Bits and Bites of Everyday Life

Bits and Bites of Everyday Life

Amazing Women from the past to the present

'Tough times never last, tough people do!'

If a woman is sufficiently ambitious, determined and gifted – there is practically nothing she can’t do. — Helen Lawrenson

By Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair
True North Perspective

Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair is the author of The Neglected Garden and two French novels. Visit her website to learn more

01 March 2014— March, the month of International Woman's Day, conjures up memories of strong women who have touched my life in some way, and amazing women I admire.

Let’s start with someone I never met in person but admired: Cairine Reay Mackay Wilson, Canada’s first female senator who at one time lived in Cumberland where I was raised. A mother of eight, Cairine Wilson performed extensive volunteer work and was instrumental in the foundation of the Twentieth Century Liberal Association and the National Federation of Liberal Women of Canada of which she was president from 1938 to 1948.

  Image: Annie Powers
  Annie Powers, one of many women to admire.

Cairine Wilson became a Senate member in 1930 and was a senator for more than 30 years. She was best known for her support of the cause of refugees. During the Second World War, as president of the League of Nations Society of Canada, she spoke out against the Munich Agreement’s appeasement of Hitler and arranged for 100 orphans to come to Canada for which she was offered the Cross of the Legion of Honour by France. Throughout her career, she supported issues involving the rights of women and children and more progressive divorce legislation. She was a strong proponent of Medicare. In 1949, Wilson became the first female delegate to the United Nations General Assembly. She died in 1962. I wish I could have met her.

Another amazing woman of that generation was Rockland’s Dr. Annie Powers. One of the first Franco-Ontarian women to become a general practioner, she provided medical care for Rockland and surrounding area residents for more than 30 years. After a 10-year teaching career, she decided to follow in the footsteps her father and two brothers, and became a doctor. Dr. Annie Powers made house calls and did not charge “hard-on-their-luck” patients, going as far as providing food and heating oil in desperate circumstances.

A well-respected and much admired lady, her interest in education was evident throughout her life as she was involved as a school board trustee for 25 years and donated a 150-volume medical encyclopedia to the Montfort Hospital.

My memory of Dr. Powers is very special! At the end of my Teachers’ College year, I did some substitute-teaching at St. Antoine School in Cumberland. A thunderstorm erupted while I waited for the bus to go home one day. As a result, I got sick with what turned out to be trachea-bronchitis. After two days, I could hardly breathe anymore. My mother called Dr. Powers who made a house call around 8 pm at night. She promptly examined me, gave me an injection and chided my mother for waiting so long. “Half an hour more and she would have needed a tracheotomy,” she said as she ordered my mother to humidify the room. To this day, I am grateful to this dedicated country doctor.

Another lady I greatly admired was our neighbour, Mrs. Winters. She was a university graduate, a rarity for women at that time. Even though she was retired, she owned her own car. My father thought it was ridiculous. I disagreed! I did housecleaning for Mrs. Winters. I worked hard and she didn’t pay me that much but she took an interest in me and gave me sound advice. Two pieces of advice stand out in my memory to this day: “Make sure you get a good education and don’t let the Church dictate what goes on in your bedroom when you marry.” She was my mentor!

Among my favourite people, my Aunt Jeannette deserves a special mention. She and Uncle Conrad worked tirelessly, side by side on their farm in Curran. Since Uncle had a full-time job in the construction business for years, they would get up at four in the morning and milk the cows till he left for work in Ottawa. She would finish the chores, serve breakfast to the kids, and make sure the milk got to the cheese factory. Then, her daily household chores began. A wonderful mother, housekeeper, cook, gardener, caregiver, nurse, confidante . . . she never complained. She prayed for everyone; people trusted her devotion and her caring ways. She was my inspiration when life challenged my strength and endurance as I struggled alone with unexpected events. Aunt Jeannette is still a shining star for family and friends, a living testimony to enduring faith and a reminder that “Tough times never last, tough people do!”

Now, fast forward for an update on amazing women on the move! I will certainly be following Olivia Chow, former Toronto councillor, now an NDP Member of Parliament, widow of our beloved Jack Layton. I think we need more women in politics because our present government is getting into all sorts of controversial and insignificant moves. Just check the Flaherty budget! You’ll understand. Listen to Elizabeth May’s speech regarding the Fair Elections Act. We need more amazing women to step up and shake things up because the Conservative government is not only stagnating, it is attempting to change our country to the American way of survival of the fittest. Our country was always known as a country that took care of people who could not take care of themselves. That is who we are!

As for my closest amazing women, let me include Ginette Gratton who has done a wonderful job of shining a bright light on amazing people, many of them women. Her TV program Ginette Gratton reçoit, formerly Pour tout l’amour du monde is a reflection of her unconditional acceptance of our cultural diversity and all it has to offer.

Nicole Fortier was recently awarded the Coup de Coeur of the Gala Personalités de l’année 2013LeDroit/ICIRadio-Canada. In 1979, she was a founding member of Orléans’ MIFO (Mouvement d’implication francophone d’Orléans) and later did the same thing for La Société franco-ontarienne du patrimoine et de l’histoire d’Orléans. Congratulations, Nicole!

Mireille Roy (CTV Amazing Person) has devoted her retirement years to helping women and children in two hard-hit villages of Haiti, Grand Goâve and Taino. There, she teaches sewing, knitting, crochet, embroidery and rug-making to local women and young girls. Working hand in hand with Les artisans de paix internationale, Mireille has raised money to renovate the community centre and add a brand new sewing room. The soccer field is greatly appreciated by the children who also learn crafts and get support with school work. To learn more about Mireille’s wonderful project and, donate if you wish, visit

To all these wonderful women and many more, my own daughter included, I admire you! I thank you! As the Dalai Lama says, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”

Blessings to all!

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