Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015

It was a big year for Canada: The federal election resulted in a new prime minister, the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games were a big success, women's issues received major media coverage and Alanis Morissette updated the lyrics to "Ironic." And at the centre of it all were strong, determined women. Here are 30 of them.
Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015

Women of the Year 2015

Tameera Mohamed, Nadia Mohamed and Alysha Brilla

For standing up for their right to bare breasts: What started as an innocent doffing-of-tops on a long summer bike ride in Kitchener-Waterloo became a moralizing traffic stop when a police officer told the three sisters to cover up. Thing is, it's completely legal for women to go topless in Ontario. The sisters — each social justice activists in their own right — not only challenged the force's decision to stop them, they organized a protest the following weekend to draw attention to the clash between personal rights and what society considers "decent" for women.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, courtesy of Tameera Mohamed.

Morgan Bird

For making a splash at the Para-Pan Am Games: Of the whopping 91 medals Canada’s aquatic athletes nabbed at August’s Parapan Am games in Toronto, three of those belong to Morgan Bird — two golds in the women’s 400- and 50-metre freestyles, and a silver in the women's 100-metre freestyle. The Calgary native, who has cerebral palsy, was reportedly stunned by her success, but Canadians were just plain impressed.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Nathan Denette/Canadian Press.

Dr. Molly Shoichet

For winning mad science accolades: This University of Toronto research rock star won this year’s L’Oreal’s UNESCO Women in Science Award for studying how regenerative particles, such as stem cells, can help restore brain and nerve connections damaged by stroke, spinal cord injury and blindness. She also co-founded Research2Reality, a social media campaign to highlight the unsung work of Canada’s researchers. The Shoichet Lab’s official motto — “Solving Problems Together” — shows this superstar brainiac is wise to the real key to success.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Brigitte Lacombe.

Rinelle Harper

For being the picture of resilience: Make no mistake — Rinelle Harper is a fighter. Following a brutal sexual assault in November 2014, the 17-year-old Manitoban returned to school within two weeks, rallied after her childhood home burned down earlier this year, and shared her story of survival with 16,000 youth attendees at Winnipeg’s WE Day celebrations. Now an outspoken advocate for youth education, Harper is courage personified.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Colby Spence/WE Day.

Katie Telford

For steering Trudeau to victory: An unabashed lover of numbers and pie charts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former campaign co-chair can probably appreciate the late-breaking, gobsmacking Liberal sweep that resulted in the party’s October’s election victory. Telford’s smarts, savvy and hard work obviously paid off. That’s “Ms. Chief of Staff” to you, Canada.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press.

Rachel Notley

For her orange crush: Not only did Alberta Premier Rachel Notley lead the NDP to its first provincial majority in more than 44 years, but her caucus has the most female reps in any Canadian legislature. But that high-profile position has left her vulnerable to criticism: In early December, Notley was on the receiving end of death threats following Bill 6’s farming reforms. (For her part, Notley is keeping calm and carrying on with legislation planning, saying, "​We will do so with opponents who are angry or not angry … because that's what good governance looks like.") Haters aside, Notley’s also demonstrated her wry sense of humour with "Notley Crue" campaign tees and a Star Wars–themed voting reminder to constituents. May the force be with her.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Dave Cournoyer/Wikimedia Commons.

Shauna Hunt

For shutting down #FHRITP bros: While covering a Toronto FC game for CityNews back in May, reporter Shauna Hunt became a target of the #FHRITP craze — easily one of the year’s grossest showings of viral misogyny. But instead of plastering on a telegenic perma-grin as men taunted her, Hunt excoriated her trolls for their “disrespectful and degrading” conduct on live TV. Kudos to her for making good use of her microphone.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, CityNews.

Eugenie Bouchard

For handling "twirl-gate" like a champ: "Can you give us a twirl?" asked an Aussie television presenter minutes after the Montreal-born tennis phenom crushed her competition at the Australian Open. Bouchard’s jaw dropped before she hesitantly complied. But when the Internet rushed to her defence, the laser-focused 20-year-old kept her eye on the game, telling a news conference: "I don't know, an old guy asking you to twirl. It was funny." By which she meant "archaic," but she was too busy playing tennis to say more.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Matthew Stockman/Getty Images.

Ashley Callingbull

For using her crown as a megaphone: Callingbull didn’t just shred the pageant queen stereotype upon winning Mrs. Universe in Belarus this fall — she became a real force for change on First Nations issues in Canada. The 26-year-old urged First Nations people to vote out Stephen Harper; this election, indigenous Canadians voted in record numbers. Best of all, she’s focused on empowering other indigenous kids with her story of resilience. (Read Chatelaine's profile of Callingbull here.)

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Raina + Wilson.

