Canada’s Top 45 Over 45: 2011

Zoomer | July 30th, 2013

Back by popular demand! Our second annual Zoomer List (2011) honours those who prove that age isn’t a barrier to leading and inspiring our country, our lives and our future.

Text:  Elisa Birnbaum 

Editor’s Note: The list is alphabetical; however, the announcement of Jack Layton’s death came at press time – he was already
included – and we responded by placing him at the top of the list in tribute. The rest have one thing in common: through their achievements in the past year, they reflect the positive vision of aging that shows relevancy isn’t restricted to youth.

Jack Layton  July 18, 1950 – August 22, 2011

Why: For his legacy – both political and personal – inspiring Canadians to fight for social justice and make sure “no one is left behind.”  A lifelong politician from Hudson, Que., Jack Layton parlayed his early and noisy career on Toronto city council all the way to Parliament Hill, becoming leader of the federal New Democratic Party. In the 2011 federal election, he achieved a near miracle: cleaning up in his home province from the Bloc (taking 59 of Quebec’s 75 seats), winning 102 seats nationally and, most notably, leading his party to Official Opposition status for the first time in its history. Known for his charm and beaming smile, Layton was a warrior on the political front lines, never backing down from a battle. Equal parts scrappy and witty, he was a man of strong convictions who believed fervently that Canada could be a country “of greater equality, justice and opportunity,” words borne out by his party’s strong support of poor seniors. Layton’s triumphant election showing became bittersweet, however, as he resigned just three months later to deal with a second bout of cancer. On Aug. 22, he lost this battle. Two days before his passing, he penned a final letter, filled with encouragement and inspiration to his party, his caucus, Quebecers, youth and all Canadians – parting words to a nation that he believed in and served until the very end. “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Edward Burtynsky Age: 56

Why: For his current touring exhibition, Oil, and his role as conscience agitator. One of Canada’s most emblematic artists, photographer Edward Burtynsky has a reputation for taking seemingly benign industrial landscapes and transforming them into provocative forces of consciousness. A documentarian of humanity’s impact on the environment, it’s not uncommon for his work to invoke at once beauty and horror, attraction and revulsion. Oil explores the impact of liquid gold on our lives – from the way it moves us forward to its propensity for destruction. But if you’re looking for answers, judgment or in-your-face condemnation, you won’t find it. The exhibition – like the artist himself – simply raises questions, asking us to do the same. “Sometimes, you don’t know why you’re doing something; you’re intuitively following, to see where it leads.”

Geoff Cape Age: 46

Why: For bringing cities and nature one step closer together. Co-founder and executive director of Evergreen, Geoff Cape launched the organization in 1991 with this mission. Taking it one sustainable step further, the group opened the doors to Evergreen Brick Works, Canada’s first large-scale environmental community centre. Due to its unique location – in Toronto’s ravine network and adjacent to the lower Don River – and universal reach, it was named by National Geographic as one of the world’s top 10 geotourism destinations. Cape’s ingenuity led to a wellspring of accolades including winning the Schwab Foundation’s prestigious Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award, the first Canadian to do so. “Ultimately, we hope [to] … turn the tide on the broader environmental challenges we face globally.”

Fiona Cibani  Age: 47

Why: For proving Canadian fashion has no borders. Not many take runway bows in two fashion meccas during the same season, but last year Vancouverite Fiona Cibani did just that: in Milan, where she launched Ports 1961 menswear with an acclaimed spring collection and then during New York Fashion Week as creative director of Ports 1961 womenswear, a post she has held since 2009. Cibani is on a roll: Michelle Obama was spotted in the label, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, shopped at the London store. With 250 Ports stores worldwide, from Hong Kong to Toronto (where it began), the company is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and Cibani is hard at work on the pièce de résistance, a Paris store to open this month. “Women have to balance the roles from mother and wife to executive and CEO, and that’s what we are here for.”

Adrienne Clarkson Age: 72

Why: For shining a new light on the immigration experience. After her stint as governor general ended in 2005, Clarkson founded the Institute for Canadian Citizenship; now she transforms this passion into her latest book. Room For All of Us explores the immigrant experience through a collection of personal stories, looking at how Canada shaped these individuals and how they, in turn, transformed the nation. Her third book in four years – first she published her memoirs, then a biography on Norman Bethune – Clarkson’s post-commander-in-chief life seems infused with as much direction and purpose as when she was in office. “It is customary to talk about how hard immigrants work and how ambitious they are, but those of us who have lived that process know that it is mainly the dream that counts.”

