Jean Lumb was the co-owner of the famous Kwong Chow Restaurant in Chinatown for 23 years. Aside from being a successful restaurateur, she remained a prominent force in Toronto's Chinese community. She is seen here in a Save Chinatown rally during the 1960s.

7 female activists you didn’t know were from Toronto

Exhibit celebrates local game-changers of past and present

Toronto women have been among the leaders in the struggle for equality, according to a new exhibit being shown at several locations in the city this month.

The exhibit is free and travels to these locations:

March 8–12: St. Lawrence Hall
March 14–18: Etobicoke Civic Centre
March 19–26: Scarborough Museum
March 28–April 3: York University

On International Women’s Day, Heritage Toronto and Women in Toronto Politics launched Toronto the Just: Stories of Women and the Struggle for Equality, featuring local women who fought discrimination and intolerance.

The event also included talks from people such as Tanya Senk, an Aboriginal educator and descendant of Louis Riel; Jill Andrew, co-founder of the Body Confidence Canada Awards; and Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Here are the stories of seven of the women featured in the exhibit:

1. Doris Anderson (1921–2007)

Doris Anderson poses at her desk in Chatelaine magazine. A commemorative plaque was unveiled in her honour during the launch of the art exhibit at St. Lawrence Hall.
A commemorative plaque was unveiled in honour to Adoris Anderson, shown here at her desk at Chateleine, during the launch of the art exhibit at St. Lawrence Hall. (Rogers Media.)

Editor of Chatelaine from 1957 to 1977, Anderson published editorials about child welfare, divorce, abortion and birth control, turning the magazine into a hub for feminist discourse. In 1981, she led a lobbying campaign that led to a section being added to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, stating women and men are equal under the law. Anderson wrote several books including Unfinished Revolution: Status of Women in Twelve Countries (1991). She was appointed as Companion of the Order of Canada in 2002 for her lifelong efforts in championing women’s rights.

2. Lillian McGregor (1924–2012)

After a 40-year nursing career, McGregor spent her later years as a strong voice for the First Nations community in Toronto, helping them adjust to urban life while upholding their own culture. She served on the boards of the Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Strategy (for Ontario’s government), Aboriginal Advisory Council, Nishnawbe Homes and Native Child and Family Services. In 1994 McGregor was appointed by the University of Toronto as the first Elder-in-Residence at their First Nations House. In 2005 she was made an Officer of the Order of Ontario. In 2011 McGregor earned the National Aboriginal Lifetime achievement Award.

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam looks on as Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, speaks about the harm of gender specific dress codes in the workplace at the exhibit launch in St. Lawrence Hall on Mar. 8.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, right, looks on as Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, speaks about the harm of gender specific dress codes in the workplace at the exhibit launch in St. Lawrence Hall on Mar. 8. (Bianca Quijano/ Toronto Observer )

3. Jean Lumb (1919–2002)

Born in Nanaimo, British Columbia, to Cantonese immigrants, Lumb moved to Toronto at 16 years old. She was a lifelong advocate for the Chinese-Canadian community in Toronto. In 1957 after the Chinese Immigration Act was nullified, Lumb was the only woman out of 40 who met with Prime Minister John Diefenbaker to lobby for family reunification. She formed the “Save Chinatown” campaign protecting businesses in Toronto’s first Chinatown. She was also a member of the Ontario Advisory Council on Multiculturalism. Lumb became the first Chinese-Canadian woman to be appointed to the Order of Canada in 1976.

4. Fran Odette (born 1962)

Odette advocates for the rights of women with disabilities. She sat on the Family Service Toronto Board and presides over Nellie’s Women’s Shelter. She works with the DisAbled Women’s Network (DAWN) studying social and political barriers to accessing support. Odette teaches at George Brown College, where she co-designed a course titled “Disability Discourse: The Experienced Life.”

5. Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823–1893)

Canada’s first Black newspaper publisher, Cary was also an anti-slavery activist and campaigner for women’s rights. Born to free parents and supporters of the Underground Railroad, she sought refuge in Canada when the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed. In 1883, she was the first Black woman to earn a law degree from Howard University.

6. Ursula Franklin (Born 1921)

A holocaust survivor, Franklin moved to Toronto in 1949. Her work with Voice of Women, researching radioactive levels (from nuclear fallout) found in children’s teeth, helped end atmospheric weapons testing. The physicist and philosopher also fought for environmental conservation, pacifism and women’s rights. Franklin was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1992.

7. Jane Jacobs (1916–2006)

Jacobs was an urbanist who led several grassroots efforts to protect Toronto neighborhoods. She spearheaded the revamp of the St. Lawrence neighbourhood and prevented expansion of the Spadina Expressway into downtown. Jacobs was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1996. In 2007, the first annual Jane’s Walk (citizen-led walking tours) was held in Toronto.