Famous Canadian Women that Positively Impacted Canada’s Equity Seeking Communities

March is a very exciting month because it is Women’s History Month. Women’s History Month is the celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and the community. Let’s reflect and learn about the Canadian women who have made a significant impact on our future through innovation, dedication, and hard work.

As CDRCP and InfoPeel work to empower families and individuals with special needs, we wish to celebrate International Women’s History Month by highlighting Canadian women who served the special needs and vulnerable sector. We will tell the stories of five Canadian women who shared our mission in making a difference for communities with special needs, physical disabilities, and those in our equity seeking groups. These trailblazers and pioneers are Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova, Irma Levasseur, Jean Little, Vera L. Parsons, and Zanana Loraine Akande.

Irma Levasseur

Irma Levasseur was born in 1877 in Quebec City. She wanted to pursue a career in Medicine, a field that was not available for Canadian women. She persevered by obtaining her medical degrees in the United States, and was accepted into the Quebec’s College of physicians and Surgeons, which made her the first French-Canadian female doctor. Levasseur devoted her practise to children managing illnesses and disabilities. She founded several clinics for children with special needs as well as a school known as Cardinal-Villeneuve school. Levasseur opened the door for women to attend Quebec medical schools. Her work laid out the foundation to modern paediatric medicine.

Vera L. Parsons

Vera Parsons was born in 1889. In her early life, she contracted Polio. Thereafter, she relied on a cane to support her mobility and balance. But this did not stop her from pursuing her dream career, criminal law, a sector that women were discouraged to join. She was Ontario’s first female criminal defence lawyer, and noted by peers as a top lawyer. She was also Canada’s first lawyer with a disability. Her passion for law broke barriers for women that pursued this field of work. She was the third woman to be appointed by King’s Counsel.

Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova

Born in Prague in 1909, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova pursued diplomacy. She obtained a political science diploma, a journalism diploma, and received five diplomas studying languages. Just as many others, her life was devastated from World War II. After years of fleeing from Nazi troops and surviving with minimal food and shelter, she vowed to live practising philanthropy and humanitarian work, believing that everyone should “embrace all those who need help.” She moved to Canada and dedicated herself to the war effort, while supporting the Montreal community and organizing international aid for European refugees. Dr. Lotta founded the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada and became a pioneer in foreign aid as she raised thousands of dollars to support vulnerable Canadian citizens and help people in impoverished countries. She received dozens of awards for her humanitarian work, including the UN Headquarters Medal and Companion of the Order of Canada.

Jean Little

Jean Little was born in 1932, and experienced troubles with vision due to scarred corneas. Jean grew up to love reading, writing poetry and story telling. She received a degree at Victoria’s College in English Language and literature and taught children with special needs. While she inspired her students, they also inspired her, and she wrote several award-winning books that changed the way children with differing abilities are portrayed – children can live with special needs and flourish. After inspiring and comforting children with or without special needs, Little received an Order of Canada, the Canada Council Children’s Literature Award, the Canadian Booksellers’ Association Ruth Schwartz Award and many more awards.

Zanana Loraine Akande

Zanana Loraine Akande was born in Toronto native born in 1937. She became a teacher for the Toronto District School Board, following the footsteps of her parents that were teachers in the Caribbean before they immigrated to Canada. Akande co-founded the magazine Tiger Lily, which was the first magazine in Ontario to give a voice to women of colour. Akande became a politician, representing vulnerable populations. She is the first Black woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and the first Black woman to be appointed to Ontario’s Cabinet Minister for the Community and Social Services. Ever since she retired from politics, she has dedicated her time serving the public through coordinating programs for vulnerable populations. She also participates in community projects that boost equity, such as being the President of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations. She has received many awards for her work, including the African Canadian Achievement Award for Education, the YWCA Toronto Women of Distinction Award and the Award of Distinction from the Congress of Black Women

References


Baillargeon, Denyse. “Irma Le Vasseur.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2014,

www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/irma-le-vasseur.

“Biography | Irma LeVasseur.” Irma LeVasseur, 2016,

irma.levasseur.org/irma_e/styled.

“Black History Month – Zanana Akande.” Nellies, 26 Feb. 2015,

www.nellies.org/2015/02/26/black-history-month-zanana-akande.

Llewellyn, Joy Thierry. “Lotta Hitschmanova.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2016,

www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/lotta-hitschmanova.

Monroe, Dawn. Famous Canadian Women's Famous Firsts - Politicians and Public Servants, 2009, www.famouscanadianwomen.com/famous/politicians.htm.

“Remembering Jean Little, C.M., Vic 5T5: A Life in Three Acts » Victoria College.” Victoria College, 2020, www.vic.utoronto.ca/news/remembering-jean-little-c-m-vic-5t5-a-life-in-three-acts.

Rubio, Mary. “Jean Little.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2008, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/jean-little.

“Vera Parsons ’24 (1889-1973).” Osgoode Digital Commons,

digitalcommons.osgoode.yorku.ca/catalysts/13. Accessed 10 Mar. 2021.