Carly Rae Jepsen

For casting Tom Hanks (!) in her music video: You may remember Carly Rae Jepsen from such catchy ditties as 2012’s “Call Me Maybe,” but the musical Canadian’s earworm industrial complex just keeps expanding. Not only has her most recent album, Emotion, been lauded by even the stodgiest of critics, but Jepsen even commissioned the lesser-known lip-syncing skills of none other than Tom Hanks for the video for her effusive single “I Really Like You.” So much yes.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Joe Bielawa/Wikimedia Commons.

Zunera Ishaq

For fighting the feds — and winning: On Oct. 5, 2015, Zunera Ishaq stood in a government building in a cream-coloured niqab covered in roses and took her oath of citizenship. It was the sweet end to a protracted court battle with Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, which wanted to keep her from wearing a niqab as she became a Canadian citizen (the Federal Court of Appeal sided with Ishaq). Fourteen days later, Harper lost his bid for re-election, the nation not fully supportive of his plan to keep fighting for a niqab ban if given another term. Ishaq's win showed Canada the real payoff of standing up for your rights.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Vince Talotta/Toronto Star/Getty Images.

Monica Adair

For being named Canada’s top architect: In a province that boasts just 11 architects under age 40, 37-year-old New Brunswick native Monica Adair has built a pretty impressive resume for herself — in addition to notable projects, like Fredericton’s Picaroon Microbrewery. That vision was rewarded in June, when Adair received the prestigious Young Architect award from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. She also devotes her time and skills to projects close to her heart, if not close to home: Next on Adair’s to-design list is an orphanage and women’s community centre in southern Uganda.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Mike Capson.

Michelle Rempel

For being fearless on social media: In the flurry of speculation over the next leader of the Conservative party, this MP for Calgary Nose Hill threw her hat into the ring in a decidedly 2015 fashion. In a series of tweets, she illustrated the uphill battle for women in leadership: “I am competent, proven, and ready. Here's the question - are you ready for someone like me?” and, anticipating her critics, “But but but but she's so YOUNG and [served] ONLY FOUR YEARS and SO BOSSY.” That 35-year-old, now immigration critic handling the Syrian refugee file, demanded (and received) an apology from immigration minister John McCallum for saying she should have been more cheerful when challenging him during Question Period. That’s not bossy — that’s just boss.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Wikimedia Commons.

Lia Valente and Tessa Hill

For championing the importance of consent in sex-ed: Ontario’s revamped sex-ed curriculum includes lessons on same-sex relationships, online bullying and now affirmative consent, thanks in large part to the work of Lia and Tessa. The teen twosome’s viral We Give Consent campaign (and 25,000-strong petition) even caught the eye of Premier Kathleen Wynne, who met with them in January. “Yes means yes” is now in the books.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, courtesy of Lia Valente and Tessa Hill.

Kirstine Stewart

For writing a career handbook in the digital age: With her new book, Our Turn, the Twitter VP (and the first woman ever to helm the CBC) has penned a powerful manifesto for the flawed yet fabulous iteration of the modern working woman. Oh, she also hates networking and loves wearing jumpsuits in professional settings. What a boss.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Twitter.

Buffy Sainte-Marie

For winning a hipster music prize at age 74: "I’m cutting my own way/Through my own day/And all I dare say/Is it’s my own." The opening lines of Sainte-Marie’s "Power in the Blood," a cover of her 1964 track "It’s My Way," tell a different story 50 years later. They’re a nod to the new focus on indigenous issues in Canada. In September, Power in the Blood won the Polaris Prize for best Canadian album of the year. In interviews after her win, the 74-year-old said it feels a lot like she's only just being heard (her music was blacklisted by U.S. radio stations in the 1970s, just as her star was rising). The nation is listening.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, George Pimentel.

Tanya Taylor

For her Vogue-worthy designer duds: The only thing better than spotting Beyoncé and Michelle Obama wearing your creations is seeing them do so in the pages of Vogue (one would imagine). Such is the life of Canadian designer Tanya Taylor, whose gorgeous frocks earned her a place in this year's CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund’s Americans in Paris series — an opportunity for designers to show off their wares to international buyers.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Bradbury Lewis.

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander

For working her architectural magic as a nonagenarian: What Alice Munro is to Can Lit, Hahn Oberlander is to the field of landscape architecture. That’s how the 2015 Margolese National Design for Living Prize jury described the impact left by this force of a woman, who fled Nazi Germany and carved out an enviable career in a male-dominated field. Hahn Oberlander, the landscape architect behind Robson Square in Vancouver and the grounds around Ottawa’s National Gallery, is still going strong at age 94 — and bagging major awards like the Margolese. What’s her secret? The “5 Ps” that have guided her six-decade plus career: patience, persistence, politeness, passion and professionalism, she told The Globe and Mail’s Sarah Hampson in 2014. Photo, Charles A. Birnbaum/The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s Pioneers of American Landscape Design initiative.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015

Jodie Layne

For making Canadian women feel safe: Writing, feminist activism, and crusading against gendered violence — is there anything 25-year-old Jodie Layne can’t do? In addition to her work as a sex educator at Nine Circles Community Health Centre, our March Ms. Chatelaine has developed safe-space policies for several Manitoba businesses, including Winnipeg bar The Good Will, all in an effort to combat harassment and violence against women in public spaces.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Ian McCausland.

Alanis Morissette

For celebrating Jagged Little Pill with a little more irony: It was raw anger that made Morissette’s 1995 Canadian record an international chart-topper. A lesser woman might freak out over the fact that 20 years have since passed, but Morissette is having a blast promoting her record’s re-release. Case in point: a performance of "Ironic" on the Late, Late Show with James Corden with lyrics updated for 2015, "An old friend/Sends you a Facebook request/You only find out they’re racist/After you accept."

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Press photo, 2012.

Elizabeth May

For keeping it real during the federal election: The federal Green Party Leader's forthright demeanour, not to mention her moxie, was a breath of fresh air during a looong election campaign. But it wasn’t just her coy flash of a peace sign before the French leaders' debate or live tweeting when she wasn’t invited to the Globe and Mail debate (her hashtag: #glibandmale) that grew the Green leader's fan base. It was her commitment to crossing the aisle in pursuit of the common good.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Creative Commons.

Marie Henein

For her fearlessness in the face of a challenge: The 50-year-old principal lawyer at Toronto’s Henein Hutchison (previously known for her defense of former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant) was retained last year by perhaps her most controversial client yet: Jian Ghomeshi. As a Toronto Life profile revealed this summer, despite her ardently feminist politics, Henein prioritizes due process above personal beliefs. And as a former associate told the magazine: "I don’t think any other woman could get away with it."

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Markian Lozowchuk.

Kirsten Mercer

For being the chief architect of Ontario’s effort to end sexual violence: When the Jian Ghomeshi scandal broke last fall, Mercer, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s senior policy advisor, set to quick work expediting the government’s update to its sexual violence strategy. The result was a comprehensive plan that has already made strides in changing how Canadians talk and think about sexual assault and harassment. The government has already introduced legislation from the plan to the House. Mercer, a lawyer by training, has now taken a plum new gig in Ottawa as Chief of Staff to Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould, with the inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women her top priority. She’s the epitome of a behind-the-scenes nation-builder.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Jenna Muirhead.

Ellen Page

For defending LGBT rights: It’s hard to knock a politician off his game. But this self-described "tiny Canadian" actress had GOP candidate Ted Cruz pretty hot under the collar at an Iowa picnic this summer as he simultaneously flipped pork burgers and fielded her questions about his lack of support for LGBT Americans. Since coming out as a lesbian in 2014, the 28-year-old Nova Scotian has fully embraced her identity as an individual and an activist. This year, she starred as a lesbian spouse in the drama Freeheld, appearing with her girlfriend for the first time at the film’s Toronto International Film Festival premiere.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Gage Skidmore.

Rosemary Barton

For holding politicians to account during #elxn42: The photo of Syrian boy Alan Kurdi’s body on a beach in Turkey had just been published when former Conservative citizenship and immigration minister Chris Alexander appeared on CBC’s Power & Politics. As he dodged questions about the government’s response to the crisis in Syria, journalist Rosemary Barton countered his statements with facts and never lost her cool. The interview, a disaster for the Conservatives’ campaign, was one example of how Barton, who stepped in to host Power & Politics after Evan Solomon’s departure, raised the program’s profile and influence during the federal election. “I’m gonna have a glass of wine now,” she tweeted at the end of that particularly eventful day. Cheers, girl.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, CBC.

Kate Beaton

For writing a children’s book with girl power: How do you show fairy-tale obsessed little girls that they can be the hero at the end of a story — and that they don’t need brute strength to do it? You read them The Princess and the Pony by Canadian cartoonist Kate Beaton, which tells the tale of Princess Pinecone, who craves a life as a mighty warrior but learns she doesn’t need a strong stallion and a sword to do it. Beaton’s talent has drawn international attention and elevated the status of cartoon narratives along the way. Peggy of Drawn & Quarterly magazine said it best: “She should be a national treasure.” Agreed.

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, courtesy of Kate Beaton.

Sheila North Wilson

For giving a female face to Indigenous leadership: Originally from Bunibonibee Cree Nation, North Wilson is a former chief communications officer for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, a journalist for CTV Winnipeg and, as of this year, the first woman ever elected grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the non-profit organization that represents 30 Manitoba First Nations. "It feels good to be a part of history like this,” North Wilson told the CBC in September. “[But] this isn't about me per se, this is about our people.”

Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015Photo, Sheila North Wilson.

Related: Uncommon bonds: The friendship of Amanda Lindhout, Omar Khadr and Rinelle Harper All hail Ashley Callingbull: from ‘pageant girl’ to powerhouse Twitter’s Kirstine Stewart answers our career conundrums How Eugenie Bouchard gets pumped-up before a match


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