For the relatively young country of Canada, 2016 represents not only the country’s 149th year in existence — it also marks 100 years since the women’s suffrage movement swept the nation, starting with key western provinces.
Enabling women to vote in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta paved the way for 1919 legislation that would allow women aged 21 and over to vote in federal elections — helping to shape the progress and political affairs of a country that had already benefitted greatly from women’s contributions (especially during wartime).
In the years that have followed, countless women have achieved success in Canadian public life, and in some cases rose to prominent positions like Premier, Governor General, or even Prime Minister. That trend was mirrored in the private sector, as well, where women emerged as successful entrepreneurs and managers in many different sectors — including real estate.
In fact, to say that Canadian women play a significant role in the country’s property market would be an understatement. According to Statistics Canada, as of 2011, women represented 43 per cent of Canada’s real estate agent/broker workforce.
The same trend has been echoed on the consumer end of the equation as well, with single women representing 25 per cent of Canada’s real estate buyers in 2014. (For contrast, single men comprised just 10 per cent.)
In honour of 2016’s important milestone for Canadian women, we decided to dedicate this year’s feature to those who have left their mark as pioneers in Canada’s real estate industry – not just as agents or brokers, but as developers, architects, role models, and community leaders.
CREW and Danny Klempfner: A Voice for Women in Commercial Real Estate
As late as the 1960s, real estate in Canada was considered by many women to be an “old boys’ club.” Here in the GTA, it wasn’t until 1981 that the Toronto Real Estate Board appointed its first female president, Sadie Moranis, who in 1971 had already become the first woman in Toronto to found her own real estate company.
It wasn’t until 20 years ago, however, that Toronto got its first real estate professional organization focusing solely on women. Opening its doors in 1996, Toronto CREW wasn’t just the first of its kind in the city — it was the first-ever Canadian chapter of a “Commercial Real Estate Women” network that had already gained a foothold in the United States.
Toronto CREW’s eventual success (it now boasts more than 200 members) may not have become a reality were it not for Danny Klempfner, the organization’s Founding President.
“Danny had the initial vision and contact with CREW Network and invited Anne Morash, Francine Baker Sigal and Virginia Beauchamp to collaborate with her and determine how to best launch [CREW in] Toronto,” explains the group’s official web site.
“These founding members invited other high ranking women in the commercial real estate field to form Toronto CREW’s first Board, planned Toronto CREW’S first event, created the by-laws, and the rest is history.”
Klempfner, a University of Toronto graduate, had also followed in Moranis’s footsteps and established her own brokerage in 1984. Specializing in retail and restaurants, she managed to grow her operation into one of Canada’s most in-demand authorities on boosting revenue for hospitals and health facilities.
In 2006, Toronto CREW honoured Klempfner’s contributions by establishing the Danny Klempfner Scholarship, which is still awarded annually to one outstanding female postsecondary student who is pursuing a career in commercial real estate. With Klempfner’s help, Toronto CREW also offers mentorship programs for students as early as Grade 11.
“That’s the one thing I am most proud of,” Klempfner said of the scholarships and mentorship programs. “It makes my heart sing.”
KPMB Architects and Marianne McKenna: Paving the Way for Women in Architecture
To say that North American architecture has historically been male-dominated would be an understatement. The industry’s lack of gender diversity is especially prominent in the United States, where as recently as April 2016, only 18 per cent of licensed architectural practitioners are women.
In Canada, however, female aspiring architects have a model from which they can draw inspiration: Marianne McKenna, a licensed architect who, along with her colleague Shirley Blumberg, is among a select group of Canadian women to hold the title of Founding Partner at an architectural firm.
After having worked in the office of renowned American-Canadian architect Barton Meyers, McKenna and Blumberg, along with two other former associates, joined forces to form Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg (better known as KPMB) in 1987.
Today, the firm has grown into one of the most highly-demanded in Canada. Following Payne’s departure in 2013, it’s also one of the only firms in the continent with more female partners than male ones.
As the firm grew in popularity and success, McKenna forged a name for herself by taking the lead on a number of ambitious projects, including McGill University’s Genome Quebec Innovation Centre, the expansion of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, and the Royal Conservatory TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning — including the famed Koerner Hall. In 2011, the Royal Conservatory recognized McKenna’s contribution by making her an Honorary Fellow.
2011 also saw McKenna recognized as one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network.
Just a year later, in recognition of architectural work that “enriches the public experience,” McKenna was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada — arguably the nation’s highest public honour — by Governor General David Johnston.
“The common good is to have women active and happy. I wouldn’t be happy at home,” McKenna explained to Dolce magazine in 2012, adding that the firm often goes out of its way to make women feel welcome as employees:
“We lose women in our office, but when they go, if they want a year off, I say, ‘come to me when you’re ready to come back. You’re just as valuable to me in a year as you are right now. The other wages have gone up; your wage should go up.’”
Tamara Barker Watson and Whitestone: Paving the Way for Female Developers
Much like architecture, residential development is an industry that has long been male-dominated in Canada. That trend has been due largely to the fact that many of the nation’s top builders — from Menkes and Tridel, to Daniels and Freed — were founded by men.
It may come as a surprise, then, that one of Canada’s greenest builders — the Nova Scotia-based Whitestone Developments — was founded by a woman named Tamara Barker Watson. Having served as the company’s CEO since day one, Watson has been a key driving force behind building Whitestone into one of Canada’s most highly-regarded developers when it comes to environmental efficiency.
“I think there’s more opportunity than there ever was for women,” explained Barker Watson in a 2012 radio interview. “Who buys homes? 90 per cent of the homes are bought by women… so who should be building those houses? Who thinks about how the family operates within a home?”
Barker Watson is an active chapter member of the Women Presidents’ Association, and in 2013, was presented an RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award in the category of sustainability. The same year, she was recognized as one of the country’s top female entrepreneurs in a list curated by Chatelaine and Profit Magazine.
The woman who occupied the number-one spot on that list was another development-industry entrepreneur, Kelsey Ramsden, whose company Belvedere Place Development Ltd. Specializes in large scale infrastructure projects.
A Bright Future for Women in Real Estate
To get an idea of how integral women’s contributions are to the present and future of Canadian realty, one need look no further than the Canadian Real Estate Association, which currently boasts three female professionals on its Board of Directors: Vice President Barb Sukkau, Immediate Past President Pauline Aunger, and Director-at-Large Dianne Usher.
That diversity isn’t just limited to the Board, either — a 2015 Membership Survey revealed that 40 per cent of the association’s members were women. The association also takes an active role in celebrating International Women’s Day, and recognizing the contributions of female realtors across the country.
Here in Greater Toronto, Living Realty is doing its part by actively encouraging women to not only join the brokerage’s sales team, but to develop their careers by taking advantage of our many training and mentorship opportunities.
The brokerage is also proud to have a strong network of female sales representatives and brokers, many of whom can be found among our annual Top Producer award winners.