Zita Cobb Age: 52

Why: For revitalizing the town of Fogo Island, Nfld. It’s not easy putting a small fishing town – population 2,700 – on the international map. Yet, that’s exactly what Zita Cobb is doing with Fogo Island, on the northern tip of Newfoundland. Hoping to breathe new life into her hometown, reeling from the far-reaching impact of a cod moratorium, Cobb established the Shorefast Foundation and turned to geotourism, the arts and “good ol’-fashioned” innovation. Initiatives include a world-class inn, art studios and programming. With a $16 million price tag – $6 million from Cobb who made her fortunes in the tech industry – she believes tourism, job creation and hope is nothing short of priceless. “The arts are a proven economic generator. But they also speak to our soul.”

Al Etmanski and Vickie Cammack Age: 63, 59

Why: For advocating for the rights of people with disabilities. Founders of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) and the PLAN Institute, the (married) Vancouverites promote the financial and social well-being of people with disabilities. Hoping to alleviate the challenges faced by the disabled after the death of their primary caregivers – their parents – Etmanski and Cammack established the world’s first Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP). The duo’s latest initiative, Tyze, offers online networks of support for society’s most isolated. To date, 4,000 active networks in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia are at work. “We’ve been successful because we’ve had a hand in the soil and a hand in the stars at the same time.” 

David Foster Age: 61

Why: Raising awareness and funds for children in need of organ transplants. Best known for producing hits for the likes of Céline Dion and Mariah Carey and with 15 Grammy wins among a slew of awards, Foster is hard at work with his foundation dedicated to supporting Canadian families with children in need of organ transplants. In the last year, he came home to Canada for a gala in Toronto attended by Muhammad Ali, which raised $2.9 million. In August, the owners of Victoria’s soon-to-be reopened Oak Bay Beach Hotel donated $2 million to the foundation. Back on the showbiz front, Foster will soon be heading up Verve, the venerated music label. “Don’t be too precious about your craft. We’re making music for the heart but we’re not curing heart disease.”

Dan Fox Age: 57

Why: For being a good corporate citizen. When the Japanese government put out a call for temporary homes to house victims of their recent earthquake and tsunami, Dan Fox was one of the first to respond. His company, Viceroy Homes – a manufacturer of pre-engineered housing – already had a long-term partner in Sendai, situated in the heart of the disaster zone. Within four weeks of that call, Fox and his staff designed 1,000 temporary homes and sent them out a week later. After responding to Japan’s more immediate needs, Fox plans to provide permanent shelter solutions, helping Japan’s ongoing efforts to rebuild. “It’s gratifying to know that the first units to make their way out of our factory will be lived in by families who are finally getting on with rebuilding their lives.”

Sheila Fraser Age: 61

Why: For her acclaimed tenure as Canada’s auditor general. For 10 years, Sheila Fraser has been diligently working on behalf of the Canadian public, keeping the government purse in check. The straight-talking accountant left her post with an impactful postscript: a detailed report lambasting the government for its mismanagement of the G8 and G20 summits. Tabled this summer after Fraser had already stepped down, the highly anticipated report put aside all speculation of its contents after its drafts were leaked during the election campaign. “Sometimes, during the process of fact validation, additional information is brought to our attention. Only the final report that is tabled in Parliament represents our audit findings and conclusions.”

Pat Gillick Age: 74

Why: For being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. As general manager of the Blue Jays from 1977 to 1994, Gillick led the team from its expansion club beginnings to back-to-back World Series champions in 1992 and 1993. Toronto will forever hail Gillick their hero for infusing the word “champion” into their vernacular. Add his forays as GM of Baltimore, Seattle and Philadelphia, who he led to glory in 2008, and Gillick’s induction was a no-brainer. That Roberto Alomar – Gillick’s prized player – was inducted by his side made the ceremony more poignant still. “Baseball is about talent and hard work and strategy but, at the deepest level, it’s about love, integrity and respect – respect for the shared bond that is bigger than any one of us.”

Margie Gillis Age: 58

Why: For unwittingly becoming the most recognizable arts advocate in Canada. It wasn’t her dance moves that thrust Margie Gillis into the spotlight recently; it was her views on funding cuts. During a cringe-worthy interview on Sun TV, Gillis was forced to defend her organization and the arts as worthy of government support. The ensuing backlash – a record 4,100 viewers complained to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council about her on-air treatment – bestowed Gillis with one more honour: YouTube sensation. She was also awarded the 2011 Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement  for her inestimable global influence on modern dance. “The ability to create is not frivolous. It’s essential to the human endeavour.”

