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Article

Clara Benson

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.

Article

Frances Oldham Kelsey

​Frances Oldham Kelsey, CM, pharmacologist (born 24 July 1914 in Cobble Hill, BC; died 7 August 2015 in London, ON). As an employee of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Kelsey blocked the sale of thalidomide in the United States. The drug, which had been widely prescribed in Europe and Canada, was later shown to cause severe birth defects in children whose mothers had taken the drug while pregnant. In recognition of her “exceptional judgment” and determination, Kelsey received the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service. Kelsey and her work have been widely lauded in the United States but are less known in Canada. She was made a Member of the Order of Canada shortly before her death.

Article

Jennie Trout

Jennie (Jenny) Kidd Trout, physician, teacher (born 21 April 1841 in Kelso, Scotland; died 10 November 1921 in Hollywood, California). Trout was the first female physician licensed to practice medicine in Canada. She received her license from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Ontario in 1875.

Article

Helen Sawyer Hogg

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.

Article

Alice Wilson

Alice Evelyn Wilson, MBE, geologist, paleontologist (born 26 August 1881 in Cobourg, ON; died 15 April 1964 in Ottawa, ON). Educated at the Universities of Toronto and Chicago, Wilson spent her entire professional career, from 1909 to 1946, with the Geological Survey of Canada. She was Canada’s first female geologist and the recognized authority on the fossils and rock of the Ottawa-St. Lawrence Valley. While she repeatedly faced barriers as a woman in a profession dominated by men, Wilson was gradually recognized for her work through various honours, including becoming the first female Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1938.

Article

Irene Uchida

Irene Ayako Uchida, OC, geneticist (born 8 April 1917 in Vancouver, BC; died 30 July 2013 in Toronto, ON). Dr. Uchida pioneered the field of cytogenetics in Canada, enabling early screening for chromosomal abnormalities (i.e., changes in chromosomes caused by genetic mutations). She discovered that women who receive X-rays during pregnancy have a higher chance of giving birth to a baby with Down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities. She also discovered that the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome may come from either parent, not only the mother.

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Article

Rose Johnstone

Rose Mamelak Johnstone, FRSC, biochemist (born 14 May 1928 in Lodz, Poland; died 3 July 2009 in Montreal, QC). Rose Johnstone is best known for her discovery of exosomes, a key development in the field of cell biology. These tiniest of structures originating in all cells of the human body are vehicles that transport proteins, lipids and RNA from one cell to another. A pioneer of women in science, Johnstone was the first woman to hold the Gilman Cheney Chair in Biochemistry and the first and only woman chair of the Department of Biochemistry in McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine.

Article

Julie Payette

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.

Article

Amelia Yeomans

Amelia Yeomans (née LeSueur), physician, social and political reformer, temperance advocate, suffragist and public speaker (born 29 March 1842 in Québec City, Canada East; died 22 April 1913 in Calgary, AB).

Article

Donna Strickland

Donna Theo Strickland, CC, physicist (born 27 May 1959 in Guelph, ON). Donna Strickland is a pioneering physicist, known for her work on ultrafast lasers. She is currently a professor of physics at the University of Waterloo. She has authored more than 90 publications and has made seminal contributions to the field of laser technology. In 2018, Strickland was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for her work on the development of laser technology.

Article

Mabel Hubbard Bell

Mabel Gardiner Hubbard Bell, aeronautics financier, community leader, social reformer and advocate for the deaf (born 25 November 1857 in Cambridge, Massachusetts; died 3 January 1923 in Chevy Chase, Maryland). Bell actively supported and contributed to the work of her husband, inventor Alexander Graham Bell. Her financial investment in his work made her the first financier of the aviation industry in North America. She was a community leader in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, where the Bell family spent their summers. She was also a social reformer and supported innovation in education.

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Article

Theresa Tam

Dr. Theresa Tam, BMBS, physician, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada (born 1965 in Hong Kong). Dr. Tam is Canada’s chief public health officer, the federal government’s lead public health professional. She has expertise in immunization, infectious diseases and emergency preparedness. She has served on several World Health Organization emergency committees and has been involved in international missions to combat Ebola, MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and pandemic influenza. She has also worked toward the eradication of polio. Dr. Tam became widely known to Canadians through media briefings in 2020 as she led the medical response to the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Julie Payette (Profile)

This article was originally published in Maclean’s magazine on May 17, 1999. Partner content is not updated.

Things just hit home big time when I flew a Dash-4 over the pad this evening at Kennedy Space Center. There it was - Discovery, all of white shining under the late afternoon sun. I just couldn't believe my eyes.