Newsmakers: 18 Canadian women who blew our minds in 2016

A Trump supporter, a wolf wrangler and a defiant sexual assault survivor are just three of the astounding women who made the list.
Newsmakers: 18 Canadian women who blew our minds in 2016

Newsmakers of 2016

Céline Dion, international super-diva

This year was an emotional rollercoaster for a woman who knows emotion better than anyone. She started 2016 as a grieving widow, having lost her husband-manager René Angélil to throat cancer in January and her brother, also to cancer, two days later. By July, Dion had not just gotten back to her old self, she’d pulled off a youthful rebrand, rocking designer duds and doing a killer Sia impression on late night television to promote her new French album. Now she’s back to Vegas because, as this sweater in her online boutique claims, “The show must go on.” (She deserves a spot on this list for her sweet, sweet Titanic sweatshirt alone.)

Chatelaine's newsmakers of 2016: Céline DionPhoto, Katie Rosseinsky/Twitter.

Kelly Oxford, Calgary ex-pat, author, social media powerhouse

Back in October, when the social media maven heard Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood hot-mic tape, she dropped a simple, angry tweet and went to bed: “Women: tweet me your first assaults. they aren’t just stats. I’ll go first: Old man on city bus grabs my “pussy” and smiles at me, I’m 12.” By the time she woke up, people were sharing their own experiences at a rate of 50 per minute — a sad sign that Trump’s brand of “locker room talk,” and the assaults referenced therein, happen scary-often. So far, 9.7 million women have joined the conversation, supporting each other and sending an overwhelming message that grabbing women by the anything is #notokay.

Newsmakers: 18 Canadian women who blew our minds in 2016Photo, Columbine Goldsmith.


Sophie Trudeau, PM’s wife, activist, yogi, mom

In many ways, 2016 was an extra-sunny year for the perennially sunny SGT. Highlights included a blossoming BFF with outgoing First Lady Michelle Obama and a surprisingly tongue-in-cheek sing-and-dance at this spring’s Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner (yes, there were yoga poses). But amid all the political stickhandling, Sophie also flexed some serious emotional intelligence, advocating for more frank dialogue around mental-health issues in an October op-ed in The Huffington Post, and voicing her (highly controversial) need for nannies in response to her demanding schedule of public engagements. Stay you, Soph.

Newsmakers: 18 Canadian women who blew our minds in 2016Photo, Anya Chibis.

Marie Henein, defense lawyer, feminist agitator

When Toronto criminal defense lawyer Marie Henein wrote a spirited Globe and Mail op-ed, heavy on the woman-power, in response to Hillary Clinton’s devastating election loss — well, let’s say it didn’t land well with everyone. Maybe that’s because, months earlier, the shark-like public face of Henein Hutchison LLP helped Jian Ghomeshi secure not-guilty verdicts on four charges of sexual assault and one of overcome resistance by choking. Many labelled Henein a “gender traitor,” and Peter Mansbridge thought it appropriate to dwell on her perceived feminist treason in a national interview but, as Leah McLaren argued convincingly last March, “anyone with even the most glancing familiarity with our legal system knows, there are thousands of female criminal defense lawyers who defend male sex offenders every day for the simple reason that it’s their job.”

Newsmakers: 18 Canadian women who blew our minds in 2016Photo, Markian Lozowchuk.

Kellie Leitch, Conservative leadership candidate, pepper spray proponent, CBC opponent

The MP for Simcoe-Grey started the year in tears over her supporting role in the “barbaric cultural practices line” but doubled-down on anti-immigration policy in September, when she announced newcomers should be screened for “anti-Canadian values.” Support for Leitch shot up — and so did her populist rhetoric. She’s since celebrated Donald Trump’s victory, proposed the legalization of pepper spray to prevent violence against women and promised to dismantle the CBC. She may not have the most political experience among candidates in the CPC race, but she’s certainly garnered the most attention. 

