Guest Post

Ten Canadian Woman Health and Sports Pioneers You Should Know (Guest Post)

Some time ago, Sam posted a link to Ms. Fit Magazine’s “Ten Women’s Sport and Health Pioneers You Should Know”. While very informative, I commented that the list was very US-centric, and there are many Canadian women that followers of this blog should know. So I was invited to write a post about it! Here are my picks, and hopefully this will encourage others to seek out other Canadian women who have led the way in the arenas of health and physical activity.

Emily Howard Stowe, Physician. With no Canadian institution allowing women to study medicine, she studied in the United States and, in 1848, became the first Canadian woman to practice medicine in Canada. She was a founder of what is now Women’s College Hospital in Toronto in 1883. She was also founder and first president of the Dominion Women’s Enfranchisement Association in 1889.

Maud Leonora Menten, Biochemist. A dedicated and outstanding medical scientist, she was among the first Canadian women to receive a Doctor of Medicine degree at the University of Toronto, in 1911. She and colleague Leonora Michaelis developed the Michaelis-Menten equation, a concept that revolutionized how biochemical reactions are quantified. She also developed the alkaline phosphatase reaction still used in histochemistry, and performed the first electrophoretic separation of proteins. She also made several discoveries relating to regulation of blood sugar, the properties of hemoglobin and kidney functions. She authored over 100 scientific articles and was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 1998.

Jessie Catherine Gray, Surgeon. A distinguished and internationally recognized surgeon, lecturer and researcher, Dr. Gray has so many “firsts” that “The Canadian Encyclopedia” calls her Canada’s First Lady of Surgery. From 1941 until retirement in 1965 she worked with the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, as associate and as surgeon-in-chief. Here is the list of firsts: 1934, first woman gold medalist in medicine at the University of Toronto; 1939 first woman to hold a master of surgery degree; 1941 first woman resident surgeon a the Toronto General Hospital; 1941 first Canadian woman to become a “fellow” in the Royal College of Surgeons; first woman member of the Central Surgical Society of North America; 1966 first woman elected to the Science Council of Canada.

Ethlyn Trapp, Cancer researcher. She was BC’s first radiotherapist, and helped establish the BC Cancer Institute, and served as its Director from 1939-1944. She was the 1st woman president of the B.C. Medical Association in 1946/7 and in 1952 she was the 1st woman president of the National Cancer Institute of Canada. She was also president of the Federation of Canadian Medical Women. In 1963 she was awarded a citation from the Canadian Medical Association for her pioneering research in radiotherapy of cancer. She was inducted into the Order of Canada in 1968. The story of her family is detailed in “A Life Not Chosen: The Story of Ethlyn Trapp and Her Father.”

Sylvia Olga Fedoruk, Medical physicist. In the 1950s, she pioneered the development and use of Cobalt-60 for the curative treatment of cancer, and was instrumental in the development of a scanning device that could detect cancer using radioactive nuclides. She was the 1st woman trustee of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and in 1973 she was the 1st woman appointed to the Atomic Energy Control Board of Canada. She was also the 1st woman named to the position of Chancellor at the University of Saskatchewan, and 1st woman Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan. She was also an elite athlete, and is a member of Canada’s Curling Hall of Fame. She was appointed to the Order of Canada in 1986.

