The #ChoosetoChallenge theme for 2021 International Women’s Day is fitting for the following 12 Alberta females. Today, and back into Alberta’s history, there exist inspiring females from all walks of life who dedicate(d) their lives to facing challenges: in their own ways, these inspiring and trailblazing women challenged society, adversity, cultural norms, and/or male-dominated industries. It is from them we can draw a little inspiration to blaze big or small trails of our own, and it is these women to whom we owe recognition.
During the mid-20th century (amidst the Civil Rights movements), Violet King made a long and lasting impression on Law in Alberta, but more notably and more likely, a long and lasting impression on the young black women of Alberta. Violet King was not only the first Black person to obtain a law degree in Alberta, but also the first black woman to do so. She is the true definition of someone who smashes glass ceilings to bits of tiny shards and continued to fight for women’s rights throughout her long career, which eventually took her to work in New York City with the National YMCA Organization.
As the first female airline jet pilot in Canada, Rosella Bjornson paved the way for women across Canada. In fact, after she completed her pilot’s training, her resume was passed over by numerous airlines. This was the mid-1970s, and no female Canadian had ever worked as a jet pilot before. But due to Rosella’s fierce determination, she was hired by Transair. This also led to her becoming the first female First Officer on a twin-engine jet in North America. Rosella paved the way for women to enter the world of aviation in more ways than by simply being the first: she also played a pivotal role in expanding maternity leave benefits for female pilots, and continues to be involved with Ninety-Nines, a women’s pilot organization. She is now retired but has created plenty of inspiration for more and more women in the field of aviation in Canada.
Margaret came to Canada with her husband from Ghana as young woman. In Ghana, she worked as an architect, but found no luck in her job search once in Edmonton with her husband. She took up work at a care home in Edmonton but continued hunting for a job with a firm. In an interview with Arrive, Margaret attributes her ‘light-bulb moment’ for her current business to a client she had while working her two jobs. It was this relationship which helped her realize the benefits of having someone like her, a trained architect, and a trained caretaker, rethink and reimagine how senior care homes are designed. With all of this in mind, Margaret started AOmega Lodges, an organization dedicated to creating a high standard of senior living with as much personal independence as possible for the seniors.
Myrtle Sayers Leadlay
In Myrtle’s early career in the 1960s, she worked as a school supervisor and later a City of Edmonton employee. Through this work, Myrtle saw a gap in the accessibility of parks, sport, and recreation across Edmonton. Myrtle became the director for the city’s camps, hobbies, and nature programs, and thus began dedicating her work to creating recreational opportunities for disabled people in Edmonton. This led to her becoming appointed the first ever municipal director for handicapped recreational services in Canada. Her municipal programs were the first of their kind and went on to create road maps for other cities in Canada for creating such programs.
All the people on this list have kicked some butt in their lifetimes. But Owner and CEO of 5 Elements Martial Arts (@5elementsma), Maeghan Cotterill, has dedicated over 30 years to literally kicking butt. She is an 11-times World Champion in Kickboxing & Karate and runs the largest martial arts school in Western Canada. She is the 2020 recipient of the Women of Inspiration Award and has spent hours upon hours inspiring women around the world: she has spoken at various international events and shared her knowledge on things like self-defence, owning your own business, overcoming adversity and inequality, sexual and domestic abuse, and health and wellness.
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Virnetta Anderson became the first black female elected to Calgary’s City Council in 1974. She came to Alberta in the 1950s when her husband, Ezzrett “Sugarfoot” Anderson, was drafted to the Calgary Stampeders. Before entering politics, she worked with various community groups and co-founded/became president of Meals on Wheels. When she placed her name on the civic ballots in 1974, the media would refer to her as a “housewife.” It didn’t take long at all (obviously) for Virnetta to show the press and fellow politicians what a so-called housewife can do when elected to political office. She played a pivotal role in the development of Calgary’s CTrain and the Calgary Centre for the Performing Arts, and Virnetta stayed heavily involved in and active with the United Way throughout her entire career. Read more about her legacy here.