Adam Gopnik Age: 55

Why: Delivering the 50th anniversary edition of the Massey Lectures. Essayist, writer, commentator Adam Gopnik is perhaps best known for his contributions to The New Yorker. Now he turns his attention to the Massey Lectures (established in 1961 to provide a forum where contemporary thinkers could address the issues of our time). Montreal-raised Gopnik has amassed a rich portfolio – from essays to personal, oft-witty observations about life and people – which has won him three National Magazine Awards for Essays and for Criticism. We can’t wait to hear what Gopnik will do with the subject of his upcoming Massey Lecture: winter. “As life went on, I realized that the things we write about best are the things we care about most.”

David Grimes Age: 59

Why: For being appointed the world’s weatherman. With global warming, receding ice caps and hurricane season frequent conversation starters, it seems opportune for David Grimes, a weather junkie and 35-year veteran of Environment Canada, to step into the role of a lifetime. After leading Canada’s Meteorological Service since 2006, Grimes became the first Canadian president of the World Meteorological Organization, a UN agency. Responsible for shaping the direction of research and services related to weather, climate and water, Grimes hopes to place a greater focus on polar regions – and to establish a longer summer. Or not. “I am honoured to have been elected by my colleagues as Canada’s meteorological service celebrates 140 years of service.” 

Paul Haggis Age: 58

Why: Helping to rebuild a post-earthquake Haiti. At the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, A-listers arrived at the Windsor Arms Hotel for the inaugural fundraiser for Paul Haggis’s project, Artists for Peace and Justice. The writer and director, whose film credits include Crash and Million Dollar Baby, was inspired by Father Rick Frechette, a U.S. doctor and priest working in the slums of Port-au-Prince. So Ontario-born Haggis launched APJ to support his efforts. Dedicated to funding hospitals, schools and opportunities for children in Haiti, APJ already raised enough money to build the first free secondary school in 2010. “The people of Haiti have inspired me for their resilience and courage in the face of disaster.”

Roberta Jamieson Age: 58

Why: Awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws from McGill University. Pioneer, advocate, game-changer, Jamieson was the first First Nations woman to earn a law degree in Canada, the first woman – and longest tenured – ombudsman of Ontario and the first woman elected chief of Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. And she already has 18 degrees and is a Member of the Order of Canada. As CEO and president of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation – dedicated to realizing the potential of aboriginal youth – Jamieson is leading the way with education and supportive networks her tools of choice. “I’m doing this now because I think the single most effective way to change aboriginal people in Canada is to educate our kids.”

Norman Jewison Age: 85

Why: Two retrospectives celebrate Jewison’s six decades of filmmaking. From Moonstruck to Fiddler on the Roof to The Hurricane, his films are a myriad of artistic integrity wrapped in celluloid. But for the Toronto-born producer-director, it’s about the story. Honest, pure, transcendent storytelling is the Jewison trademark, after all. It’s the legacy that inspired the TIFF and New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center honours this year and a lifetime achievement award from the Directors Guild of America in 2009. The 46-time nominee and 12-time Academy Award winner also launched the Canadian Film Centre in 1988. Hard at work on two more films, the storyteller is far from done. “I try to make each film an individual experience for the audience and for myself.”

Karen Kain Age: 60

Why: For taking a calculated risk into the rabbit hole. When the U.K.’s Royal Ballet commissioned a new Alice in Wonderland production noted for its high-tech approach, Kain knew she wanted in. In her sixth season as artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, the former ballerina was looking for a project that was capable of thrusting the company into the international spotlight. So Kain took a gamble. A $1 million investment secured a co-production, exclusive North American touring rights – and the highest grossing main-season production in the National’s history. We tried to reach Kain for a comment but were told she’s in Vegas. “That’s the most rewarding part – feeling I can be a catalyst for an artistic experience for our artists and for the public.”