Chatelaine's newsmakers of 2016: Kellie LeitchPhoto, The Canadian Press/Liam Richards


Janaya Khan, co-founder of Black Live Matter Canada

The activist started the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter with Yusra Ali two years ago, but 2016 is when the group became a household name. Khan led the controversial sit-in that brought the Toronto Pride Parade to a halt for half an hour in July, demanding more funding for racialized groups and the exclusion of police in future parades. Pride TO initially signed on to the demands, reversed the decision the following day, then apologized for a “history of anti-blackness” in September. Khan penned a powerful piece in NOW magazine explaining the tactic, writing: “We didn’t halt progress; we made progress.”

Newsmakers: 18 Canadian women who blew our minds in 2016Photo, The Canadian Press/Christopher Katsarov

Kathryn Borel, Ghomeshi accuser and front-page heroine

A second trial, stemming from a separate, more recent charge of sexual assault, could have followed Jian Ghomeshi’s first. Instead, the disgraced Q host’s accuser agreed to have her former boss sign a peace bond in place of enduring more courtroom fracas. That accuser, later revealed to be ex-CBC staffer Kathryn Borel, stood front-and-centre on the steps of Toronto’s Old City Hall on May 11 and delivered a statement that was both scathing and undoubtedly cathartic. Invoking the more than 20 women who came forward with allegations against Ghomeshi, in that very-public moment, Borel became a heroic figure — whether she meant to or not: “A trial would have maintained his lie and would have further subjected me to the very same pattern of abuse that I am currently trying to stop,” said Borel, standing defiant as she had the last word.

Chatelaine's newsmakers of 2016: Kathryn Borel

The Canadian women’s Olympic team, athletic demi-goddesses

Penny Oleksiak was unequivocally Canada’s breakout star in Rio, but many members of Team Canada’s girl squad graced the podium. Remember our Rugby Sevens’ historic bronze victory over Britain? And rock-hard wrestler Erica Wiebe’s big, bad gold in the women’s 75-kilogram freestyle? And Rosie MacLennan’s soaring performance on the trampoline? Yeah. We’re still crying.

Newsmakers: 18 Canadian women who blew our minds in 2016Photo, Canadian Olympic Committee


Rona Ambrose, interim Conservative party leader, beer pong champ

Her leadership post may be temporary, but Ambrose held the majority Liberal government to account in 2016 — and had a good time doing it. By way of social media memes and clever campaigns (we still want an It Is The Current Year pin), Ambrose brought a sense of humour back to the party after years of Stephen Harper’s sweater-vested stuffiness (we doubt his beer pong game can compete with Ambrose’s). She also tried to make the notoriously white, male party more relevant to women, reminding the Prime Minister in a speech last summer that the Conservative party is responsible for the most significant female “firsts” in Canadian politics (including first female PM).

Newsmakers: 18 Canadian women who blew our minds in 2016Photo, The Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand.

Brooke Henderson, professional golfer

At just 18 years old, Henderson was the first and youngest Canadian woman to win the International Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) major in 48 long years. She peaked at No. 2 in world rankings this year, finishing 7th at the Rio OlympicsAll this earned her a spot as a finalist for the Lou Marsh Trophy, awarded to Canada’s top athlete.

Chatelaine's newsmakers of 2016: Booke HendersonPhoto, Damon Tarver/CSM/REX/Shutterstock.

Joanne Barnaby, wolf wrangler

You’ve got to admire the distinctly Canadian ingenuity of a woman who escapes a wolf by distracting it with a bear. Last June, Joanne Barnaby (left in the above photo) and her dog went out to pick mushrooms in the Northwest Territories wild, not far from where she lives, and realized they had company: a starving, rather persistent black wolf. Unarmed, swarmed by mosquitos and dehydrated, she spent 12 hours warding the animal off until she heard a mamma bear and a cub nearby. She decided to put herself between them and hope the big bear would drive off the wolf. It did, giving Barnaby just enough time to run to safety.

