Our 88th Year of serving the Ottawa Community and Zonta International! 

On Wednesday, May 28, 2014, the Zonta Club of Ottawa began celebrating our eighty-fifth anniversary.  Imagine, for eighty-five years a group of like-minded women, all decision makers in their respective careers, have been working to improve the status of women, in step with Zonta members in sixty-three other countries.  Today, 2016 – we are in our 88th year!

Guest speaker, The Honourable Dr. K. Kellie Leitch Minister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women

Guest speaker for our 85th Celebration and 2014 Awards Evening was The Honourable Dr. K. Kellie Leitch Minister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women

The first seventy years of our history were captured in a 70-page published book. Through the Chateau Door, a History of the Zonta Club of Ottawa, 1929-1989, written by Valerie Knowles, a Canadian writer.  The history as well as club records reveal a busy and productive women’s service club.

Today, we look back with pride on the remarkable contributions the club has made to the Ottawa community as well as to Zonta International over its eight-five years.

The Process

Over the past decade, our club has adopted a focused vision and a three-step strategy to produce action and to build on the efforts of our small but mighty group.

Step one:  Teach/empower ourselves about an issue,

Step two: Teach/empower others and, in doing so, broaden the tent and

Step three: Do something about it by building a public awareness!

Also, in all important endeavours, evaluation is important and we can look back with pride at the outcomes.

Current Programs

Preventing Violence Against Women...Elder Abuse

All of Zonta International’s thirty-three thousand members, are asked to fight violence against women.  The Ottawa club chose the hidden crime of Elder Abuse.

In an effort to understand the scope of the problem and to build awareness, we invited speakers to address such question as: What is elder abuse? Who are the victims? Where can older people get help? And what can Zonta do?  The result:  On June 15, 2014, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day the club hosted a vigil at Ottawa’s City Hall.

Education Awards...Bursaries and Scholarship

The club continues to foster education by awarding bursaries.  Since 1986, the club has presented a number of bursaries to deserving women in May of each year.  Each May the club distributes $8,000 -$11,000 at a ceremony and reception held at City Hall (see Awards).

Fund Raising - Odyssey Theatre & Events

For several years the club enthusiastically held a Holiday Silent Auction and Dinner and assigned the proceeds to Zonta International Foundation to support international projects. The 2013 event was a great success; raising over $2,000.  In addition, Zonta supports Ottawa’s Odyssey Theatre by holding a popular theatre evening in Strathcona Park in July.  The proceeds help to finance the club’s Awards.

Important subjects covered over the past decade

Awareness – Afghan Women 2010

Awareness – Afghan Women 2010:  Zonta Club of Ottawa and the Pauline Jewett Institute for Women’s Studies at Carleton University, held an information evening at Carleton University.  Guest speakers included Khorshied Samad, wife of the Ambassador from Afghanistan, His Excellency Omar Samad.

Ms. Samad, the former Kabul bureau chief for Fox News, gave a talk titled:  “Progress and Challenges That Still Remain for Afghan Women.” Nipa Banerjee, Manager, Strategic Solution, at CIDA, spoke on “Canadian Aid  to Afghanistan and the Development Needs of a Fragile State.

Stem Cell Research, 2010

In addition, the club collaborated with the Ottawa Hospital Foundation in staging an information session on stem cell research.  This provided an opportunity to learn about advances in this field from a qualified panel.

Human Trafficking, 2008-2009

We began studying the issue in 2008 by meeting with the head of the RCMP’s humand trafficking desk.  Member were given an overview of trafficking in Canada.  After widely publicizing the event, the club joined UNIFEM and Kanata University Women’s Club to hold the first information session in human trafficking in the region.  Although it was held on a cold January evening, it attracted over 190 guests, many from government agencies.

The next task involved studying the the role that prostitution plays in human trafficking.  The club was asked to organized a round table on Parliament Hill in the fall of 2009. Again, a large number of government representatives attended. Although the club concluded its active involvement, it is now connected with PACT (Persons Against Crimes of Trafficking).  PACT has gone on to make a positive impact on building awareness about human trafficking in Ottawa, and they credit part of their success to the Zonta Club of Ottawa.