Bonnie Kearns Age: 66

Why:  For receiving the Red Cross’s highest honour, the Order of the Red Cross, Member Level. A registered nurse, Bonnie Kearns had volunteered with the Canadian Red Cross for more than 25 years before accepting her latest deployment. The mission: build the Canadian Red Cross’s first field hospital in Haiti. Some would call the plans daunting, even dangerous. But for Kearns, whose passion for disaster management runs deep – she spent six months in Afghanistan, was deployed to Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake and assisted in the aftermath of 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina – the opportunity was just yet another way to give back. “To be honoured by your peers for doing work that you love – can it get any better than that?”

Lisa LaFlamme Age: 47

Why: For succeeding Lloyd Robertson as anchor of CTV National News. If there’s been a crisis or international incident over the past decade, you can be sure Lisa LaFlamme was there, microphone, grit and instinct in hand. As CTV’s national affairs correspondent, she reported from Ground Zero, Iraq and, more recently, Afghanistan. The Kitchener, Ont., native has big shoes to fill but, as she joins the ranks of Canada’s most celebrated anchorwomen, a list that includes Pamela Wallin and Barbara Frum, we’re betting on success. “To follow in the footsteps of Lloyd Robertson is an enormous honour and extremely humbling. He is an institution, the very foundation that fair and honest journalism is built on, and has personally taught me so much about this business that I love.”

Robert Lantos Age: 62

Why: For fighting 12 long years to bring the quintessential Canadian novel to the screen. When acclaimed producer Robert Lantos decided to turn his friend Mordecai Richler’s novel Barney’s Version into a film, little did he know the degree of patience the project would require. But there was something about the Giller-awarded book – Richler’s last – that made it worth every gruelling step. Lantos especially loved how the book triggered the flavour and smells of Montreal, a city the Budapest-born producer called home for 15 years. The movie would earn seven Genie awards and a Golden Globe for Paul Giamatti. “It’s so hard to make a movie. It takes such a long time, so much effort – that to make a film, for me, for any reason than my own passion, makes no sense.”

Dr. Mark Lathrop Age: 60

Why: Being appointed the new scientific director of the McGill University and Génome Québec Innovation Centre. n After establishing
a reputation overseas as one of the world’s top genomics researchers, Alberta native Dr. Mark Lathrop returned to Canada this year to helm the centre. Lathrop’s research is currently focused on identifying the DNA variants that predispose humans to diseases like cardiovascular, lung cancer and asthma – in other words, conditions that directly affect seniors. “The Innovation Centre, [with its] technology and expertise in genetics, expertise in ethical issues and its close integration with medical research in particular in Quebec, has a very strong potential to be among the world leaders [in the field].”

Dr. Garry Lindberg Age: 70

Why: For managing the development of one of Canada’s most iconic symbols. This year, along with the U.S. Space Shuttle program, the Canadarm – a robotic arm bearing the word Canada and the capacity to launch satellites, repair the Hubble Telescope and handle cargo – was laid to rest, its last flight in July marking its 90th mission. It first soared into space in 1981 on Space Shuttle Columbia, propelling Dr. Garry Lindberg and his research team at the National Research Council to superstar status. Program manager of the Canadarm, Lindberg led the painstaking eight-year $108 million project. The engineering innovation affirmed Canada’s legacy in the global aerospace industry. “Its remarkable performance produced a rush of relief and joy.”

Kevin MacLeod Age: 60

Why: For engineering the Wills and Kate Canadian love fest. For nine long days, one man refused to leave the side of Kate Middleton. And we’re not talking about Prince William. As Canadian secretary to the Queen, Kevin MacLeod has been co-ordinating royal tours to Canada since 1987. MacLeod rode a wave of success on the Wills and Kate tour – he had bigger challenges rounding up interest in Charles and Camilla in 2009 – showing nervous royalists that the fresh cast of characters will ensure the monarchy endures. Having served 31 years in the Public Service of Canada, 22 of those with the department of heritage, MacLeod also holds the highest position of the Royal Victorian Order that any Canadian can hold: commander.  “No one can imagine the world without the Queen.”

