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Allied Arts & Media Featured

The Telling Stories of Babe Nation

Lindsay Tapscott, left, and Katie Bird Nolan founded female-driven production company Babe Nation six years ago (Photo: Talia Ricci/CBC)


INTERIOR. Emily and Lola clothing shop. Montreal. Summer, 2010.

LINDSAY TAPSCOTT (28), an unemployed University of Toronto English literature grad who recently moved to Montreal on a whim, enters the shop to drop off her CV. She is about to depart when the store clerk, KATIE BIRD NOLAN (21), aspiring actor working part-time to pay rent, calls after her: “Wait a sec, is your dad’s name John?” 

Lindsay turns around nodding, and the moment becomes more surreal as Katie announces that her mom is Ingrid Bird, the woman who spent years travelling through Europe with Lindsay’s father, John Tapscott.


EXTERIOR. Six months later. Balcony of a Mile End apartment in Montreal. 1:30 a.m.
A group of 20-something women are drinking wine, laughing, getting to know each other. Lindsay has moved in with two of Katie’s friends who needed a roommate. Lindsay and Katie discover they both went to theatre school, like the same movies. They laugh about their fluke encounter, as if they were kindred spirits brought together by the magic of Montreal. They joke about growing up listening to stories about each other’s parent, their travel adventures together. Three decades later, John and Ingrid have lost touch so it’s a fun surprise when Lindsay and Katie announce their chance encounter. Both parents insist they had a platonic relationship all those years ago.
Katie: “Can you imagine if we were long lost sisters?”
Lindsay: “Ha! Sounds like something out of a film.”

Is That How Film Companies Launch?

INTERIOR. Next day.
Katie excitedly types on her laptop. She immediately calls Lindsay: “I have a ridiculous idea for a web series. Do you want to write it with me?”
Lindsay, without missing a beat: “Sure. How hard can it be?”

FAST FORWARD three years to 2013. Katie and Lindsay are sharing an apartment in Toronto, dubbed “babe nation” by Katie’s boyfriend. They are writing and making short films on microbudgets of $2,500 or less, either crowdfunded or paid for out of pocket. They try out Babe Nation as the name for their fledgling film company as a semi-joke. But the more they use it, the better it sounds.

Babe Nation: It’s about their deep connection and friendship, their feminist values and work ethic, their off-beat sense of humour, and also their raison d’etre: to focus on women-centred stories and hack away at the disproportionate opportunities that flow to men in the male-dominated industry.

When actor Vanessa Matsui came to them looking for producers for her web series, Ghost BFF, they jumped on board. The tone and subject matter suited Babe Nation: a dark comedy about female friendship and suicide. They learned to raise “real money” by nailing the “Canadian film financing model” — a combination of government funding from places such as Telefilm Canada, Ontario Creates, and often tax credits, presales, grants, and advances. The budget for season one — nearly $250,000 — enabled multi-day shoots, higher production values and a hit show. The budget for season two of the series tripled, with funding coming in from the Bell Fund, Canadian Media Fund (CMF), and a sale to Shaftsbury Films and KindaTV.

Perfectionists by nature, Katie and Lindsay took the first few years to establish their brand and understand the types of stories they wanted to tell. Influences include author Zadie Smith and producers Christine Vachon and Margot Robbie. Katie describes their “brand” stories as “slightly left of centre but with a really strong statement.” Rather than sexy sleepover movies with girls in bikini lingerie, they produce stories for an intelligent female audience. Subject matter includes loss, depression, and belonging. Characters are three-dimensional — both strong and fallible, vulnerable and ballsy, sometimes despicable yet relatable. They are smart and funny, much like the producers. “For us it’s about attaching ourselves to projects that depict female stories the way women want to be depicted, not the way men have been depicting them forever.”

They also learned to trust the “weird particles” that surround their projects, the same energy that brought them together in the first place. And they established one abiding ground rule when choosing projects: Both must love the project to the point of obsession. “Producing is so hard,” says Katie. If you’re not obsessed with the thing, why would you do it?”

How to Fight Sexism in Show Biz?

CUT TO: CLOSE UP: Women in View On Screen 2019 Report. Analyzed data of funded projects finds, surprise, that the way to get more women in film and TV is to support more women producers.  Calling it “The Producer Effect,” the report shows that a producer’s identity impacts who gets hired on a project. Women producers worked with more women on their team; women of colour producers worked with more women of colour; Indigenous producers worked with a far greater percentage of Indigenous women; men producers worked with more men. And male-produced projects received more funding.

Icky insider sexism sheds light on the impact of those stats on women.

Alanna Francis, Sophie Nélisse, Katie Bird Nolan, Aisling Chin-Yee,Heather Graham, Lindsay Tapscott, Jodi Balfour

INTERIOR. 2019. Berlin International Film Festival.

A large conference area bustling with industry types in stylish glasses, fashionable shoes, and egos that struggle to fit through the door.

CUT TO: Private meeting room.
The Babe Nation producers meet with an international SALES AGENT (55), bald, white, male. He stares at Katie’s chest the entire meeting. “I’m normally not interested in Canadian producers but you two look very exciting,” says the agent, his voice dripping with condescension.

Katie fakes a smile. Lindsay tries to tell the agent about their film. The guy cuts her off, his eyes now on Lindsay’s bright red lipstick: “Young ladies like you can have a very bright future you know.”
Lindsay tries to continue her pitch but the guy interrupts her again: “I mean look at you. This is Berlin! This is the big league!”
The two women read each other’s energy: Time to cut this short. “You’re right,” Katie says as they stand up to leave. “And we’re going to see more of the market now, thank you very much.”

CUT TO: INTERIOR. Meeting room. Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), 2019.
Babe Nation has booked a meeting with another sales agent – also white, middle-aged, male. He’s running seriously late.
Katie paces the room: “We could have had another entire meeting with someone else by now.”
Lindsay sighs: “Maybe two! One for each of our films in this festival!”

