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Then and Now: Influential Sudbury women who opened the doors to city council

The credentials and experience of Dr. Faustina Kelly Cook and Karen Shaw surpassed many of their male colleagues

The Sudbury Business and Professional Women's Club (BPW Sudbury) has played a large role in encouraging women to enter municipal politics. Several women were president of the women's organization before or after their political careers.

Trailblazers include Dr. Faustina Kelly Cook, the first president of BPW Sudbury, who was elected in 1950, and Karen Shaw, who served on city council from 1991 to 1997. Their contributions to the community went beyond politics. Their credentials and experience often surpassed their male colleagues.

Kelly Cook was one of the first two women elected to council. The other woman elected that year, Grace Hartman, would go on to become mayor in 1966. 

Kelly Cook, a recent widow, spent one term on council (municipal elections were held every year in the 1950s). She would continue to contribute in other ways as an original member of the board of governors at Laurentian University (1960 to 1969).

Born in Sudbury in 1895, Kelly Cook attended Queen's University and graduated from Toronto School of Medicine in 1920. She stood out in a class of men.

According to the Federation of Medical Women of Canada, there were only 300 women doctors in Canada at the time. Women represented about 20 per cent of the total labour force and very few were university graduates.

Kelly Cook, who was bilingual, interned in Hamilton and returned home to Sudbury to practise. French-speaking patients appreciated being able to communicate with their doctor.

She travelled by train throughout the region visiting patients who lived along the railroad tracks to provide medical care in outlying French-speaking communities. 

In July 1935, she married Dr. William John (W.J.) Cook, a surgeon and Sudbury’s medical officer of health for more than 30 year before his death in 1948. He had four children from his first marriage.

Kelly Cook is remembered as one of the founders of the Red Cross Blood Donor Clinic, and she received a Distinguished Service Award from the Red Cross for her efforts.

She died in 1979 at the age of 83.

Seventy years after the first two women were elected to Sudbury council, there are still only two women councillors, Deb McIntosh and Joscelyne Landry-Altmann. In the last election, of the 43 candidates running for city council, seven were women.

Karen Shaw, speaking at the Northern Ontario Research and Development symposium (INORD) in 1995, said without women on city council "the expenditures of municipal tax dollars will more likely continue to be focused on sewer, water and road programs, (limiting) the opportunity of creating programs and services that enhance our quality of life."*

Shaw was honoured with a special recognition award at the Influential Women of Northern Ontario Awards in 2002. 

Tragically, Shaw had an inherited neurological illness that forced her to retire in 2000. She spent the last few years of her life in a nursing home on Manitoulin Island and  died at the age of 59 in 2003.

"She was one of those people that when you had something to get done, you asked Karen," her husband, Bob Shaw, said when he accepted the award on her behalf. "She didn't have a lot of time for sitting around. Karen managed more in one day than most people would in one week."

Born in Calgary and raised in Winnipeg, Shaw was involved in everything.

As physical education teacher at Sudbury High School, Shaw contributed to the development of provincewide curriculum for physical education.

She was a Sudbury Board of Education trustee between 1976 and 1985 and was a member of the Laurentian board of governors for a decade. She was president of Sudbury BPW from 1986 to 1988. 

The mother of three children was also one of the first women to serve as president of the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce.

In 1982, she joined Cambrian College, where she was an adviser and held several positions including chair of support programs. She was a member of Vision 2000, a provincial committee reviewing the mandate of community colleges.

As executive director for the Cambrian Foundation, between 1989 and 1996, she directed the $2.5-million capital campaign to build the Glenn Crombie Centre, the special needs learning facility.

Shaw was a city councillor (and regional councillor) from 1991 to 1997. In 1995, she attempted to win the Liberal nomination in the Ontario provincial election, but lost her bid to Rick Bartolucci.

During this busy period of her life, Shaw worked on her PhD. In 1997, she was awarded a doctor of philosophy degree in Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education from Michigan State University. 

For a short time before her retirement,  Shaw and her husband moved to Kelowna B.C., when she accepted the position of executive director, advancement, with Okanagan University College. 

Marianne Matichuk, the City of Greater Sudbury's only female mayor, elected in 2010 for one term, is also a past-president of BPW Sudbury.

Women do not get involved in local politics as much as men do because they are not given encouragement, she said.

"There are many capable women who are never asked to be a candidate … It takes encouragement and support to step up. Far too often, women do not receive positive support from the media and are measured by male standards."

Matichuk added that women have to be in positions of influence to help more women take the step.

"Until gender parity is reached on local (governing) boards and women are in positions of power, interest to perhaps pursue a higher level of involvement in local issues will continue to be low."

During the 1970s there were no women on city council until 1978 when Sandra Korpela was elected. In 1980, Frances Caldarelli, Diane Marleau and Mary Conroy were elected. Mila Wong joined Shaw on council in 1991. In 2000, Louise Portelance was the only woman elected in the amalgamated City of Greater Sudbury. 

Voters elected three women to council in 2003: Frances Caldarelli, Janet Gasparini and Lynne Reynolds. Evelyn Dutrisac sat on council for three terms beginning in 2006. Before that, she was a two-term councillor for the Town of Rayside-Balfour.


Greater Sudbury, The Story of Our Times, Laurentian Media, 2008

* Changing Lives Women and the Northern Ontario Experience, edited by Marg Kechnie and Marge Rietsma-Street, Dundurn Press, 1996

Special thanks to Shanna Fraser at City of Greater Sudbury Archives

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. She is a former editor of Northern Life and Sudbury Living magazine, and has a special interest in local history. Then and Now is made possible by our Community Leaders Program


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Vicki Gilhula

About the Author: Vicki Gilhula

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer.
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