Sergio Marchionne Age: 59

Why: For returning Fiat to North America after a 28-year absence. Fiat’s return to the Americas came in the form of its prized Fiat 500, another sign the once-embattled automaker was making a comeback. A testament to its leader, Italian-Canadian Sergio Marchionne, it’s been said were it not for the turnaround wizard, U.S. President Obama would never have thrown money at Chrysler (of whom Fiat acquired a 20 per cent stake) to keep it afloat. To wit: when Marchionne took over at Fiat in 2004, the company couldn’t even come up for air. Less than two years later, it was turning a profit. As the new CEO of Chrysler, the hope is Marchionne will achieve similar results. “Something much more profound than a business opportunity is taking place …”

Paul Martin Age: 73

Why: For promoting economic independence and entrepreneurship among Aboriginal peoples. Former prime minister, the Honourable Paul Martin launched the CAPE Fund in 2009, a $50 million private-sector investment fund – the first investment took place last year. With Aboriginal partners and 21 investors, it provides social and financial returns at its core. But the fund is no charity project. Martin wants to build viable, sustainable businesses that can generate profitability and a return for CAPE and its Aboriginal partners. CAPE isn’t Martin’s first foray into supporting Aboriginal communities (can anyone say Kelowna Accord?), but some would say it’s his best yet. “We all have a responsibility to make our country a better place.”

David Matas and David Kilgour Age: 68, 70

Why: Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Winnipeg human rights lawyer David Matas’s expertise on human rights has been sought by the Canadian government and organizations like Amnesty International Canada. At the request of a Washington-based NGO, Matas – in partnership with former Canadian cabinet minister and prosecutor David Kilgour – spent four years investigating the claim that Falun Gung members were being killed for their organs. Shocked by their findings, the men led a global campaign attempting to document and end the abuse. For their efforts they received the Human Rights Award from the German-based International Society for Human Rights. “Our goal is to stop this abuse. I can’t say it’s stopped yet.”

John McDermott Age: 56

Why: For providing terminally ill patients with added peace and comfort. In 2010, international Scottish-Canadian recording artist John McDermott pledged $3.6 million through his newly established foundation, McDermott House Canada, to renovate the palliative care unit in the Veterans Centre of Sunnybrook Hospital. The refurbishments will provide veterans, military, first responders and community patients with additional beds and other amenities to make their stay more comfortable. McDermott’s dedication has not gone unrecognized: he was recently awarded the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation Award. “I am passionate about supporting our veterans, military and first responders through all phases of their lives.”

Bob McMinn Age: 86

Why: For spearheading a social media campaign to preserve a Vancouver Island lake. Lest you think only young tweeps can tweet, octogenarian Bob McMinn proves otherwise. The Vancouver Island resident was growing frustrated witnessing the wilderness around him being sold piece by piece for housing developments. When Mary Lake, a 43-hectare habitat for endangered species, went up for grabs, McMinn joined the Save Mary Lake conservancy and taught himself new tricks. After donating $100,000, the activist turned to YouTube and other platforms to help raise the $4.5 million needed to outbid the developers. “If Obama could raise $500 million via social media for his presidential campaign, then I figured why couldn’t we raise $5 million to save Mary Lake.”

Peter Munk Age: 83

Why: Bringing the world’s hot-button issues home. If you’re going to hold a debate on China, bringing Henry Kissinger – the iconic diplomat with a historic role in China’s relationship to the West – to deliberate on its potential on the world stage is nothing short of a coup. Ditto for inviting award-winning self-proclaimed atheist Christopher Hitchens to present on religion against Tony Blair. Welcome to the Munk Debates, held in Toronto, which has become one of the hottest tickets in town. The biannual debates are an initiative of the Aurea Foundation, founded by Peter and Melanie Munk to support Canadian institutions involved in the study and development of public policy. “I consider myself lucky. I’ve made some money and I wish to give it back.”

Glen Murray Age: 53

Why: For pushing the bio-tech field to focus on healthy aging. Former mayor of Winnipeg, Murray is now Ontario’s Minister of Research and Innovation. At this year’s Biotechnology Industry Organization convention in Washington, D.C., Murray hosted a breakfast promoting his province’s cutting edge research and innovative solutions. Attended by heavy hitters in the bio-tech industry, Murray announced the new Life Sciences Corridor, which will see pharmaceutical industries in Ontario and Quebec join forces to share medical discoveries, many that focus on issues related to an aging population: Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and preventative medicine for cognitive health and dementia. “Here is really where the future is being invented.”

Peter Oundjian Age: 55

Why: For dynamically leading the Toronto Symphony Orchestra into its 90th season. Heading into the TSO’s ninth decade, music director Peter Oundjian’s initiatives have helped the Symphony strengthen its relationship in the community and bring in younger patrons. Its 90th anniversary season has something for everyone, including a musical adaptation of Roch Carrier’s children’s classic, The Hockey Sweater, performances by Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma and a concert devoted to Shakespeare’s Henry V with Christopher Plummer providing narration. If that weren’t enough, he will soon be juggling the same duties with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, but the conductor is up for a challenge. “We want to get people in the door first, then get them addicted.”

