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.
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.
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.
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.
Norma Ford Walker (née Ford), human geneticist (born 3 September 1893 in St. Thomas, ON; died 9 August 1968 in Toronto, ON). Ford Walker completed a PhD in zoology in 1923 at the University of Toronto, and as a faculty member became interested in human genetics. She established her reputation as an authority on multiple births with her research on the Dionne quintuplets. Her publications in genetics contributed to knowledge of a number of childhood genetic conditions and to the application of dermatoglyphics to clinical diagnosis. Through her work and that of her graduate students, who included the first appointees in human genetics at several Canadian universities, Ford Walker had a lasting influence on the national development of human genetics in medicine and as an academic discipline.
Beatrice Helen Worsley, computer scientist, professor (born 18 October 1921 in Queretaro, Mexico; died 8 May 1972 in Waterloo, Ontario). Worsley was a pioneering researcher in the emerging field of computer science. She conducted research and taught at the University of Toronto and Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Worsley is considered to be the first female computer scientist in Canada and was honoured with a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Association of Computer Science in 2014.
Martha Eva Salcudean (née Abel), OC, OBC, professor of mechanical engineering (born 26 February 1934 in Cluj-Napoca, Romania). Salcudean is an internationally recognized authority on computational fluid dynamics and heat transfer. In 1985, she became the first female head of a Canadian university’s engineering department when she was named chair of the department of mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia. Salcudean has dedicated much of her academic career to forging research and development partnerships between universities, government agencies and industrial associates in sectors such as mining, forestry and aeronautics.
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.
Philip J. Currie, palaeontologist, museum curator (born 13 March 1949 in Brampton, ON). In the early 1980s, Currie played a lead role in the founding of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alberta. He later became the namesake of another institution, the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, which opened in September 2015 near Grande Prairie, Alberta. Much of Currie’s research has focussed on fossils from Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park and other Cretaceous sites, as well as the evolution of carnivorous dinosaurs and the origin of birds.
Boris Peter Stoicheff, physics professor (b at Bitola, Yugoslavia 1 June 1924). A specialist in spectroscopy, laser physics and nonlinear optics, he is known for his innovative use of lasers. After receiving a PhD from U of T in 1950 he joined the National Research Council of Canada in 1951.