Finally, a SLICK DUDE IN BLUE JEANS saunters in. He wears a smarmy grin and a shirt unbuttoned at the neck, one button too low. “Well, hello there,” he coos, sliding his glasses to the end of his nose. “Babe Nation, isn’t it?”

This time, the women don’t waste another minute. “Correct,” Katie says, “and we need to be somewhere else.”

CLOSE UP: Gender Parity Action Plan, announced by Telefilm Canada, 2016. Babe Nation seizes opportunity. They enter the industry on a wave of increasing support for women. The Telefilm plan aims to “prioritize projects whose key creatives (director and/or writer and/or producer) reflect the diversity of the country in terms of gender, Indigenous communities or cultural diversity.” Results of its gender parity initiatives for projects funded during the 2019/2020 fiscal year show an increase in funding for projects with women in key roles.

Babe Nation, through their own hustle and networking, sought out incredible mentors in seasoned pros Damon D’Oliveira and Christina Piovesan, who introduced them to financers and became executive producers for their two features, The Rest of Us and White Lie.

How to Level the Playing Field For All?

CLOSE UP: Reelworld Film Festival and Reelworld Screen Institute Changing the Narrative Report: 2020 Status of Canadian Black, Indigenous and People of Colour in Canada’s Screen-Based Production Section. The report suggests a disproportionate amount of funding goes to white creators, while BIPOC creators receive smaller amounts targeted at emerging talent. A lack of BIPOC professionals on selection committees for funding decisions is cited as one reason for the disparity.

Babe Nation took note, recognizing their own white privilege. While they have worked with a number of women of colour, the relationships were unplanned and coincidental. Says Lindsay: “When there’s a sense we’re not doing enough from a creator standpoint we push ourselves further to do more.” They signed the producer pledge to take immediate action to acknowledge and dismantle systemic racism in the Canadian film and television industry, by committing to radical change. For example, when considering a project now, Babe Nation has committed to thinking more critically about the storyteller. Women always take first priority, but they’re now diving deeper and asking, is this someone we haven’t heard from before? Is this a BIPOC artist who is short on opportunities, or a younger woman without a lot of experience? In terms of paying it forward, they are currently mentoring two young producers working on their first feature.

The Feminist Future: Exhausting? Exhilarating?

From L to R: Heather Graham, Alanna Francis, Aisling Chin-Yee, Katie Bird Nolan, Sophie Nélisse, Daniel Grant, Abigail Pniowsky, Jodi Balfour // Photo supplied by Babe Nation

This year marks Babe Nation’s fifth as an incorporated company with substantial successes: two seasons of a major web series, two films at TIFF, two projects in advanced development, and four others in the works, including an adaptation of Bonjour Tristesse, Françoise Sagan’s 1950s controversial novel (it took three years to secure the rights) with Durga Chew-Bose writing the screenplay; and a feature by writer Alanna Francis about coercive abuse within female friendships.

So how are they handling the success? “Little sleep and a lot of anxiety,” Lindsay jokes. They are eager to hire more people, such as a junior producer and a business affairs person, but aren’t quite there, financially. A near goal is to score a studio deal so they can spend more time and energy in creative development instead of crunching numbers.

While the pair never set out to create a feminist company, they believe they grew into one as an extension of their own personal values. For writers and crewing a production, women are their first choice and often become lifelong friends and collaborators. To them, feminism is about equality, working collectively, and providing opportunities for people to voice their opinions in the creative development process. “We hear from the people we work with that our sets are an anomaly, which is equally lovely and horrifying,” says Lindsay.

Keeping their brand feminist-focused requires hands-on involvement in everything: chasing after scripts, optioning material, working on creative development with writers and directors, securing financing, marketing, and meeting with agents to sell their projects. “Our brand is as strong as it is because it is the two of us that have our hand in everything,” says Katie.

Still, their company name has raised eyebrows. How can Babe Nation be a feminist label? To the producers, the name is bold, tongue-in-cheek, even intimidating, invoking a place — a nation — where strong women unite, encourage and support each other. A place where women create generative work together, and tell stories that have gone untold for too long. But do they really want to be called Babe Nation when they’re 75 years old?

The two picture the scene, roaring with laughter.


INTERIOR. Cannes Film Festival. 2060.
Katie and Lindsay stand in the wings of a glittering silver stage. They lean on their walkers as they sip champagne. The ANNOUNCER says, “And now, please welcome, the recipient of this year’s lifetime achievement award for change making cinema, Babe Nation!”
Lindsay peers at their company name, in big lights. “Did you really imagine we’d get here?”
Katie pushes a grey lock from her face. “Yes, of course.” Lindsay releases the brakes on her walker. “Me too.”

Publishers Note:  Babe Nation is a participant in Canada’s first feminist accelerator program for womxn in digital media, Fifth Wave Labs. The Fifth Wave is a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to 30% participation by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth Media partner. 

LiisBeth Media is a 100% womxn-owned and led, reader supported media enterprise. If you enjoyed this story and would like to see more, please consider becoming a $10-25 one time donor today!  [direct-stripe value=”ds1577111552021″]

Related Reading:

Moving Pictures: What We Learned from Women Filmmakers at TIFF 2019

The Power of Two

The Wages of Tenacity

Feminist Practices Our Voices

Family First: Meet the FEC’s Feminist in Residence for March 2020

SEEMA PABARI, Entrepreneur, Feminist in Residence, Feminist Enterprise Commons, March 2020


We are very pleased to announce that Seema Pabari will be joining the Feminist Enterprise Commons (FEC) as Feminist in Residence (FiR) during the month of March.

