In The Media / Politics / Social issues

The 2015 Elle Beaver List of Canadian Women of the Year

They are the Canadian women who inspired us to do better, aspire to greater things, reminded us of our humanity, our frailties and our failures.  They are women who made headlines, made us laugh, broke the Internet, broke our hearts and made us think.  Elle Beaver brings you its list of some of the women who rocked our world in 2015. 


Photo: APTN

Photo: APTN

Were we the only ones who openly bawled with pride (at work, sneaking in snippets of the Liberal Government swearing-in ceremony online) when Jody Wilson-Raybould was sworn in as Minister of Justice?  Badass, brilliant and fierce AF, Wilson-Raybould is a descendant of residential school survivors, a former crown prosecutor, treaty commissioner, and B.C. Association of First Nations Regional Chief and the first Aboriginal woman to hold the Justice portfolio.  Among the weighty issues placed on her shoulders: an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, controversial Bill C-51, physician-assisted suicide, the legalization of marijuana, and much, much more.  “This is where I’m supposed to be,” Wilson-Raybould told The Toronto Star we couldn’t agree more.



Photo: Instagram | Anne Thériault

Photo: Instagram | Anne Thériault

Anne Thériault, the brains behind The Belle Jar and other great feats of feminism, made headlines in 2015 around the globe, from  The Daily Mail, Buzzfeed, Refinery 29, Mashable, Cosmopolitan and… *runs out of breath*… shall I go on?  Why? For hilariously live-tweeting an epic bad coffee date.  Thériault lent her trademark humour and wit when she recorded the exchange, with pearl-clutching inducing all-cap tweets like “OH NO NOW HE’S TALKING ABOUT HOW HIS FEAR OF HAVING CHILDREN STEMS FROM HIS DADDY ISSUES AND I CANNOT;” applying her feminist lens with “She keeps politely asking him questions. Not once has he asked her about herself. Wait he just asked if she’d ever dated a writer wtf.”



Mrs. Canada Ashley Burnham celebrates after being crowned Mrs. Universe during the Mrs. Universe 2015 pageant final in Minsk on August 29, 2015. AFP PHOTO / MAXIM MALINOVSKYMAXIM MALINOVSKY/AFP/Getty Images

Photo: AFP/Getty Imagines | Maxim Malinovsky

Badass and beautiful Ashley Callingbull Burnham, the 2015 Mrs. Universe set the political world on fire when she became a powerful voice for Indigenous communities, calling on them to register for the 2015 election and vote in a new Prime Minister. But she didn’t stop at politics, raising awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women, Bill C51’s treatment of Indigenous and environmental advocates, and for the Leap Manifesto. Prime Minister Callingbull, anyone?



Photo: Elle Magazine, Canadian Press, Andrea Villanueva

Photo: Elle Magazine, Canadian Press, Andrea Villanueva

This was the year of the Girl Activist in Canada, where young women’s voices were raised and heard by governments, the media and indeed all of Canada. And the list is exhaustive  Lia Valente and Tessa Hill of We Give Consent; Alexi Halket; Kerin John, Erin Dixon, Andrea Villanueva of Project Slut.  Each has brought something to the game, whether it’s political change or a change in attitudes like Lia and Tessa; towards sexualized young women of colour, like Kerin, Erin and Andrea; or young women who identify as asexual, like Alexi Halket.   And all of these fierce girl advocates are working to usher in a culture of consent where “Yes Means Yes” and a culture where a young woman’s education is every bit as valued as a young man’s education.



Photo: Christi Belcourt by Hyungchoel Park

Photo: Christi Belcourt by Hyungchoel Park

Water Song is all about the sacredness of water, and our responsibility to the water and the earth,” Métis artist Christi Belcourt told The Globe and Mail. And it was Water Song‘s stunning bead-like motifs that was transformed into the cloth from which Italian designer Valentino cut his 2016 Resort collection, after ardently pursuing Belcourt for a partnership that would become an incredible triumph of art, creativity and environmental sustainability.  In a year rife with cultural banditry (read: DSquared2’s extraordinarily offensive and deeply racist collection and KTZ’s cultural appropriation of various traditional garments), the respectful homage to Belcourt’s Water Song showed the fashion world how real ingenuity and creativity can be achieved.



Flora MacDonald in Afghanistan. Source: The Senior Time.

Flora MacDonald in Afghanistan. Source: The Senior Time.

When she passed away in July, Canadians mourned Flora MacDonald, a woman whose political career was devoted to improving the lives of others – from playing a key role in opening Canada’s doors to Vietnam’s Boat People, fighting for a woman’s right to choose, working for women’s education in Afghanistan and Tibet, and leading the charge for women’s Charter rights.  Her greatest legacy was captured by renowned lawyer Maureen McTeer, to whom she told, “Be sure that the fate of women never again rests on one woman’s shoulders.”



Photo: Canadian Press | Trevor Hagan

Photo: Canadian Press | Trevor Hagan

Rinelle Harper rose from the icy waters of Winnipeg’s Assiniboine River, the survivor of a violent attack, to become a voice for the transformative power of education. “Change starts with us, through education,” Harper told We Day in Winnipeg.  “We have to ask ourselves how we contribute to violence and take responsibility for our words and our thoughts.”



Photo: City TV

Photo: City TV

City News reporter Shauna Hunt became every woman’s (and plenty of men’s) shero when she turned and dropped the mic on snickering bystanders, men who think Fuck her right in the pussy is HEEL-A-RIOUS.  “Whatever Shauna Hunt goes on to do in her career,” fellow CBC journalist Jonathan Crowe writes, “she’ll have a hard time topping the social impact of what she did last Sunday afternoon. This was the template for dealing with misogynist idiots and bullies of all stripes.”