Martin Parnell Age: 56

Why: For running 250 marathons in one year – for a good cause. At 47, when most guys are investing in sports cars, Martin Parnell started to run. Before long, the semi-retired mining engineer completed marathons, Ironman events and a cycling expedition from Cairo to Cape Town, where he witnessed and was inspired by the positive impact of sport on children. In 2010, Parnell pledged to run 250 marathons – five a week – to raise $250,000 for Right To Play, a charity that uses sports to help disadvantaged children worldwide. Clocking 10,550 kilometres and wearing out 25 pairs of running shoes, Parnell completed his quest on Dec. 31, raising more than $300,000 and the bar for others to follow. “I think you’ve got to have a certain amount of nut-ness in you.”

Anna Porter Age: “According to my book, The Storyteller, I was 11 in 1956.”

Why: For winning the 2011 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for political writing. In her latest book, The Ghosts of Europe: Journeys Through Central Europe’s Troubled Past and Uncertain Future, Anna Porter travels to the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and her native Hungary and explores the impact of democracy on these former communist strongholds. One of Canada’s most venerated publishers for more than 30 years, Porter co-founded Key Porter Books, boasting a list that included Margaret Atwood and Farley Mowat. But the publishing titan sold her stake in Key Porter in 2004, to focus on her writing – another brilliant publishing decision, given the critical success of her books. “Unlike exotic fruit or fancy cars, democracy is best if it is grown locally.”

Lloyd Robertson Age: 77

Why: Not signing off from the news just yet. The year was 1952 when a fresh-faced Lloyd Robertson began a career in radio broadcasting. He’d soon switch to television news, a decision that would earn the reporter multiple awards and title of first journalist inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame. Voted Canada’s most trusted news anchor by TV Guide readers 11 years in a row, when Robertson stepped down in September, after 50 years, he did so as the longest-serving network news anchor in North American television history. But tee times can wait. The veteran is continuing his hosting duties at W5, among other projects. And that’s the kind of day it’s been, indeed. “After almost 60 years in this business, I still pinch myself every now and again.”

Maj.-Gen. Richard Rohmer Age: 87

Why: For proving there’s no time like the present to tell a good story. General Richard Rohmer is a practising lawyer, best-selling author, a fighter pilot who played a pivotal role in the Battle of Normandy and the most decorated Canadian. His achievements could fill an entire page. Lucky for us, he’s continuing to fill many of his own. Already a celebrated writer of nonfiction and fiction, General Rohmer recently launched a publishing firm and penned a book on the building of Toronto’s CN Tower, proving his latest career is taking off on a high note. “These are the most creative years. It is vitally important to maximize opportunities. It also means that you have to be prepared to take chances.”

Nicole Rycroft Age: 45

Why: For her work as an environmental trailblazer. It takes a lot of courage to ask literary icons to join you in a battle to change the way we produce paper, never mind stodgy, traditional-minded publishers. But that’s exactly what Nicole Rycroft, executive director of Vancouver-based Canopy has done, convincing 650 publishers, magazines, newspapers and printers to adopt green practices. Most recently the environmental activist witnessed one of her greatest battles come to fruition with the signing of the Boreal Agreement – the largest conservation agreement in history. “There’s no reason Canada’s troubled pulp and paper industry can’t take inspiration from the auto sector and start reinventing by producing a greener product.”

R. Murray Schafer Age: 78

Why: For his appointment as composer-in-residence for the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. He’s seemingly becoming more prolific, having premiered new music and winning a Juno in 2011 for Classical Composition of the Year. His latest position with the RCM – where he was once a student – allows him a new venue from which to create, teach and mentor.  Previous teaching posts include Memorial University and B.C.’s Simon Fraser, but Schafer’s musical education theories – he coined the word soundscapes, which is the study of sound and how it affects our environment and daily lives – are part of curricula worldwide. His greatest legacy will culminate in the famous World Soundscape Project. “One makes music to get out of this world.” 

Jennifer Stoddart Age: 62

Why: For keeping us safe(r) online. The next time you’re playing Farmville (with your kids, of course), you can thank Jennifer Stoddart for keeping your personal information secure from third-parties. Stoddart, the country’s privacy commissioner since 2003 (a title extended in 2010), has made online technology her tireless passion. She has fearlessly taken on Internet giants, scolding them for their lax approach to privacy, and her efforts have brought her international praise and attention. “I never believed the purists when they talked about the Internet being about everything good. I have studied too much history. Most Utopian experiments … never survive in their original shape because negative forces, some would say evil forces, are always present.”

Frank Stronach Age: 79

Why: He steps down, but those big wheels keep on turning. When Frank Stronach left the company he built from scratch, he did so in much the same way he ran the world’s fifth largest auto parts company for almost 40 years: courting controversy. To be sure, his $860 million buyout deal from Magna International – after earning more than $60 million last year as chairman – is just par for the course. He said he’s too young and full of ideas to retire. A renewed commitment to horse racing – a long-time passion – is on the agenda. But his main priority will be the electric vehicle business that Magna spun off to him in return for his controlling shares. “You slow down when you’re confined in a box and you can’t move. It’s as simple as that.”

David Thomson Age: 54

Why: For reviving the NHL in Winnipeg. Chair of Thomson Reuters, the media empire his grandfather started in 1934, Thomson is worth an estimated $23 billion and tops the Forbes’ list of Canadian billionaires. He’s also an art patron and British baron. But ask any Winnipegger, and they’ll tell you those titles pale in comparison to the one he acquired this year: part-owner of the city’s new NHL hockey team. It’s a coup for Winnipeg, still smarting from the loss of their precious Jets in 1996. And it’s a generous gift from Thomson, who undoubtedly felt one of the coldest cities in the world deserves a game on ice. “The game matters to me … When you do things for the right reasons, everything else seems to flow.”

Shania Twain Age: 46

Why: For rebooting her career and life. Times were tough when Shania Twain found out about the affair between her husband, music producer Robert (Mutt) Lange, and her closest friend. Things got worse when her singing voice betrayed her too. When Twain picked herself up, she documented her road back in a bold memoir, From This Moment On. Twain also has a series on the OWN network, was inducted onto Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and received a Lifetime Achievement Juno Award. She’s gone on to marry her former friend’s ex-husband, Frederic Thiebaud, release a new single and is gearing up for a two-year Vegas stint starting next year. Impress you much? “I feel like I’ve climbed a very giant mountain, and I’m just standing right on top with my arms wide open and breathing rarified air.”

Sylvia Tyson Age: 71

Why: For being the consummate reinventor, this time as a first-time novelist. What folk singer hasn’t taken a turn recording the ubiquitous classic, “You Were on My Mind”? It’s a query that the Chatham, Ont.-born Sylvia Tyson – who wrote the single in 1962 – has no time for; she’s too busy collecting royalties and writing her first novel, Joyner’s Dream – yet another first for Tyson who stepped into the spotlight as half of the ’60s folk-country duo, Ian and Sylvia. After their breakup in the ’70s, she continued as a solo artist before trying her hand at broadcasting and musical theatre. “The past is prologue for me. The truth is I’m so much more interested in what I’m doing right now than I am in anything I’ve done in the past.”

Gilles Vigneault Age: 83

Why: For keeping the tradition of folk music going strong in Quebec and beyond. Vigneault began as a poet and songwriter, launching his own publishing house in 1959. But his singing career took off in the ’60s, and hasn’t stopped yet. A thinker’s songwriter, a philosopher even, Vigneault is as celebrated for his musicality as his ability to infuse sociopolitical issues into song. He was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. One of his most popular singles, “Mon Pays” catapulted him to the rank of rock star, some calling it Quebec’s informal anthem and Vigneault its esteemed spokesperson. And he still tours. “My country isn’t a country, it’s winter; my garden isn’t a garden, it’s the plain; my road isn’t a road, it’s the snow.” –—Lyrics from “Mon Pays”

Hilary Weston Age: 69

Why: For infusing the nonfiction category with much-needed investment. Non-fiction writers rejoice! Raise your beer and bowl of mac  ’n’ cheese in celebration of the new sponsor of the Writers’ Trust of Canada non-fiction prize. Hilary Weston, former lieutenant-governor of Ontario and philanthropist, has pledged $60,000 in prize money – a nice bump from its original $25,000 – filling the gap of an award that’s been sponsorless since 2008. Now deemed among the richest literary awards in Canada, the hope is the prize and accompanying gala will achieve for nonfiction what the Giller Prize accomplished for fiction. “As I get older, I really feel passionate about non-fiction because of its broad reach.”