Pabari is an SEO copywriter, storyteller and digital marketing strategist who speaks five languages and runs her own consulting enterprise. She left the corporate world in 2008 to raise her child. She is a South Asian feminist entrepreneur with her own consulting enterprise and the founder of, an independent Canadian food business that specializes in delicious and healthy vegan South Asian stews. Tiffinday is a certified B-Corporation and conducts its business with respect to people and the environment. Check out how they measure their impact from an environmental standpoint.

Liisbeth recently had a chat with Pabari to get her thoughts on the importance of shaping the next generation of feminists, why we need to outlaw the word ‘mompreneur’ and how her unique business perspectives will add to the growing resources in the FEC.

LiisBeth: Why does feminism matter today? 

Women play greater roles in childcare and caregiving. Our choices, whether they are professional, personal, financial or social, remain framed by this fact. It leads to a perspective that is drastically different from men, and feminism lends voice to this difference.

LiisBeth: How has feminism influenced your choices in starting Tiffinday and your SEO enterprise?  

I left the corporate world to raise my seven-year-old child as a single parent; my employers were not open to flexible hours or remote working arrangements. International travel obligations would have required a live-in nanny to raise my son, and none of that was palatable to me, so I delved into entrepreneurship for flexible hours. I wasn’t working full-time in the beginning and I needed to supplement my income so I started a second business, a social enterprise called Tiffinday. It used to be a lunch delivery business, where I only worked from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., which allowed me to be home when my son came home from school.

Feminism directly influenced these choices because I remained determined to make the work fit into motherhood and not the other way around. Looking back 12 years, I am glad I did this. I never missed school concerts, sports meetings and parent-teacher nights. My son has grown into a well-adjusted, healthy, respectful, politically-engaged teenager and is now attending university to study biology. I take solace and full credit for this being my biggest and most successful life endeavour.

Seema Pubari promoting Tiffenday products
Seema Pabari promoting Tiffenday products

LiisBeth: What is the biggest lesson you learned when you transitioned from working in the corporate world to being an entrepreneur?

Working women tend to forget–or we try to justify or be apologetic—about our roles as mothers or caregivers. I’m not the mother of a young child anymore but I have an elderly mother who needs looking after. I’m 56 years old and when I look back, I see how much I tried to justify to my employers and the world that I need extra attention because I was woman. At this stage in my life it’s like…enough. I couldn’t care less. I’m a mother. I’m a caregiver. This is my life and everything needs to fit around my priorties.

I’ve just now learned how to not apologize for any of that. I want the younger women out there to appreciate what this means. Looking back, I was lucky that I made the decision to make my son a priority. We should take pride in our feminism and our roles as custodians of the social order of the world. I don’t think we should apologize for that. We should work with that.

LiisBeth: How did your decision to spend more quality time with your child influence him?

He is a feminist man. And there was no way he would have grown into that if I wasn’t an influence in his life. The next generation of men need to be raised with these values in mind. If you leave it up to men, they won’t do it. Women have to shape that.

He saw a single mom working really hard and he understood the injustices that happened in my life; how I had to work twice as hard as anybody else. He saw all of that and now he is a feminist man and I’m so proud of that.

LiisBeth: Are there any specific examples of feminist business practices about your work you can share?

I started Tiffinday as a social enterprise specifically to be a company for women like me who had children and limited time for work. The business is no longer what it used to be but it’s still a social enterprise. I have two sales reps and the first thing I said when they came on board was: I’m never going to ask you how many hours you work or when you work. This is the job; make your own hours and let’s see how it goes.

It’s something I would have loved to have heard from my boss when I was in the corporate space.

My concern is not about hours. My concern is if we are getting the sales, what are the barriers to success, how can I help.

LiisBeth: What were some of the challenges you faced as an entrepreneur? What systems or policies need to change to enable entrepreneurs in the future?

Through entrepreneurship as a woman and a mother, I encountered the detestable term “Mompreneur.” I no longer remain silent when I hear this term because it is offensive, and something male entrepreneurs do not encounter. These business ventures represent my main sources of income. Motherhood forced me to use my time productively, and both businesses make six-figure revenues each, today. They may not be million-dollar ventures, but they are profitable, and adding jobs and a tax base to Ontario’s economy.

I can give no thanks to the bankers and investors who labelled me a candidate of lower stature, perceiving me as someone who was pursuing a “hobby” or “side-gig” simply because I opted to work around the needs of my child. I want to see women stop using the term Mompreneur. I want financiers to understand that entrepreneurs do not grow successful enterprises from the hours they put in. I grew mine by working extremely smartly during the hours I had to invest in my business.

LiisBeth: Did you sacrifice anything when you made the change from working in the corporate world to entrepreneurship?

I sacrificed financial security at first, however we too often only look at the values we gain as financial. What I gained was the valuable time with my son. I’m glad I didn’t give up the love of being a mother for the love of being an entrepreneur. As much as I sacrificed something I gained something and I think women should look at that, and not ignore that. Balance the two and don’t apologize for it.

LiisBeth: What expertise and wisdom will you be sharing in the Feminist Enterprise Commons?  

Search engines have been around since 1997. Google’s search engines started gaining traction in 2004, and I entered this field of marketing in 2006. Google changes its algorithm more than 600 times a year. It means nobody is a true SEO expert; continuous learning is the norm. Men dominate my field of marketing. Even though I know they are in learning mode, just like me, men tend to sell themselves differently from women.  I can talk about some of this.

I pitch my SEO consulting services to new clients several times each month. 50 percent of the time, I lose to other (male) competitors. However, I normally see 75 percent of those clients return between 6 and 12 months later for a second opinion. Why? Because the person or agency they hired over-promised and under-delivered.