Chatelaine's newsmakers of 2016: Joanne Barnaby


Kim Campbell, Canada’s first female prime minister, Trump critic

Hillary Clinton and Campbell might have shared a rare kinship had the United States elected its first female president. Regardless of the outcome, Campbell emerged as one of president-elect Donald Trump’s most vocal Canadian critics, lambasting his stance on Russia and skewering his cavalier response to those numerous allegations of sexual assault. “One of the things Canada can do is to continue to be Canada, which is not perfect,” she said, “but is a society where so far we haven’t fallen to the depths of tolerating the kinds of things Trump has unleashed.”

Newsmakers: 18 Canadian women who blew our minds in 2016Photo, The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan

Tatiana Maslany, Emmy-winning actress (finally)

In 2013, the Regina-raised actress landed nine roles of a lifetime. Playing a set of cloned sisters in the cultishly loved, Toronto-made sci-fi series Orphan Black earned Maslany Emmy nominations from the first season, but it was only after two consecutive snubs (and much social media outrage) that she finally nabbed the golden statue this past September. 

Newsmakers: 18 Canadian women who blew our minds in 2016Photo, Canadian Press/Nathan Dennette.

Michelle Rempel, federal Conservative MP and immigration, refugees and citizenship critic who won government support for Yazidi women and girls

Rempel is one of the most fearless Conservatives in the House of Commons (also not afraid to say the word “fart” in those hallowed hallways). And this year she proved to be one of the most compassionate. From the moment the United Nations confirmed ISIS was wiping out northern Iraqi Yazidi minorities, Rempel fought to bring women and girls, who were being forced into sexual slavery, to Canada. She described her effort as “pushing a boulder uphill.” But as Rempel well knows, sometimes pushing pays off: In late October, Immigration Minister John McCallum pledged to provide asylum within 120 days.

Newsmakers: 18 Canadian women who blew our minds in 2016Photo, The Canadian Press//Adrian Wyld.


Madeleine Thien, award-winning author

The Vancouver-born short story writer and novelist had a big year: her novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing was nominated for the Man Booker prize and won the Governor General Literary Award and Scotiabank Giller Prize. Thien demonstrates her powerful literary voice in her brilliant latest work. Historical, but full of contemporary questions about migration, family secrets and trauma, it’s a novel that every Canadian should read.

Newsmakers: 18 Canadian women who blew our minds in 2016Photo, Nils Jorgensen/REX/Shutterstock.

Melissa Blake, the cool, collected mayor of Fort McMurray

When wildfire ripped through Fort Mac this spring — forcing the evacuation of 80,000 citizens in a single afternoon — Mayor Melissa Blake took charge. Between coordinating aid efforts at the provincial and federal levels, and reaching out to nearby First Nations communities, Blake (herself an evacuee) stayed resolutely on-message, even in the face of all that devastation: “As we look to the future,” Blake told a packed Edmonton sports arena–turned–evacuation centre in May, “this is still a place of incredible strength, resiliency and vibrancy.”

Newsmakers: 18 Canadian women who blew our minds in 2016Photo, Canadian Press/John Ulan.

Connie Walker, investigative journalist and podcast host

Walker’s deep, dogged reporting and empathy make her new eight-part podcast, Who Killed Alberta Williams?, about the murder of an aboriginal woman along the Highway of Tears, essential listening for anyone attempting to understand the history behind Canada’s estimated 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women. Oh, and as of late-December, it ranked above podcast juggernaut This American Life in iTunes. 

Newsmakers: 18 Canadian women who blew our minds in 2016Photo, Evan Mitsui/CBC.


Sandra Jansen, Former Alberta Progressive Conservative MLA who crossed the floor to join the governing New Democrats

It can’t have been easy for Jansen to stand up in the legislature and read aloud the hateful words fired at her after she left the PC party in November: “Dead meat.” “Lying bitches.” “Sandra should stay in the kitchen, where she belongs.” But in doing so, Jansen shone a light on the misogyny women in Canadian politics deal with on a regular basis. 

Chatelaine's newsmakers of 2016: Sandra Jansen

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