Saturday, May 2, 2020

An achievement worth celebrating!

It has been a while since I've written a new entry, but good things are worth waiting for! In the coming months there will be additional new announcements to share that are currently under production, however, today I am happy to share the success of two young women who discovered Elsie and decided to engage with her story:

Elizabeth Herrera and Vanessa Wasieleski

I spoke with them over the holidays about a school project that they were working on to tell Elsie's story that sounded quite intriguing. And, they just recently informed me that they ended up placing 3rd in the state competition in Texas with their video documentary"Elsie MacGill: Queen of the Hurricanes"

When I first started working on Elsie's story in 2003, the most frequent response I received when I asked if someone knew her was: "Elsie who?" The fact that Elsie's story continues to be picked up increasingly in Canada, the United States and elsewhere means that a wide range of people are learning about her and her achievements and passing them on!

Sharing important historical lessons is a dream for any historian. I therefore send out a virtual salute to the hard work and dedication of these two up and coming historians!

Warmest congratulations!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

A Tribute in Education - École Elsie MacGill School

How do you commemorate Canadian history in a meaningful way? There are many ways - books, articles, statues, stamps, plays, movies - and the list goes on. Each one of these methods provides an important means of reaching out to the communities its links to most strongly. And each one should be celebrated for its own merits.

However, I was personally really moved when I heard that The Lakehead Public School Board in Thunder Bay, Ontario had chosen to name its newest school: École Elsie MacGill School. See one of the local articles from tbnewswatch here.

Elsie strongly supported education, especially for women, but for society overall. She knew that it was the key to social change and encouraged all Canadians to take it seriously, while not allowing stereotypes to impede the paths of those who, like her, chose 'non-traditional' paths. From her perspective, a woman pursuing engineering deserved just as much support and encouragement as a man pursuing nursing. The importance was for the individual to figure out where his or her passion was and pursue it fully. 

I was happy to chat with CBC Thunder Bay's Cathy Alex about this announcement on June 19, 2019, see article and listen to the interview here.

As a former resident of Thunder Bay and beneficiary of the education provided by The Lakehead Public School Board I am very proud of the choice - and I hope that the name the school carries will inspire its administration, teachers and each student to dream big and pursue those dreams into the future with Elsie' s dogged determination.

Stamp of Approval!

This year has been fast-paced - and racing by like a jet plane! It seems like we just celebrated the New Year, and here I am at my computer and the calendar tells me it is actually July 28, 2019! With the day-to-day comings and goings, I have fallen behind in my blogging, but better late than never - and for a historian - relatively speaking - I am only a few seconds behind!

On March 26, 2019, Canada Post released a special series of stamps entitled "Canadians in Flight". I was happy to be able to help consult on this project pertaining to the background on Elsie MacGill. If you missed this announcement, or haven't seen the stamps at the post office here is the link to the press release.

Curious about what they look like? Take a look:

As I told CBC Cape Breton's Kathleen Jones in a radio interview this was an excellent choice. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Launch of the Canadian Archive of #WomeninSTEM - So what?

Commentary on the importance of the launch by Dr. Ruby Heap, Dr. Claire Deshênes, and Monique Frize

On June 19, 2018 the official launch of the Canadian Archive of Women in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) took place at the University of Ottawa - so what? That was a question that one of my most challenging and excellent history professors loved to ask because it makes you dig deep for the importance of the idea, thought or event and put it in its proper historical context to really determine its place in history.

Minister Kirsty Duncan speaks about the importance of the new archives.