Did you enjoy this story? Learn from it? Help us publish more by considering a small donation. LiisBeth Media is women-owned/women-led and 100% reader supported. [direct-stripe value=”ds1577108717283″]

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Transformative Ideas

Feminist in the City


Leslie Kern/Photo by Mitchel Raphael

Part memoir, part theory, and part geography, Feminist City: A Field Guide is the latest book by Leslie Kern. It delivers a fresh perspective with feminist intersectional ideas to inform urban development. And Kern is not alone. People like Ellie Cosgrave of the UK’s Urban Innovation and Policy Lab, Madrid’s mayor Manuela Carmena Castrillo, and Lucinda Hartley of Australia’s Neighbourlytics have been advocating for urban change for years.

Kern is an associate professor of geography and environment, as well as program director of women’s and gender studies at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. As an academic, she writes about gender, gentrification, and feminism, while teaching urban, social, and feminist geography.

Her book, Feminist City, will be published by Between the Lines on October 24, 2019, just in time when Canadians will be venturing out into their own neighbourhoods post election, in need of an inspiring read that will ideally help them think about their streets and parks in a new light.

LiisBeth spoke with Kern on the phone from her home in Sackville. We talked about what she thinks a feminist city could look like, her influences, and the wider impact that a feminist city could have on society.

LiisBeth: Tell us a little bit about how the book came to be. What was the catalyst?

Leslie Kern: In my day job, I get to be a feminist urban geographer, and I really love taking that approach to cities. I love teaching that material, I love writing about that material. So much of it is, for me, really connected to the things that women and other people in cities really experience on a day-to-day basis. It’s not just abstract, theoretical things that only academics are interested in. It’s about what it’s like to try to cross a busy intersection, or to access public transit. The catalyst for me was thinking, How can I bring some of these insights and ideas and provocations from the scholarly field, and bring it to a wider audience in ways that I think will allow people to connect to their own experiences of living in, travelling to, working in cities?

Did you have an “aha” moment? One where you were in a class and thought, “This has got to be bigger?”

I just started writing it in my head, almost as a thought experiment. If I was going to write about this, what would it sound like, what would the stories be, and then thought, Why don’t you actually write it? In a broader sense, I think coincidentally, the Me Too movement really exploded just at the time that I was writing the book. That seemed like an exciting coincidence where so many people, mostly women, but many people were standing up and saying harassment of all sorts is rampant, it affects our lives in dozens and dozens of ways, some visible, some invisible. It has a huge impact on the presence of women and other marginalized people in politics and art, and education, culture, science, and all of these fields. I was thinking, yeah, from a geographer’s perspective, the kind of harassment that women face in public spaces, but also private spaces like workplaces and educational institutions and so on, is all sort of tied together, thinking about what kind of spaces we can access, where we feel that we belong, where we have to kick down doors just to get in, and where we might be pushed out of. It felt like a great moment to bring that geographical perspective to this issue that so many people were talking about.

Those are external influences on your thought process. Were there any writers that influenced you?

There’s been a really productive boom in feminist public writing recently, maybe the last decade or so. People like Rebecca Solnit, who also writes about a lot of urban issues. She writes about the experience of different sorts of cities, inequality in cities, policing and violence, all sorts of things. She’s a big influence.

People like Roxane Gay, Rebecca Traister, Tressie McMillan Cottom are feminist public intellectuals who do such amazing work weaving stories of their personal experience, starting from their realities, their lived realities as women, as Black women, as women living in cities in some cases, and connecting that to really deep, critical, social analysis.

Listen to a 6 min reading by Leslie Kerns from Feminist City:

In your opinion, why hasn’t this [creating feminist cities] happened sooner?

Any society, and any of the built environments that societies create, such as cities, they reflect the power relations that exist in that society, and I think we know who has traditionally or for a very long time held the power. We’re talking about wealthy, propertied, able-bodied, cis, white men. Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that the urban environments that we have are really set up to support their success, their power, their daily needs.

In order for something like a feminist city, or the principles of a feminist city to evolve, you really have to have a lot of social pressure for that to happen, whether that comes in the form of activism, or legal changes, or other kinds of social movements, or just the wider entry of women into positions of power in cities and government, policymaking, architecture, design, all those sorts of things. It’s sort of a slow moving process.

Do you think a feminist city wasn’t at the forefront, or did the idea exist back in the 1960s and 1970s?

I do talk about this in the book. Feminist ideas for urban design, neighborhood design, and household design have existed for a long time, and they actually go back to the 19th century. Women, particularly coming out of socialist movements and so on, were thinking about the ways in which the built environment was set up, and in many ways it was to isolate them, to keep them busy with unpaid domestic work, to keep them from sharing their domestic labour with other households, to keep them out of the spheres that were properly designated for men, the public sphere, politics, education, science, and so on.

It’s not a brand new thing to be thinking about how cities, neighbourhoods, communities could be set up in ways that support other sorts of social ideals, including feminist ones.

Interestingly, you can actually look back in time and see women coming up with their own ideas for how neighbourhoods could be structured to really reshape the household, and reshape women’s labour, and make more time for women. Over time, some of those things have just been lost, other trends have been more dominant, and of course I think it’s fair to say that the feminist social movements of the 20th century have been really focused on things like legal change and equality in the formal, legal sphere.

Vienna is an interesting example of a city where what they call gender mainstreaming has really been put into practice. The idea behind that is that any kind of city policy, or planning, or new urban design plan, whether that’s a park, or a new neighbourhood, or transit lines, those have to be first looked at through a gendered lens. What that means is asking, How might this affect men and women differently? Will it increase gender equity, or will it maybe decrease gender equity? With the aim of explicitly increasing gender equity in cities, cities like Vienna that have done gender mainstreaming are making sure that all of their redevelopment and new design projects support that vision. That has tended to mean things like more public transit, and better access to things like child care, and other sorts of social services that are better integrated with home environments, and all those sorts of things.

When you say it like that, it just seems so obvious.


Whose behaviour do we need to change, and how do we do that?

We could look at this on a very day-to-day, interpersonal level in terms of the regular relations that people experience in cities, and certainly things like harassment and violence come to mind as major factors where we could think about, okay, there is an actual behaviour there that needs to change.

Of course, we also have to think about the systemic level, where it can be difficult to point to individuals and say, there’s some conspiracy to be sexist, or racist, or homophobic there, but over time we can look at patterns of choices and decisions that are made at city hall, and in planning offices and so on, that either uphold the status quo or challenge the status quo. To change that, then we have to use the power of social movements, of our vote in electoral politics, and education as well would be an important component of that.

How do you convince politicians, planners, and the general population that this is the right thing to do?

Unfortunately, arguments that are in favour of equality and inclusion aren’t always enough to sway people, even though we might think ethically they should be. We can turn to arguments that emphasize the wider array of benefits that can come, so that it’s not fixing things just for women, but what about everybody else?

A lot of feminist urban research is about starting from a gender lens, then the kinds of improvements that you might make to the city can affect people more widely. Like how do women with strollers get around the city? If you want to improve that, then you’re going to be improving access for disabled people, for the elderly, you’re going to be probably creating a more accessible public transit system which is good for the environment. There’s all of these sorts of associated benefits that impact a wider swath of society than just women. Of course women are 50 percent of society, but you can make arguments around sustainability, environmental sustainability, that when you pay attention to gendered concerns which often do have a lot to do with things like access to public transit and so on, that if you want to encourage people to use public transit more, and you want to make it safer, harassment-free, affordable, accessible, then you’re promoting that goal of sustainability at the same time.

If you can show how these feminist, gendered concerns intersect with other issues, then maybe we can make a little more headway with those people in power.

I hope that my book is one of many voices that talk about these issues more generally. I tried to touch on some things that maybe aren’t talked about as much, even within feminist urban research. Talking about friendship, women’s friendship, and cities, and how that sort of relationship and certain kinds of spaces can support that relationship.

What will it take to create these cities in terms of resources and timelines and budgets? Combined with that, what do you think a feminist will look like?

To me, a feminist city has to be one where issues around safety and freedom from fear are prioritized. There are certain kinds of changes to the physical environment that can facilitate that, but it also has to be a wider social commitment to equality and non-violence. A feminist city, I think, has to be one where public space in general is safe and accessible, not just for women, but for people of colour, for homeless people, for queer folks, for trans people, for disabled people. A public space where everybody feels welcome and everybody feels that they are contributing to the city through their presence.

It has to be a kind of city where the heterosexual nuclear family is not presumed to be the default. When we think about the kinds of housing that we build, or that we’ve been left with over decades of suburban building, the kind of homes that we have are designed with that default in mind. That is increasingly not the norm in most people’s lives, or it’s not the norm for their entire lives, given divorce, later-in-life marriage, same sex relationships, polyamory, singlehood, all sorts of blended families, all sorts of different household forms. A feminist city has to be one where different kinds of households can flourish, and not feel that they’re being pushed into a box that wasn’t made for them.

Is there anything that you physically envision?

Green space could be an example, but communal and collective spaces for things like growing food or preparing food. More shared spaces for things like child care, more spaces for people to come together. At the moment, we look around and we think there’s a lot of public space, but a lot of it is privately owned, it’s patrolled by private security forces. It’s not really all that public, and it can be quite difficult to actually engage in different forms of social relations there, for example, cooking for people. We could think about spaces that exist within the built fabric that we have, but that are able to be used for a wider variety of purposes.

A library is one of those places that fulfills so many sorts of social needs in society, and yet we’ve seen it be really under attack by austerity-leaning governments that see those sorts of public spaces as easy funding cuts. We know that they’re about so much more than books.

Do you think the rise in co-working spaces is a precursor to what could happen?

I think those spaces can be good examples of the kind of flexibility that can be helpful for people, especially women, who are trying to juggle multiple roles, both their paid work roles, their community roles, their home roles, their parenting roles, all those sorts of things. Co-working spaces might provide locations where people can easily go to work. They are the sorts of spaces where the people who use them can maybe create their own culture and rules and norms about what goes on there, rather than a corporate-derived culture.

What do we stand to lose as a culture if feminist cities aren’t created?

We stand to lose out. Or maybe we should say continue to lose out, because I think we could argue that we’ve long lost out on so many contributions from women and other marginalized people in terms of public life. Their contributions to politics, education, culture, art, science, business. If we continue to have built environments that are both physically and socially inaccessible or unwelcoming, or that just make people’s everyday lives really fearful or really difficult, then they’re not going to be in those spaces that we need them to be.

Not to end on a doom-and-gloom note, but let’s face it, climate crises are already here, as are crises of inequality. And cities are really going to be on the front lines of having to deal with those crises. Cities are not going to either survive or thrive if we don’t figure out ways to address those problems, and to address the ways that those things intersect together. We know that the future is a little bit fragile right now, and if we keep going forward doing the same things that we’ve always done, it’s not going to make for a very bright future for anybody.

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Join LiisBeth and Jane’s Walk TO on September 29 in Toronto for the city’s FIRST-EVER Feminist City Walk & Talk. Get tickets for the event here.

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What the EFF? Top Six Takeaways from the 2018 Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum

Left to Right: Chanèle McFarlane (Do Well Dress Well), Karin Percil, (Sisterhood), Rachel Kelly (Make Lemonade) and Amanda Laird (Heavy Flow Podcast)

On December 2 and 3, LiisBeth co-sponsored the second Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum (EFF) in downtown Toronto. The annual entrepreneurship conference brought together the growing community of feminist entrepreneurs to learn and share experiences around feminist business practice.

This year, the message was clear: connect and take action.

Taking action at the EFF


We’ll post a full roundup next year but here is a list of six action items to consider incorporating into your 2019 resolutions.

1. Type “Indigenomics” into a document. When the red squiggly line appears indicating a spell-check error, right-click then press “add word,” because the relatively new term is picking up speed in Canada’s lexicon. “When you talk about water and trees you talk about resources. When we talk about water and trees we talk about relatives.” – Carol Anne Hilton, Indigenomics By Design: The Rise of Indigenous Economic Empowerment.

2. Visit Kelly Diels for feminist marketing tools, tips, and resources. If you missed her at the EFF 2018, you missed out, but fear not. Diels offers workshops and coaching sessions where you can develop (among other things) a social media strategy and system based on her Little Birds and Layer Cakes, Social Media Workbook.  “If you hate marketing, it means you have a sense of justice.” – Kelly Diels, Feminist Marketing for an Emerging, More Inclusive Economy.

3. Build our communities. CV Harquail reminds us that we can build our collective path to the entrepreneurial feminist future by standing on and grounding ourselves in each other’s work. Every presenter, facilitator, and participant is doing work that we can build on — so let’s follow each other on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, refer to each other’s work, and celebrate our growing community. View the full list of presenters here.

4, Unplug and Read (okay two actions) Sarah Selecky’s new novel: Radiant Shimmering Light. It’s the holidays so not everything has to be about work. However, you may find your own takeaways in Selecky’s novel about female friendship, business, and online marketing that skillfully balances satire, humour, and truth. Selecky also credits Kelly Diels in her acknowledgments as the person who coined the term Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand and met Diels at the EFF, so maybe it is about networking.

5.  Decolonize your mind: Decolonization work begins with taking the time to critically examine how colonization has influenced your personal world view and sense of self. Sit down. Make a list. Check it twice. Then consider re-embracing cultural practices, thinking, beliefs, and values that are a part of who you are and where you came from, but were systemically dissed by the dominant culture. “If we want diversity and inclusion, we have to decolonize design so that the practice itself stops traumatizing our diverse students and professors.” – Dr. Dori Tunstall, Whiteness without White Supremacy: Generating New Models of Whiteness

6. Sign up for LiisBeth’s newsletter here and receive rants, downloadables, recommended readings, profiles, feminist freebies! and stay informed about LiFE (LiisBeth’s Incubator for Feminist Entrepreneurship)–a membership only feminist business practice “school” and learning commons.

In addition to the action items above, what else did EFF participants get from the conference? The five most meaningful leaves on the wall of inspiration sum it up best:

  • We all have something of value to offer
  • Nothing grows without sharing
  • Connected
  • Who knows what will happen!
  • #rise

Rooted in values that take good care of people and planet, feminist entrepreneurs are building justice into products and services, operating models, and relationships. In the process, we are building collective power to change the economy.

Join us.

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Inn With Agency


Christina Zeidler, Founder and Chief Alchemist, Gladstone Hotel, Toronto


Christina Zeidler, an artist and filmmaker, stumbled into entrepreneurship when her family’s real estate company bought Toronto’s neglected Gladstone Hotel in 2000. The iconic landmark, built in 1889, had only three previous owners but a long history of providing a stylish stay for artists and performers. Zeidler, now 50, took the reins of restoring the building with a clear vision to honour that tradition by creating a boutique art hotel and community space for artists, queers and diverse types to stay, play and work. She enticed long-time staff to stay on (some had worked there for 40 years) and boldly kept the doors open throughout the renovation, inviting the community to experience and lend their ideas to the transformation. Local artists not only exhibited their work during the reno but designed the hotel rooms, making each of the 37 rooms unique creations. Also unique was Zeidler’s drive to use feminism as an operating principle, embracing an anti-oppressive feminist framework, always challenging the status quo, asking questions, and figuring out ways to do things differently.

When Zeidler took a leave in 2012 to work on a feature film, an LGBT romantic comedy, she wrote a manual to guide the management company hired to run the business in her absence. The management company didn’t understand the unconventional brand Zeidler had created and largely ignored what she had written about opposing oppression and celebrating diversity, inclusion, and feminism. They tried to run the Gladstone like a regular hotel, which it clearly was not. When Zeidler returned in 2015, she did so fired up with a mission to shout out the values guiding her business, loud and clear. She had tried once and failed. How could she and her team communicate the hotel’s distinctiveness from every other hotel in the world?

Do Not Disturb: Dissidents At Work and Play

The team revamped the website with bold infographics packed with action words touting the hotel’s social impact, green policies, and revised vision statement: “The Gladstone operates in a feminist, anti-oppressive framework where everyone feels welcome and at home.”

They put action to words by writing an employee operating manual based on Zeidler’s original documentation. Zeidler wants her employees to know their rights. The Employee Standards Act (ESA) covers some, such as the 40-hour workweek and parental leave. The challenge for the Gladstone was beefing up the writing to reflect their feminist and anti-oppressive principles. That means, says Zeidler, “trying to pay attention to best practice” and that’s “a moving target” which means, “you’re always changing.” She describes the employee manual as “living documents” that change “if best practices change.”

While the staff is primarily women and/or queer identified, the Gladstone does not expect anyone to self-identify with labels or check boxes. They are committed to the principles of equal employment opportunity and work to remove barriers for all qualified persons, hiring, for instance, without regard to race, national or ethnic origin, color, citizenship, religion, age, sex, marital status, mental or physical handicap, even criminal conviction if it is unrelated to employment. Staff express themselves creatively through fashion sense and hairstyle. No one wears a uniform other than barbacks and porters (so guests can identify them). Zeidler herself looks less Hotel President than Chief Alchemist, sporting a punk art aesthetic, hair long on one side, cropped short underneath on the other.

Creating a safe and creative workspace is good for employee retention. David McNeil, 51, a server-barista-bartender, has worked at the Gladstone since 2006. He trusts the management to make sure the staff has the knowledge they need to live up to best practices. “We have had sensitivity training and workshops to get us more up to speed with new codes.” Also a visual artist, he shows his work at the staff show every year and says he loves coming to work. “An arty crazy entity attracts arty crazy people.” He thrives on the diversity. “I’d never before in my life worked with trans people and I’ve worked with five or six and it’s fantastic, they’re just doing jobs, and it’s not an issue here.”

Photo credit: Alejandro Santiago

Chris Mitchell, 54, who worked at the Gladstone in the early days, tried to leave but missed working with Zeidler so much she returned, and is now manager of Creative Partnerships and Special Projects. Mitchell helps manage the exhibition programming that occurs 365 days of the year, with 100 events per month, and 70 percent of which are cultural events, versus private or corporate. Some 13% of the hotel’s gross revenue goes into the pockets of artists directly. The Gladstone prides itself on being about the “local dollar.” From music bingo to their famous karaoke nights, Mitchell champions the motely crew of neighbhourhood regulars who entertain international travelers passing through the hotel. A lot of local artists see the place as home because they got a chance to show their work there over a decade ago. For an ecosystem to work in a sustainable way, within a feminist framework, things cannot exist in silos. “I love the mix of business and art especially,” she says. “I also appreciate that I get to connect with so many amazing organizations and individuals through our collaborations, partnerships and projects.”

The vibe as staff buzzes about doing their tasks is friendly, artsy, unpretentious. Says Zeidler: “If you want status-quo, the Gladstone isn’t the place to find it. If you want this weird collection of magic ponies, come here and you are going to have a really good time.” Her eyes brighten as she smiles at me, like I should know what a magic pony is. Mitchell lends a hand, explaining that the magic ponies are about celebrating individuality among the staff. “It’s the differences that make people magical. We celebrate the quirks.”

Room Service with a Side of Social Impact

The Gladstone’s mission statement shapes the guest experience as well—namely, guests checking in don’t have to leave their values at home. Take its Green Policy initiative, Check-in, Don’t Checkout, meant to inspire a new normal for environmental hotel practices. Zeidler believes it’s important to have activists challenging the norm, fighting to make large institutional change. When the hotel banned plastic bottles in 2007, people were shocked. But serving tap water saved 270,000 water bottles and now the practice is not only accepted, it’s expected. “People shouldn’t have to leave their values at home when they’re on vacation,” says Zeidler. Other sustainability initiatives include two green roofs, hotel-wide composting and recycling, and 100% locally sourced dry bar and in-room amenities.

Room 403 | The Surreal Gourmet | Design by Bob Blumer

Guests are also treated to a feast of local art. Every one of the 37 hotel rooms is an immersive artistic experience, designed by a different local artist. Such design extravagance is expensive and logistically challenging—and goes against any best practices of running a hotel. But it’s also what put the Gladstone on the map as a one-of-a-kind international destination. “I won’t stay anywhere else,” says Greig Lawson, 41, in a lilting Scottish accent. He has been coming the Gladstone for six years with a group of colleagues from Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. “The staff are amazing, the rooms are just so quirky. No two nights are alike. Back home in Scotland everyone wants to know what the Gladstone is like.”

Local real estate agent Danyelle Boily has been a customer since renovations in the early 2000s and now lives in a condo across the street. “Those changes happened slowly, it was respectful and inclusive to the people who were there at the time,” says Boily, who uses the Gladstone for business meetings and as a personal hangout. “Book launches for my friends, the drag shows are a riot, the art exhibits. I’ve even been to a memorial service here.” Perhaps most notably, she says it is safe space where a single woman can go at night and not be hassled.

Bathroom Conventions Get Flush of Fresh Air

Indeed, the Gladstone has worked hard to establish itself as a safe space through arts and queer community programming, partnerships and a business approach guided by its Anti-Oppressive Framework Policy. But it hasn’t been without hitches. An employee with an outside security company the Gladstone had contracted once followed a non-binary guest into the men’s washroom, making the guest feel unsafe. “It was a horrible thing to happen to someone and completely against our policy,” Zeidler says. The guest spoke out, and Zeidler listened. The guest engaged both the hotel and the security company to collaborate in developing a non-gendered washroom policy. The Gladstone then trained staff and developed anti-oppressive compliance requirements for partners and outside contractors.

More recently, a non-binary guest planning an event at the Gladstone questioned the hotel on how they could ensure safety in washrooms that remained gendered. Rather than maintain the status quo, Zeidler looked outside “to see where the best practice is happening,” which,she says, is often in universities or artist collectives. Gladstone partnered with George Brown College’s “Free to Pee” initiative to create and communicate inclusive safe spaces in all washrooms. The school provided signs for the bathroom that read: “Neither is me…but I still gotta pee.” and “I know who I am…assume I belong.”

The Gladstone turned what seemed a setback into a step forward. “That’s the part about feminism and anti-oppressive practice,” says Zeidler. “Figure out that sometimes you’re going to get it wrong, and then listen. Then try to adjust.”

No vacancy for partners without value-alignment

The Gladstone has not been content to sit on their values in house, either. Their constant re-evaluation of inclusiveness in business practices extends to hiring external suppliers. When the hotel looked to hire an outside contractor for tech and IT services, Zeidler discovered that three on her list had zero women on their tech teams. She challenged them to improve their staff gender ratio then hired the company who took her comments seriously. Shael Risman of PACE Technical says it was a “healthy eye opener” to hear from Zeidler. Risman says PACE didn’t intentionally set out to hire only men, yet were receiving getting primarily male applicants. Zeidler recommended the company use fitzii, hiring advisors that helped improve Gladstone’s hiring process. For PACE, fitzii changed the language of job postings and targeted different job sites. That not only attracted plenty of women but a higher caliber of applicants who were a better fit for their work culture. PACE has since committed to a five-year plan to achieve an equal number of male and female tech employees.

The Road to B-Corp Took Some Convincing

The challenge to keep improving came back at Zeidler when business colleagues began encouraging her to become B-Corp certified, including her sister, Margie Zeidler. Margie also charted a career in the family business, but took her own unusual path as a social-purpose real estate developer, restoring heritage-designated buildings with environmentally and socially sustainable practices.

