The game is six degrees of Canadian history. Take two seemingly unrelated pieces of Canadian culture and connect the dots through various people, places and events to discover how they’re distantly — or maybe not-so-distantly — related. Along the way, we visit the quizzical and curious, the tragic and comic, and everything in between.
Titus Smith, naturalist, surveyor, traveller, agriculturist (b at Granby, Mass 4 Sept 1768; d at Dutch Village near Halifax 4 Jan 1850). To his innate interest in all natural studies, Smith brought a mind well schooled in botany and a keen interest in the conservation of animal and plant life.
Bernhard Adolf Hantzsch, explorer, ornithologist (d near the mouth of Hantzsch R, NWT June 1911). Hantzsch sailed with a German ornithological expedition to the eastern Arctic in 1906 and during that summer explored and collected specimens along the coast of Ungava Bay and northern Labrador.
Margaret Anne Wilson Thompson, human geneticist (born at Northwich, England 7 January 1920, died 3 November 2014 in Toronto, ON). She obtained a BA in 1943 from the University of Saskatchewan and a PhD in 1948 from the University of Toronto, where she studied under the pioneering human geneticist Norma Ford Walker.
Victor John Harding, professor of pathological chemistry (b in Eng 23 Oct 1885; d at Toronto 3 July 1934). Graduating in chemistry from Owen's College, Manchester (DSc, 1912), Harding began an association with McGill in 1910. He became associate professor of physiological chemistry in 1917.
Hardolph Wasteneys, professor of biochemistry (b at Richmond, Eng Apr 1881; d at Toronto 1 Feb 1965). As a boy Wasteneys went to Australia and found employment in government laboratories dealing with water purification. He moved to California about 1909 to study this subject further.
Robert William Stewart, scientist (born at Smoky Lake, Alta 21 Aug 1923; died at Victoria, BC, 19 January 2005). Robert Stewart was known internationally for original work in turbulence, oceanography and meteorology, and was a recognized authority on exchange processes between ocean and atmosphere.
Julie Payette, CC, CMM, COM, CQ, CD, astronaut, engineer, jet pilot, musician (born 20 October 1963 in Montréal, QC). Payette participated in two space flights to the International Space Station, STS-96 (1999) and STS-127 (2009), and served as the chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency from 2000 to 2007. In 1999, she became the first Canadian to board the International Space Station. An accomplished scientific authority, musician and athlete, Payette is a board member of Own the Podium and a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s board of directors. In July 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Payette will become Canada’s 29th governor general, succeeding David Johnston. Payette became Governor General on 2 October 2017.
Evelyn Merle Roden Nelson, mathematician, professor (born 25 November 1943 in Hamilton, ON; died 1 August 1987 in Hamilton, ON). A brilliant mathematical mind, Evelyn Nelson fought gender barriers in a discipline long dominated by men to become a rising star in the field both in Canada and abroad. She contributed to the fields of universal algebra, equational compactness and formal language theory. Nelson was particularly interested in applying universal algebra to the then-burgeoning field of computer science. She was a devoted teacher, sought-after research partner and the author of over 40 publications during what was a tragically short career.
Cypra Cecilia Krieger, mathematician, professor (born 9 April 1894 in Jasło, Galicia [Poland]; died 17 August 1974 in Toronto, ON). Krieger was the first woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics from a Canadian university (the University of Toronto) and only the third person to be awarded a mathematics doctorate in Canada. She taught mathematics and physics at the University of Toronto for over 30 years. Krieger is best known for her English translation of noted mathematical texts Introduction to General Typology and General Typology.
Helen Battles Sawyer Hogg (née Sawyer), CC, astronomer and educator (born 1 August 1905 in Lowell, Massachusetts; died 28 January 1993 in Toronto, ON). Recognized internationally for her research on globular star clusters, Helen Sawyer Hogg significantly advanced astronomers’ understanding of the location and age of stars as well as the origins and evolution of our galaxy, the Milky Way. She also contributed greatly to the Canadian public’s understanding of astronomy and inspired women to enter scientific professions.
Veena Rawat, OC, electrical engineer, civil servant, telecommunications pioneer (born in 1945 in India). Veena Rawat spent nearly 40 years in public service, serving in leadership positions in management and policy development with Industry Canada. A trailblazer in the telecommunications sector, Rawat was the first female to complete a doctorate in electrical engineering at Queen’s University and was the first female president of Industry Canada’s Communication Research Centre. Rawat has been a leading voice in the creation of global regulatory structures for radio spectrum management, championing efforts to make broadband service affordable to all and bring it to remote and rural regions. She is an advocate for gender equality in STEM sectors and increasing women’s presence in engineering fields.
Clara Cynthia Benson, professor of chemistry (born in 1875 in Port Hope, ON; died 24 March 1964 in Port Hope). In 1899, Benson became the first woman to graduate in chemistry from the University of Toronto. In 1903, she became one of the first two women awarded a PhD at U of T. After graduating with her doctorate, she worked at U of T’s Lillian Massey School of Domestic Science, becoming one of the university’s first female professors in 1920. A capable teacher who stimulated research and was a friend to her students, Benson taught at the school until her retirement in 1945. The Benson Building at U of T was named in recognition of her efforts to obtain better athletic facilities for women students.