Elizabeth May Pic

Elizabeth May, “the greatest Prime Minister we’ll never have,” was determined to be heard during the 2015 election. And so when May was left out of two of the five debates hosted by Canadian media and institutions, she ‘crashed the party‘ by taking to Twitter to insert herself into the conversation.  Now that’s badass.


Zunera Ishaq talks to reporters outside the Federal Court of Appeal after her case was heard on whether she can wear a niqab while taking her citizenship oath, in Ottawa on Tuesday, September 15, 2015. The federal government says it plans to challenge the decision that quashed its attempts to ban face coverings at citizenship ceremonies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle // 0925 elxn niqab

Photo: The Canadian Press | Patrick Doyle

Canadian-In-Waiting Zunera Ishaq became the most important woman in the 2015 federal election when she was propelled to the centre of the 2015 electoral debate, intent on wearing her niqab while swearing her citizenship oath.  She challenged Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and public opinion – AND WON.  But in so doing, Ishaq exposed Canada’s xenophobic underbelly, showing us just how much work remains to be done.


Photo: Globe and Mail

Photo: Globe and Mail

When she coined #DressCodePM, determined to call out Stephen Harper for painting 1.5 billion people with a single brush, Globe and Mail journalist Tabatha Southey lay the ground work for a viral hashtag that would call on the former Prime Minister for intervening in the personal choices Muslimahs make about wearing the veil, that act of ‘predatory chivalry,’ that reduces women to children.  #DressCodePM afforded Muslimahs and their supporters with an opportunity to air their views, change the discourse on the veil, and “hilariously troll” Harper.



Cindy Gladue, a daughter, a mother, a Cree woman, a sex worker.

Cindy Gladue, a daughter, a mother, a Cree woman, a sex worker.

Cindy Gladue‘s violent murder, the violation of her body in Canada’s criminal and the not-guilty verdict of the man who killed her was a shocking reminder of the way in which Canadian society has devalued the lives of Indigenous women.  In her deeply moving piece for Moontime Warrior, Cree blogger Erica Violet Lee wrote, “How do we heal from colonial gender violence? How do we heal from the violence when it is still ongoing? How do we heal from something that has never left us?”   Read more of what Indigenous writers had to say about Cindy Gladue.



Leah-Anne Prosper with her mom, Sarah Prosper, after a provincial tournament.

Leah-Anne Prosper with her mom, Sarah Prosper, after a provincial tournament.

She kicked and punched her way into our hearts. Ferocious 9-year old Leah-Ann Prosper, a budding Kempo martial art star in her community, made headlines when her family launched a campaign to send her to her first international competition, where she placed 3rd in point sparring and clash sparring and placed 5th in traditional Kata.  Although Leah-Ann loves mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey, it’s really her teachers Ms. Delasoy and Ms. Naggy who have pushed her and inspired her to reach beyond her limits.  Leah-Ann is among our top girls to watch!  Read our profile of Leah-Ann Prosper.



It was the first debate that would have focused on women’s affairs since a 1984 electoral debate among Ed Broadbent, Brian Mulroney, and John Turner. A coalition of organizations interested in women’s rights formed Up for Debate, planning a debate that would have allowed for a more fulsome conversation about women’s issues like the gender pay gap, violence against women, missing and murdered Indigenous women, and more.  And while things didn’t exactly go as planned former Prime Minister Stephen Harper flaked out and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair waffled on whether or not to attend — the conversation organized by Up for Debate can and must be pursued so that women might finally see themselves reflected in political debates.  Read our electoral profile of Up for Debate.


Photo: Z103.5

Photo: Z103.5

A controversial choice for this list, Rona Ambrose is an imperfect model of feminism. But the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada has ushered in a new era of Canadian Conservatism. Among her first orders of business, a meeting with Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould about an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, after which she told CBC, “If the Liberal government wants to do an inquiry, and they think that’s an important thing to do, I will support it.”  It was an important if tentative first step after a previously held notion by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper that an inquiry into Canada’s stolen sisters aren’t “high on the radar.” 2016 might be the year where we see more from Ambrose – champion for women, or defender of the status quo?




In recent years, famed Inuit throat-singer Tanya Tagaq has emerged as one of the toughest, this-means-business voice from Canada’s North. When she’s not beating Drake for the Polaris Prize or leading the #Sealfie advocacy movement, Tagaq is a role model to young women and men (not the least of which are the two adorbs throat-singers who charmed Canada during the new government swearing-in) and bitch-slapping filmmaker Dominic Gagnon, who used Tagaq’s music without her explicit permission, also launching a conversation about the racial undertones of his film Of the North.  Tagaq’s star is rising, not just as an artist, but as a role model we aspire to become.

Which women inspired you in 2015?  Share your thoughts with us!

7 thoughts on “The 2015 Elle Beaver List of Canadian Women of the Year

  1. I’m Leah Ann’s kokum (grandmother) & reading this makes me so proud of all the 2015 Women Recognition of the Year..
    Proud Kokum…

    • Leanne – Thanks for writing to us and sharing the love you have for Leah Anne. She truly is an inspiration!

  2. Zunera Ishaq, a women who fights for a right of women to be a slave – I’m don’t think she is such a hero. Quite the opposite, a xenophobe who does not want to make a positive gesture to the country/culture that she is a guest of.

  3. The high proportion of aboriginal women and younger women is laudatory. But a glaring omission: Rachel Notley, who knocked 40 years of anti-feminist, backroom deals and patronage on it’s keester on May 24 2015, to become the 17th Premier of old-boyz-rule-the-boardrooms Alberta. Listing Ambrose instead?? WTF! #fail.

    • Hi there – Thanks for commenting and reading! We know our list is incomplete, and Rachel Notley is definitely an oversight. Thanks for calling out Notley’s amazing year!

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