So what is the place of the Canadian Archive of Women in STEM? Well let's start with some basic facts - always a good place to start:

  • The initiative first really got rolling in 2014 during a conference where social sciences and humanities researchers, librarians, curators, women in science and engineering and others sat down to determine how to preserve and promote the history of Canadian women in STEM. 
  • This was followed by four years of persistent and ongoing efforts by key leaders in the various fields and strong support from the University of Ottawa Library, Library and Archives Canada and the International Women in Engineering and Science Education Research Institute (INWES-ERI). 
Why was a unique effort needed? Why couldn't the existing archives handle this?
  • Our understanding of Canadian women's history in STEM has advanced a long way in the past 10 years, and we are no longer fully on an emergency "search and rescue" mission to find these women, but some of that work still remains to be done. The importance of women in STEM has often been overlooked, and even the women themselves have not always seen the value of keeping their records for posterity. The efforts of the team behind this initiative have included a large educational role to help women in STEM realize their value to Canadian history and understand that their records play a key role in the story of Canada. 
  • Regular archives hold some records, but they have been scattered across the country without any means to connect them easily. For example, I found that while the bulk of Elsie Gregory MacGill's papers reside at the Library and Archives of Canada, there are smaller fonds (collections) available both at the Archives of Ontario and the University of Toronto.
  • The new web portal provides researchers and interested persons a means to explore the range of women's records available and locate them with ease. This tool will help make the writing of the history of Canadian women in STEM much easier - as less time will be spent on trying to find the sources and more time can be spent on exploring their richness and bringing it to light.   
Why now?
  • All the pieces of the preparatory work have fallen into place. 
  • Women in science and engineering are continuing to play key roles in their disciplines, and they and their families are recognizing their role in history and supporting this effort. In fact, at the launch, Dr. Monique Frize was able to announce that the family of Claudette MacKay-Lassonde was in the process of donating her records to the new archive!

To learn more click HERE.
  • Women in STEM is in vogue ("Hidden Figures" the movie" etc.) and 
  • Women such as:
    • Her Excellency Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, 
    • Dr. Mona Nemer, Chief Science Adviser to the Government of Canada, and 
    • Minister Kirsty Duncan 
         are serving in Canada's leadership. Canada can boast about having a former woman astronaut             as the Queen's representative - that's pretty out of this world! 

How can I support this important initiative?
  • Share the information about the new archive.
  • Learn more about Canadian women in STEM.
  • Talk to women in STEM that you know and encourage them to share their records.
  • Encourage young women and girls to consider STEM fields as their fields too!

Monday, May 29, 2017

An amazing night with the CFUW! May 16, 2017

Over the years I have given a large number of presentations on Elsie MacGill and to a wide variety of groups.  Getting the story about Elsie out is something I truly enjoy doing, and having a truly engaged audience makes this endeavour that much more rewarding.  That was the case on May 16th with the Ottawa Canadian Federation of University Women.  In addition to a truly warm welcome, it was a pleasure to spend an evening with a group that was so keen to hear the story.  Moreover, a lively and intelligent question period followed and kept going right throughout the social time after the presentation.  

In a slightly different twist to this presentation, I explored Elsie's life from the concept of her being a banknote-able woman.  And, indeed she is - having made the shortlist for the new $10.  But, what does that mean?  It is relatively straight-forward to reduce any life to a serious of chronological facts - and when exploring historical significance at a surface level this degree of analysis is enough - however - as I argued that night this most interesting part is what happens before the facts, during the creation of the facts and after the facts - that my friends is where living occurs and those nuances contain the true richness of a life.  

There is nothing that warms an author's heart more than to spend time with readers and potential readers who are so excited to discuss a book.  It was a wonderful evening that left me truly energized!  Thank you Ottawa CFUW for a fantastic evening!    

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Queen of the Hurricanes at CFUW - Ottawa Book Club III - May 16, 2017!!

On May 16, 2017 at 7:30pm at Riverside United Church I will be giving a presentation about Queen of the Hurricanes.  This event is hosted by the Canadian Federation of University Women. 

Please RSVP by April 15, 2017 to Janet Riehm: or 613-744-7305



Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Queen of the Hurricanes featured on Canada History's Canadian Women's History List

It was recently brought to my attention that Queen of the Hurricanes is part of Canada History's  Canadian Women's History book list!  It is one of many fascinating books on women's history in Canada that should all be added to your reading lists for 2017!  It is a great year to do it too...Canada's 150th!  

For more information see:  Canadian Women's History