Muriel Stanley Venne
In 1973, Murial Stanley Venne was part of the first group to be appointed to the Alberta Human Rights Commission. This was an appointment from Prime Minister Lougheed and was largely due to her tireless efforts in the advancement, empowerment, and championing for the fair and equal treatment of Indigenous people, more notably women. She founded the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, hosted two notable conferences focused on empowering indigenous women, and has received several prestigious awards for her work in human rights.
Bertha Clark-Jones grew up in a Cree-Metis household near Peace River and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940. As a veteran of the Second World War, Clark-Jones joined the Aboriginal Veterans Society and advocated for the fair treatment of Indigenous ex-service people. She was co-founder and first president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Clark-Jones devoted her life to creating equal opportunities for women and found that she did not face much discrimination as a serviceperson, from her fellow air force. It was the discrimination she faced after returning home which inspired her to fight for equal rights in Alberta.
Dr. P. Kim Sturgess
As the founder and CEO of waterSmart, Dr. Kim Sturgess, C.M., DSc, MBA, P.Eng., FCAE, has put to use her extensive education, and her vast knowledge of the oil and gas industry in Alberta in order to help large companies safely and efficiently manage their water. Over a long career of serving on multiple boards, as well as serving as CEO to various technology companies, she received numerous awards for her outstanding work: in 2007, she was named as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women; in 2012 she was named Business Woman of the Year in Calgary by Consumers Choice Awards; and in 2015, she was awarded the SCI Canada Medal, and was recognized by the Alberta Science and Technology Foundation for her Outstanding Contribution to the Alberta Science and Technology Community.
There does not exist much about Izena Ross on the internet, but she is archived and credited as Edmonton’s first female city councillor or ‘alderman.’ She blazed a political trail in 1921 upon her election and inspired 30 more women since that time to run and become elected. Civic politics is a heavily male-dominated industry, and Izena challenged this domination. With the 100th anniversary of her facing such large obstacles, the City of Edmonton created Searching for Izena, a local podcast dedicated to unearthing these amazing stories (such as Izena’s) about women in municipal politics.
Dr. Sandra Davidge
As a graduate of the Magee Women’s Research Institiute, Dr. Sandra Davidge has built a career in not only women’s health and medicine, but also in academic research and teaching. She is a Professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Alberta and also heads the U of A’s Women and Children’s Health Research Institute (WCHRI) as their Executive Director. Her research focuses on women’s reproductive health and she has been cited in numerous publications for her important research in this field.
Dr. Neha Chadha
Dr. Neha works as a family doctor in Edmonton, but her practice evolved to take on a specific focus: rapid access contraceptives. Dr. Neha spends much of her personal time advocating for women’s health and reproductive rights, as well as myth-busting for birth control. She is the creator of @morethanthepill, an IG which focuses on providing people with the facts of contraceptives. This page provides a well of credible information on topics like the patch, IUDs, vaginal rings, periods, HPV, PCOS, and other female reproductive issues.
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In 2015, Edmonton was introduced to the superhero it didn’t know it needed. Mable Tooke was diagnosed with leukemia at age 4, and as she fought her own battles with chemotherapy, Mable still insisted she dedicate her time to helping others. She made her wish, through Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada, to become Spider Mable, her crime-fighting, people-helping alter-ego. Her wish was granted, and with the help of EPS, The Edmonton Oilers, and Edmonton’s Mayor, Don Iveson, Spider Mable had her missions, and assisted in fighting crime for the city. Her work did not stop after her wish was granted and instead Spider Mable used her notoriety to spread cheer across the city with acts like delivering Christmas gifts to senior who spent Christmas 2020 alone.
Spider Mable is a perfect example to show girls and women of all ages across our province what it means to blaze a trail with just your generous, kind, or giving spirit. Her inspiring story also hit the big screens at film festivals across Canada in Fall of 2020.
By: Bernadette Gallagher