Notable Women Entrepreneurs in Canadian History

Women have had a long history of entrepreneurship in Canada and their involvement continues to grow. The entrepreneurs listed below are just a few examples of the many women who have made their mark on Canadian business history.

Women have had a long history of entrepreneurship in Canada and their involvement continues to grow. The entrepreneurs listed below are just a few examples of the many women who have made their mark on Canadian business history.

Susannah Oland (1818-85)

Susannah Oland

Susannah Oland began brewing beer in a shed behind her home in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia to support her family financially. The popularity of her October Brown Ale attracted investors, who helped the family establish a commercial brewery, Turtle Grove Brewery, in Halifax in 1867. (See also Brewing Industry in Canada.) While her husband John Oland was listed as the manager on paper, it was Susannah Oland who oversaw the company’s day-to-day operations and brewing process. In 1877, seven years after the death of her husband, Susannah Oland bought out the other partners and investors and transformed the business into S. Oland, Sons and Company. She managed the brewery for the rest of her life. After her death, her youngest son took over as manager. The company was later renamed Moosehead Breweries Limited and is now based in Saint John, New Brunswick. As of 2022, members of the Oland family continue to own and operate Moosehead Breweries Limited. The brewery also claims to be the oldest family-owned brewing company in Canada.

Olivia Poole (1889-1975)

Olivia Poole’s invention of the Jolly Jumper was inspired by the cradleboards she saw mothers use for their children while growing up on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. In 1910, using materials from around her house in Ontario, Poole invented an early version of the device that allowed her baby to be safely secured and entertained while she went about her normal routine. Unlike a cradleboard, Poole’s invention allowed for a baby’s legs to dangle and for a baby to bounce. She used the Jolly Jumper for all her children and grandchildren and continually improved on this design. Public demand for the product began after she gave a demonstration of the jumper in 1948. By the early 1950s, the Jolly Jumper was being mass produced. Poole applied for a patent in 1956 and she became one of the first Indigenous women in Canada to patent an invention. (See also Inventors and Innovations). She also established Poole Manufacturing Co. with her eldest son, Joseph, to manufacture the Jolly Jumper. The family later sold the company, but the Jolly Jumper is still produced today, over a hundred years after its invention. 

Jean Lumb (1919-2002)

Jean Lumb opened her first business, a fruit store near Bathurst St. and St Clair Ave. West in Toronto , at age 17. Within just a few years, her business was successful enough that she was able to bring her parents and siblings from Vancouver to Toronto. In 1959, Lumb and her husband opened Kwong Chow Chop Suey House in Toronto’s Chinatown. The restaurant became a popular spot and was frequented by prime ministers, politicians and celebrities. Through food demonstrations and television and radio appearances, Lumb introduced Chinese cooking to many Canadians (See also Chinese Food in Canada; Popular Chinese Dishes in Canada.) Along with her entrepreneurship, Lumb was involved in advocating for the repeal of legislation that discriminated against Chinese immigrants and for spearheading the movement to save Toronto’s Chinatown from destruction (see Immigration Policy in Canada; Anti-Asian Racism in Canada.). For her community work, Lumb was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada in 1976, the first Chinese Canadian woman and first restaurateur to receive the honour.

Beverley Mascoll (1942-2001)

While working as a receptionist at Toronto Barber and Beauty Supply, Beverly Mascoll noticed a gap in the Canadian beauty industry, which saw a need for products for Black women (see Black Canadians). She founded Mascoll Beauty Supply in 1970 with just $700 and began selling Black beauty products out of the trunk of her car. Mascoll grew her business after she approached Johnson Products, an African-American-owned beauty product manufacturer, and became the sole distributor of their products in Canada. She expanded her company to five locations and organized beauty demonstrations and seminars. Her business established a market for Black beauty products in Canada, providing access and opportunities for Black Canadians in the beauty industry. Mascoll was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada for her business and community work.

Heather Reisman (1948–)

Roméo Dallaire and Heather Reisman

Building on a lifetime love of reading, Heather Reisman founded Indigo Books & Music in 1996. The company’s first store opened the following year in Burlington, Ontario and it has since grown into the largest book retailer in Canada. Reisman also co-founded the e-reader company Kobo Inc. in 2009. Along with her entrepreneurship, Reisman is an executive producer for award-winning documentaries, an author and a podcast host. In 2004, she established the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation, which helps provide under-resourced school libraries with books. Reisman was inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame and was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada.