Celebrating women in Canadian architecture and engineering

With “celebrating women who tell our stories” being this year’s Women’s History Month theme, Cion Corp. is proud to recognize and honour the leading women in Canadian architecture and engineering. This includes Esther Hill, the first woman to graduate in architecture from the University of Toronto, Mary Imrie, who is widely considered to be Edmonton’s first female architect, and many more who have paved the way.

As we work towards gender equality and a more inclusive society, we’d like to highlight three female architects who have not only made significant contributions in Canadian architecture, but also opened the doors for women in architecture today.

Alexandra Biriukova

Alexandra Biriukova, whose career in architecture began in 1924, is known for being the first woman in the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA), as well as the second woman to register as an architect in Canada. The Lawren Harris residence in Toronto is Biriukova’s most recognized architectural work, continuing to be well-known despite being considered too radical at the time, with the OAA naming it one of the top ten Art Deco Buildings in the city.

Her architectural career was short-lived however, ending just seven years after it began with no further commissions after the Harris residence. Many have attributed this to the fact that she was a foreign woman, that her work was too modern for conservative Canadians, or because the Depression dried up opportunities for architects. Regardless, Biriukova remains one of Canada’s most prominent female architects.

Elizabeth Lord

Elizabeth Lord was a Manitoba-based architect, becoming the first woman to register with the Manitoba Association of Architects in 1944. That same year, she also registered with the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, working various positions at several companies before starting her own architectural practice in the mid-1950s. Here, she worked on designs for homes, schools, and commercial buildings out of her own home in Winnipeg.

Lord was a trailblazing figure in Manitoba’s architectural scene, graduating from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor’s in Architecture in 1939 – a time when there were only five women registered as architects in Canada. Decades later, she would still be the only woman in Winnipeg running her own architectural practice, before retiring from the profession in 1976.

Eva Matsuzaki

Eva Matsuzaki is a retired architect and the first female president of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC). She immigrated from Latvia to the United States before developing her career while living in Vancouver. Alongside her husband, Japanese-Canadian architect Kiyoshi Matsuzaki and fellow architect Jim Wright, she formed Matsuzaki Wright Architects 1984, remaining there for the rest of her time in architecture.

A founding member of Vancouver’s women in architecture support network, Matsuzaki was involved in environmentally sensitive and sustainable building design. Her practice demonstrated a commitment to the architectural and wider communities as well. The Matsuzaki Wright-designed C.K. Choi Building in Vancouver, for example, became a benchmark in green design due to its use of salvaged material, wastewater, and natural ventilation after its completion in 1996.

These three women are only a small part of the female architects and engineers that have shaped Canada’s built environment. Their work not only continues to inspire women aiming to get into these industries – it also helps pave the way for the next generation.

Cion Corp. is a Canadian employee-owned company headquartered in Toronto that adopts and upholds an equal opportunity and non-discrimination policy by which any discrimination is prohibited by or within the company, in accordance with the applicable legislation and human rights laws.

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