October is Women’s History month in Canada. When you Google this topic and read about the women who have changed the lives for women in Canada the focus seems to be on business, those CEOs who are women and the measure of their success is in terms of their earnings. Undoubtedly, every time a woman out performs or equals a man in the business world, the road is made a whole lot smoother for those women coming behind.
If I made my own list of women in history that have marked me profoundly, I doubt very much if those in the business world would appear on my Top Ten though I am certainly grateful for their determination and focus because “it’s a man’s world” has been a formidable mountain to climb. Women only became “qualified persons” in 1929 thanks to the tenacity of the “Famous Five” led by Emily Murphy. There would have been significant women who helped Emily and her cohorts grow up with a sense of right and determined purpose.
My list might include the following. A distant grandmother Nahoway, of Cree descent, is an ancestor on my mother’s side who undoubtedly gave my mother’s lineage their wonderful darker than dark eyes. A cousin has penned Nahoway’s story, one of courage and starting over, a book I keep close at hand.
I grew up admiring E Pauline Johnson and her poetry and her aboriginal roots. Carrie Derick was the first Canadian woman professor taking her position at McGill University where she received one-third the pay of her male counterpart and who previously completed her studies for her PhD in Botany but was not given her official doctorate because the University of Bonn did not give women doctorates. She kept pushing forward. I admired Helen Harrison-Bristol who was the first ferry pilot for the Canadian Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War. My father told me about her. She went on to teach floatplane flying in Canada. The list could be a long one, but for me would be those women being true to themselves first.
If I was stopped on the street and asked for one name of a woman whose place in my history, in my life was significant, without a second’s hesitation I would have an answer. Annie Lahti. She is the most important woman in my history. Why Annie? Where do I begin?
It was upon Annie’s knee when I was four years old where I found unconditional love when my mother went back to teaching and my father was clearing our farm land. An extremely shy child, Annie’s knee became my sanctuary. It was Annie who let my imagination bloom and grow while we played and she hung sheets on the line to dry after tying a flour sack, an obvious princess warrior cape, around my shoulders. It was Annie who taught me by example that a girl can do anything she puts her mind to, be it splitting firewood, milking cows, gathering eggs, planting a huge garden, cooking a delicious meal. It was Annie who taught me if I was very quiet a feral mother cat (a matka) would trust me and let me pat her, but it required a great deal of patience. It was Annie who taught me to spool knit and to make donuts. It was to Annie’s house where I ran most mornings, across the field having being set free at the pasture gate by my father. Annie was always waiting, ready with a hug and a kiss and breakfast.
It was Annie who took pride in everything I did, but who loved me because I was the little girl who came to sit upon her knee when her knee was empty. And I love her more than she will ever know. Annie is the woman in my history, in my present, and in my forever.