Sharia Law in Ontario, 2004

 The club held an open forum whose speakers included Alia Hogben, Executive Director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.  In her impressive talk, delivered to a large audience, she explained why Muslim Sharia tribunals and other religious tribunals should not be allowed to deal with family law matters under the Ontario Arbitration Act.  In early 2005, the Ontario government rejected the use of Sharia Law and moved to prohibit all religious based tribunals from setting family disputes involving such issues as divorce.

Literacy Training

Individual members, including Lynda Pearson and Annegret Uhthoff, have volunteered  for several years as tutors with People, Words & Change.  This organization provides free one-on-one tutoring to adults in the Ottawa region who want to improve essential skills in English reading and writing, everyday math and basic computer skills.

Past Service Projects

Service projects have changed over the years to meet the changing needs of the community.  For example, in the 1960s, the club operated a retirement home for “genteel and improvised spinsters” (nurses, teachers, librarians, and public servants who had neither pensions nor families for support).  Fifteen Delaware Avenue, a brick house with eight bedrooms and “spacious living areas”, was purchased for $26,000 and officially opened in 1962 by Olive Diefenbaker, wife of Canada’s thirteenth prime minister.  The residence closed in 1974 after housing for retired people became more accessible as a result of the provincial governments attention to the issue. Zonta House was placed on the open market and sold for $95,000, a tidy profit! Net proceeds from the sale of the residence and its contents were placed in a separate trust account for a future project to be determined by the club’s membership.

Other service projects included funding an after-school centre, which was located in Dominion Chalmers Church and provided care for children in grades one to eight.  Eventually the City of Ottawa took over this initiative, but not before Zonta International recognized the club with the international District Award for furnishing over 700 hours of volunteer work in connection with Zonta House.

Another important service project involved financial support for Zonta Centre, 346 Murray Street near the University of Ottawa.  It was designed to help single parents, most of whom were females.  The centre opened in 1986, targeting single mothers (aged 13-21) who received social assistance from the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton. After the provincial Conservative government took office in 1995, it cut funding for many social service agencies, including Zonta Centre, and it was with a heavy heart that the club agreed to close the Centre in the late 1990s.

Fund raising was an ongoing challenge and involved not only a professional Christmas cake baking operation but also dozens of popular events.  One of the most interesting was an evening with actor Peter Ustinov, who donated his services. This event proved to be the most successful money-raising function in the club’s history.

The List of organization that benefited from Zonta’s generosity is a long one.  However, over time the club’s members agreed that net proceeds from the sale of the Zonta House on Delaware Street, should be earmarked for a particular areas of interest that would make an impact.

Eventually, in 1983, a bursary program, using start-up capital from the house’s sale, was established to help Ottawa area women intending to pursue a professional career in dance, drama, music, writing or the visual arts.  This proved to be a significant decision because one of the early award winners was actress, Sandra Oh.

Written by Valerie Knowles, “Through the Chateau Door” tells the history of Zonta. Club meetings were held at the Chateau Laurier for more than 70 years.

Prominent Zontians

The Zonta Club of Ottawa has boasted several prominent Canadians. Agnes Macphail, an outstanding populist speaker, became the first women member of Canada’s Parliament (1921) and the first female member of Ontario’s legislature (1943). Canada’s first female senator, Cairien Wilson, was appointed to the Senate in 1930 and remained an active senator until her death in 1962.  During her long Senate career she became noted for her work with refugees. Sheila Finestone, a dedicated human rights activist, was elected to the House of Commons in 1984 and was appointed Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women in November 1993.  She was elevated to the Senate in August 1999. At her death in 2009, she left a bequest to her beloved Zonta Club of Ottawa.

Friendships

Zonta friendships last a lifetime, as fellowship and service are the lifeline of any organizations.  Today there is an active membership of twenty-five and Zonta International has given special recognition to those current members who have been members for more than 30 years.  They include:  Valerie Hume (1977), Valerie Knowles (1980), Claudette Lévesque (1983), Lynda Pearson (1966) and Roberta Pollock (1972), and Mona Tobgi (1984).