada, Nutt works at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto and as an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto. Her experiences have been captured in Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies, and Aid, a harrowing and raw look at her work in some of the most war-torn regions of the world. She speaks out regularly about the impact of war on children and families, in hopes of educating advocates and leaders to stop wars before they begin. She has been recognized as a Young Global Leader by World Economic Forum and was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2011.
While Greta Thunberg has been recognized for her environmental advocacy, this teenager has done just as much impactful work. The Anishinaabe water-rights advocate has been nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2017, 2018 and 2019, at age 13, 14 and 15. Autumn Peltier is a world-renowned youth environmental champion based out of Manitoulin Island. In 2019, as a teenager, Peltier was appointed Chief Water Commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation and has spoken about the devastating legacy of contaminated water on First Nations Reserves in Canada at the United Nations.
Autumn Peltier has a lengthy list of awards, each as impressive a the other: Ottawa Riverkeeper Award, 2018; Water Warrior Award at the Water Docs Film Festival in Toronto in 2019; Young Leader Award, Ontario Municipal Social Services Association Award in 2019; Top 30 under 30 in North America for Environmental Education making a difference, 2019.
The founder and CEO of Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT), Longmore is a champion for technology-driven, community-owned, and youth-led solutions in rapidly developing parts of the world, including Africa and Canada’s First Nations. She believes passionately in the power and potential of youth and technology and has created an army of young leaders who are making changes as digital social innovators wherever they live. She treats her proteges as “an untapped source of creativity, energy, and talent.” DOT has developed a global network of youths who are solving local challenges, starting their own enterprises, and creating employment. Within the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Emerging Multinationals, she fosters skills and talent within young people so their voices are heard in global dialogues. Longmore was named a Trailblazer and Trendsetter by the Women’s Executive Network Top 100 Women in Canada (2012) and earned the Meritorious Service Cross by the Governor General of Canada in 2016.
Camille Orridge makes sure everyone gets support to connect with health services, no matter their background or native language. While with the Toronto Central Local Health Integrated Network, she focused on educating others and implementing health equity. She launched Language Services Toronto, a phone service for patients in Toronto who don’t speak English well. This made a remarkable difference to their ability to get the healthcare they needed. She followed up with the Resource Matching and Referral Program and the Integrated Client Care Project to ensure quick access to medical care and adequate supports so families could get support in services that also contribute to their well-being, such as housing and food. This built on her insights from her career as CEO of the Toronto Central Community Care Access Centre where she improved services for seniors and started Pathways to Education to keep teenagers in school.
Sara’s experience as a war survivor and a newcomer to Canada has inspired her to help others settle in and succeed in their new homeland. She is the founder and Executive Director of The Newcomer Students’ Association, a grassroots, membership-driven organization focused on issues related to migration, education, and social justice. In 2020, Sara took the organization to a new level, pushing its members into more political action and civic engagement. In doing so, she empowered more immigrant women to speak up and leverage their experiences to help others. This made the association an even stronger platform to promote equity and inclusion. She has never forgotten the trauma and violence she witnessed in Palestine. Yet she channels it in her volunteer work and her role as Manager of the Sister2Sister Program at Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto.
This golfer started wowing the world as a teenager and consistently dominates in the sport she discovered while living in Smiths Falls. In fact, Brooke Henderson is not only the Canadian golfer with the most PGA and LPGA titles, but she has also amassed more titles than any other Canadian athlete. And she is only 23. She started putting at age three and has been an ambassador for the sports since winning her first major in 2016 at age 18. A fan favourite, she won the inaugural People’s Choice Award by Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, while her LPGA peers voted to give her the Founders Award, as someone who embodies the spirit at that level of the sport.
If you believe in supporting local businesses, then you will relate to Ali. After seeing businesses struggle in November 2020 after months of off-and-on lockdowns, she plucked the names of 50 Toronto entrepreneurs and their stores out of her head and posted the list to social media. As the former head buyer for Sonic Records, she knew what retailers needed to survive: being top of mind for customers. And it worked!
After the initial flood of interest, she ramped up her game with Not-Amazon.ca, encouraging people not to default to a retail giant but to neighbourhood stores with local employees. She empowered consumers to find what they needed, including deliberately supporting BIPOC entrepreneurs, via a digital directory of more than 4,000 independent businesses across Canada.
Cassie Myers envisions a world where you never have to wonder what would happen if a person of a certain gender or skin colour would have an equal opportunity or not. And she has worked extremely hard to achieve that goal from her university studies right up to her career and volunteer work. She studied peace and conflict at the University of Waterloo, then turned her attention to hosting young girls at hackathons where they focused on finding solutions to problems.
Next, she founded and leads Lunaria, a software company that customizes programs so companies cannot say they lack the tools – such as audits, program evaluations and management plans — to inform them about diversity, equity and inclusion. She remains “passionate about Black rights, accessible spaces and helping companies showcase the power of inclusion+equity,” according to her LinkedIn page. Outside of work, she volunteers at the Sexual Assault Support Centre in Waterloo Region and coaches a Technovation team.
It’s a refreshing change to see a woman behind a sports desk, especially when she has a high-profile job like Kayla’s. She was an award-winning journalist long before she earned a spot as an anchor for SportsCentre on TSN. When she debuted as the show’s co-host, she became the first Black woman to hold such a job at a flagship sports-highlight show in Canada. She found herself right in the spotlight when she was covering the Toronto Raptors when they won the NBA Championship in 2019. Kayla has addressed slurs in sports media, confronting the racism in locker rooms and in male-dominated media. Despite her haters, she stands her moral ground as an advocate for inclusion and systemic change, plus a role model for other would-be sports reporters and anchors.
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