Barbara Ann Scott, Figure Skater. Scott is the first and only Canadian woman to win Olympic gold for singles figure skating, at the 1948 Winter Games. She is the only Canadian to have won the world, North American and European championships in one year, and the first to hold consecutive World championships. After retiring from figure skating, she became a distinguished horse trainer and equestrian rider, and founded and became chancellor of the International Academy of Merchandising and Design in Toronto. Scott has been inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Skate Canada Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. She won the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s Top Athlete in 1945, 1947 and 1948, and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Angela James, Hockey player. Dubbed the “Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey”, Angela led Team Canada to 4 Women’s World Cup gold medals. In 2005, Hockey Canada honoured Angela with the Female Breakthrough Award, given for making significant contributions to the promotion and/or development of hockey for girls and women in Canada. Angela was inducted into both the Black Hockey and Sports Halls of Fame and the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2008, she was one of three women inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Hall of Fame, the first in the Federation’s history, joined by Cammi Granato and Geraldine Heaney. Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame inducted James in 2009. In 2010, Angela James and Cammi Granto (USA) were the first women to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Nancy Greene, Alpine Skier. Nancy Greene was Canada’s top ski racer through the 1960’s, winning gold and silver medals at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics and overall World Cup titles in 1967 and 68. She won 17 Canadian Championship titles in all disciplines, and her 13 World Cup victories is still a Canadian record. In 1999, Nancy was named Canada’s Female Athlete of the Century. She has continued to contribute to the sport she loves through the establishment of the Nancy Greene Ski League, a grassroots program of Alpine Canada Alpin, which promotes ski racing for young Canadians.

Silken Laumann, Rower. Winner of 3 Olympic Medals and 1 World Championship in single sculls. In May 1992, just 10 weeks before the Barcelona Summer Olympic Games, Silken was injured in a brutal rowing accident that left her right leg shattered and useless. Twenty-seven days later, Silken was back rowing, and made the most remarkable comeback in Canadian sports history by winning the bronze medal for Canada in the Olympics. She has several awards that recognize her impact on women’s sport: BC’s Top 100 Women of Influence, the Canadian Association for Advancement for Women in Sport (CAAWS) “Most Influential Women in Sport”, and the Globe and Mail list of Most Influential Women in Canada. She is on the International Board for Right To Play, the Kid’s Champion for GoodLife Kids Foundation, and best-selling author of Child’s Play, all of which showcase her dedication and advocacy of children’s physical activity.

Clara Hughes, Cyclist/Speed Skater. Winner of 2 Olympic medals in cycling and 4 medals in speed skating. Clara is the only person, male or female, ever to have won multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. Hughes was the first Canadian woman to win a medal in road cycling at the Olympics, winning two in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and is tied with Cindy Klassen in being Canada’s most decorated Olympian. Her list of awards include: Female Athlete of the Year by Speed Skating Canada in 2004; the International Olympic Committee‘s Sport and Community Trophy; and the 2006 List of Most Influential Women in Sport and Physical Activity by CAAWS. In 2010, she was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. She is also the National Spokesperson for the Bell Let’s Talk Mental Health initiative, and has started annual bike rides across Canada in order to raise awareness about mental health.


Savita is a scientist and professor in London, Ontario. When she’s not in the lab investigating the causes of diabetes, she’s in the pool trying to keep up with her Masters swim teammates, or in a nice downtown restaurant enjoying local food and craft beer.

4 thoughts on “Ten Canadian Woman Health and Sports Pioneers You Should Know (Guest Post)

  1. Great post! Thanks for being our guest and telling everyone about the wonderful contributions of theses inspiring Canadian women!

  2. When I volunteered for Women on Wheels, a women’s cycling group in Toronto that advocated/taught women cycling skills, led rides, I heard from other committee cycling gals, about the legendary Nora Young who raced in the Velodrome in Toronto area as a young woman in the 1930’s or so.

    I met her at the annual Toronto Bike Show when setting up our organization’s info. table for 5,000 people pouring in that weekend.
    I was impressed at that time she was still cycling in her 70’s. This was in mid 1990’s.

    She inspired us. I’m still cycling at 58 after 25 years of doing it.

    1. Hi Jean, I have just happened upon your post here about Nora Young. How excellent she had such an impact on you! I know she had an impact on many women in cycling and other sports over the years, but I don’t necessarily know who most of them are. Nora was a neighbour and friend of mine, and I’m doing an animated short film about her and one particular six-day cycling (velodrome) race she was involved in at Maple Leaf Gardens. You can find out more and sign up for our email list at We’re also on Facebook (Undeniably Young) and Twitter (@Evokedocs) if you do those things. Lovely to hear your reflections. Just yesterday it was announced Nora will be inducted into the Canadian Cycling Hall of Fame this year. She is definitely a Canadian sports pioneer more people should know about!

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