Zonta Club of Ottawa, Canada

Club History


Wednesday May 15 marks our 90th anniversary (1929 – 2019).

On this date 90 years ago, twelve Zontians had their first luncheon meeting at the Chateau Laurier. To celebrate, twelve amazing club members returned to the same location for afternoon tea. They enjoyed gathering with tea, beautiful three tiers of elegant finger food and desserts, delicious scones, and the separate bowls with clotted cream and jam! Valerie Knowles (author of the written account of the club’s history, ‘Through the Chateau Door’) read about the beginnings of the club and the twelve women that met for the first time on May 15, 1929. Cindy found a beautiful poem by Teresa D. Huggins called ‘Awaken the Zonta Power‘, which was read by Susie Smith.

Thank you to the twelve members in attendance: Valerie Knowles, Annegret Uhthoff, Prem Grainger, Cindy O’Neil,  Shirley Mack, Kathy Bose, Valerie Hume, Kirsten North, Susie Smith, Lynda Pearson, Paula Zoubek, Judith Ainsworth.

The twelve attendees (clockwise from bottom-left): Valerie Knowles, Annegret Uhthoff, Prem Grainger, Cindy O’Neil,  Shirley Mack, Kathy Bose, Valerie Hume, Kirsten North, Susie Smith, Lynda Pearson, Paula Zoubek, Judith Ainsworth.


Our 88th Year of serving the Ottawa Community & 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.


Current Programs

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, on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, the club hosted a vigil at Ottawa’s City Hall.

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).

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 award program.


Important subjects covered over the past decade

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.

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.

We began studying the issue in 2008 by meeting with the head of the RCMP’s human 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.

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.

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).  15 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.

Olive Diefenbaker, 2nd from left, opened Zonta House


Dominion Chalmers United Church

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.

Fundraising 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 Sir Peter Ustinov, who donated his services. This event proved to be the most successful money-raising function in the club’s history.

Sir Peter Ustinov leant his name to a successful Zonta fundraiser.


The list of organizations that benefited from Zonta’s generosity is a long one.  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.

Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy; Killing Eve)

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

Read more here.

Members of Prominence

The Zonta Club of Ottawa has boasted several prominent Canadians within our membership:

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).

Agnes MacPhail (1890-1954)

Canada’s first female senator, Cairine Wilson, was appointed to the Senate in 1930 and remained an active senator until her passing. During her long Senate career she became noted for her work with refugees.


Cairine Wilson (1885-1962)


Sheila Finestone (b.1927-d.2009), 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.



Zonta friendships last a lifetime, as fellowship and service are the lifeline of any organizations.  Today there is an active membership of twenty-five members.

Zonta International has given special recognition to those current members who have been members for more than 30 years.  They include:  Lynda Pearson (since 1966), Roberta Pollock (since 1972), Valerie Hume (since 1977), Valerie Knowles (since 1980), Claudette Lévesque (since 1983),  and Mona Tobgi (since 1984).


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