10 Canadian Women to Inspire You Right Now
International Women’s Day was last month, but we at Spesch are here to highlight amazing women all year long. Artists, politicians, activist, and scientists we can all look up to, and who are helping to create space for young women today, and in the future. This list celebrates some of our favourite Canadian trailblazers!
Tanya Tagaq – Throat Singer/Author
She is probably the best known Inuk throat singer, and her talent has helped catapult the traditional Inuit style into the pop music scene. Along with her critically acclaimed music, she recently published her first novel, Split Tooth, a Giller Prize nominated genre bending work infused with poetry and memoir. Through all of her creations, she works hard to bring forward the history of Indigenous peoples, earning her the Order of Canada. She is the perfect example of staying true to yourself, and she’s proving to the world that she doesn’t have to erase her culture to achieve success.
Vivek Shraya – Author/Musician/Professor
Already an absolute talent, Vivek Shraya wowed the world this year with her most recent collection of essays, I’m Afraid of Men, a brutally personal recounting of her experiences as a trans women of colour growing up in Canada. She’s also in a duo synth pop band with her brother called Too Attached, in which she can deeply infuse their songs with her personal politics, all to the tune of upbeat dance music. And she is also an assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s creative writing program, and recently launched Vs. Books, an imprint of Arsenal Pulp Press. It serves as a mentorship for writers of colour, working to highlight marginalized voices like hers. She’s challenging gender, patriarchal masculinity, and so much more with a bravery that helps inspire other women out there to do the same.
Rayne Fisher-Quann – Teen Activist
You may have heard of a student/teacher walkout that happened in September in 100 high schools across Ontario. The walk out was protesting Doug Ford’s sex education roll back. It fought back against the erasure of gender identity, same sex relationships, and consent education in the new curriculum, and was primarily organized by Rayne Fischer-Quann in association with the WTF? Collective. All of this was preceded by the March For Our Education rally that she helped put on, protesting the aforementioned issue. And all of this got the attention of the organizers at March on Women, who invited her to be one of the youngest speakers at the rally. She’s emerged as a bold young Canadian voice in the likes of Emma Gonzales and Jazz Jennings, sharing her experiences of abuse in the hopes of shaping a future she is proud to share with her peers.
Tranna Wintour – Comedian
Don’t let the stage name fool you, this transgender women in not a drag queen, nor is she performing as a character per se. She is, however, getting up on stage and disrupting the gender binary while bringing joy to people’s lives through laughter, which seems like both the toughest and most exciting thing a person can do. She’s released a debut album, been named one of the top three comedians in Montreal, and performed a solo fringe show. And she’s doing all of this with a pro-female and pro-women’s reproductive rights stance that is helping her make her mark as one of the strongest trans comedians in Canada.
Celina Caesar-Chavannes – Politician
Celina Caesar-Chavannes is not afraid to remind the world that systematic racism does very much exist in Canada, despite what the world thinks of the country’s polite reputation. And while this former Liberal, now Independant MP got some blow back for telling it like it is, she’s standing her ground and gaining the support of Canadians through the #HereForCelina hashtag. She’s also been very vocal about the scrutiny and body shaming that exists in the world of politics, refusing to apologize for wearing her hair in braids at the House of Commons. Nor is she afraid to criticize the man in charge, as she recently did to Justin Trudeau following the SNC-Lavalin affair. She’s here demanding political leaders stand with the people they represent, and is ready and working hard to make her mark in the world of Canadian politics.
Esi Edugyan – Author
She’s the first black woman and third Canadian to win the prestigious Giller Prize for her novel Washington Black, which also collected a slew of nominations and awards this past year. The roving epic follows a young black slave from Barbados to the Arctic to Nova Scotia in the early 19th century, and is an excellent example of the writing she feels is important right now. She proudly writes for marginalized voices, her characters confronting the struggles of racism that may be set in the past but are still very present today. This first generation Canadian, born to Gahanian immigrants, is emerging as one of our most important literary voices.
Tessa Virtue – Olympic Skater
She’s one half of the most decorated ice dance team ever, and that’s only where the inspiration starts. After making waves with her partner Scott Moir at the 2018 Winter Olympics, she became the #1 most googled person in Canada. She’s written a book, become the face of many campaigns, and is embarking on a nationwide “Thank you Canada” tour with Moir this year. Oh, and she recently was immortalized as a Barbie doll as a part of the toy company’s “Role Model” line up. The all star athlete is serious goals for women in sports, and is not afraid to openly speak about many of the barriers that face them. She wants to create a middle ground for young girls and athleticism, encouraging healthy activity on any level, as opposed to the current standard which is often “either [girls] excel and… go into this high-performance stream, or [they] drop out.”
Manjit Minhas – CEO/Dragons’ Den entrepreneur
She’s the co-founder and CEO of Minha’s Brewery, and self-named “Beer Baroness”. And her success as a business women recently earned her a spot in the Dragons’ Den. She’s worked hard to climb her way to success, but acknowledges that there are a lot of barriers facing women in business. So she’s here to create “supports and services that break down barriers and provide women with greater access to capital, networks and information” and help create a future where more than 16% of small and medium sized business are run by women. Minhas is helping build a world where women can be entrepreneurs, mothers, and career women, instead of having to choose.
Rebecca Belmore – Visual Artist
Rebecca Belmore is a powerhouse of a visual artist, creating grand installations that get to the heart of the injustice occurring in Canada. Whether that be towards the land, the water, or the spaces that Indigenous people occupy, her work forces you to face up to colonization. This celebrated artist reached a milestone this year with a 30-year retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario called Facing the Monumental that shows the world just exactly what she can do. Belmore’s work reminds you of the impact artwork has – the more fearless the better.
Donna Strickland – Physicist
Last year, she was one of four scientists who received the Nobel Prize in Physics for her work in the field of laser physics. She helped create ultra-short, high-intensity laser pulses that can be used for corrective eye surgery, medical imaging, and have opened up a world of laser-related possibilities. But what’s really exciting is that she’s the third women ever to receive the Nobel Prize in physics. While she’s aware of the inequality in the world of sciences, she likes to see herself not as a “women in physics” but just a physicist. And this sort of thinking might be exactly what is needed to break down that inequality and open up space for young women to see themselves as future scientists, who can one day be as successful as Strickland is today.
By Olivia Latta