Initially, Zeidler resisted, worried the B-Corp designation was too American, too corporate. But as her team began exploring the movement, they began to see how it would actually help the Gladstone articulate its nonconformist business model. In 2018, the Gladstone became Canada’s first B-corp hotel. Mitchell, who headed the project, says that going through the process strengthened their feminist mission. “We started to be much more outwardly facing as being a feminist run business.”

For the record, LiisBeth is also a B-Corp certified company, as is fitzii.

For Zeidler, joining the B-Corp movement has helped her see there are corporations like her own that are doing business differently. She says the next question is, “How can we build a community around those different kinds of corporate entities? And how can we shift capitalism? It doesn’t need to suck ass.” She laughs, but in way that suggests she is dead serious.


Christina Zeidler and Chris Mitchell are presenting a workshop: Put Your Feminist Values into Policy and Practice in Your Business, at the second annual Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum on Monday, December 2, from 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

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Photo: Daniel Lepôt

Publisher’s Note: We don’t often publish pieces on extreme sports, but when Lana Pesch told me about her experience I was so impressed and blown away. You’ll see themes of resilience, persistence, and hard work—all relevant to running a business. The value of having role models, discipline, and collaboration are all feminist ideas, and must-haves to be a safe and successful skydiver. This is a powerful and inspiring story and I think feminist entrepreneurs everywhere will be able to take the lessons of skydiving—who knew??—and apply it to their own endeavours. But then again, starting and growing a business is a lot like jumping out of airplanes. Am I right? You tell me. — P.K. Mutch


The most effective way to do it, is to do it.” – Amelia Earhart

When the red light goes on, the door of the aircraft opens. This is still one of my favourite moments of any skydive. No turning back. Take everything you’ve rehearsed and trust yourself. Trust your teammates. Breathe.

I visualize getting to my slot. Fast is slow, and slow is smooth. Breathe. Stay calm. My focus is extreme.

Green light. Time to climb out. I move to my position for exit, not hanging onto the bar outside the plane this time, but squished in the door with an elbow jammed up over my teammate’s shoulder. Breathe. Divers are poised in a row behind me, glued to the person in front, ready to shuffle out as a unit as fast as we can. The organizer looks left, looks right, gives this whole-body visual cue—shake shake shake—then the final cue: up, down, OUT!

Together, 14 women hurl themselves out of a Twin Otter aircraft.

We have about 50 seconds of freefall to complete eight formations—breaking apart, repositioning bodies and coming together again, all between 13,500 and 5,500 feet, at 120 miles per hour (between 4100 and 1700 metres at about 200 km/hr). We fly in prone position—belly to earth—wearing colourful jumpsuits with grippers on the arms and legs so we can grab hold of each other to make different shapes in the sky. With each completed formation, we score one point. The goal is to set a new Canadian women’s formation skydiving record.

What does that take, in a male-dominated sport in which women comprise only 14 percent of membership in the Canadian Sport Parachuting Association (CSPA)?

Putting out the Call to Action

 In June 2018, Marie-Ève Dallaire, 35, a stellar coach and skydiver with over 4500 jumps who has competed in skydiving championships around the world, sent out a call to Canadian female skydivers. Currently, the Canadian sequential record was set in 2016 by 42 male and female skydivers doing a three-point skydive. But there was no Canadian women’s sequential record. Dallaire invited us to try for an unprecedented performance record—and to make history.

It was a tall ask: Take a week off work, leave your family for five days, and commit to five or six jumps a day at a cost of $36 per jump for each of us, not to mention the expense of travelling to the dropzone and accommodation for out of towners. Many women could commit to two days, but Dallaire insisted on being there for the full five days—reinforcing the fact it was a team effort. From Monday to Friday we would have ample opportunity to practice, get to know each other, and achieve something special. Only 18 could commit to the week and four had to cancel last minute, leaving a group of 14—serendipitously representing the 14 percent female skydiving membership in the CPSA.

There is reason we are in such a minority. Women skydivers, says Dallaire, face far more barriers in this sport than many others. As well as significant monetary and time commitments, women often struggle to justify themselves, we are frequently judged harshly for participating in extreme sports, especially if a skydiver happens to have children. “Events like this encourage women to get involved in the sport,” says Dallaire. “It gives women the opportunity to participate.”

Women who took Dallaire up on the challenge include CPSA’s female executive director, Michelle Matte-Stotyn, who started a women’s initiatives committee that offers guidance and mentors to new female skydivers. She believes having role models is vital to growing any sport, hobby or profession, especially a sport that scares the crap out of most people. If we see a woman setting her mind to the intense physical and mental challenges of learning to skydive—and she is successful, safe, and bursting with confidence—more of us are likely to believe we can achieve that too.


Marie-Ève Dallaire lands her parachute. Photo: Daniel Lepôt


Skydiving tends to attract women who are strong-willed, fit, smart, witty, fun-loving and, above all, dedicated and passionate about achieving goals. Our group was fairly experienced—no one had fewer than 400 jumps. Most of us were in our 30s and 40s. Some of us travelled hundreds of miles to take part. Still, we were an eclectic group hooked on what one participant, Christina Mercer, called “the healthiest drug in the world.”

Our crew, in part, included a chemical engineer, an acupuncturist who runs her own business, a bookkeeper, and a commercial sales director at Hyundai. Entrepreneur Stéphanie Gauthier, 43, runs a nail salon in Montreal. Her 15-year-old daughter is the accomplished indoor skydiving freestyle champion, Coralie Boudreault.

Èmilie Guilbaud, 35, who works at the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, took advantage of any weather interruptions to play Nick Waterhouse’s Katchi about 800 times so we could all learn the floss.

Mercer, a 37-year-old nurse with a military background, was still breastfeeding her six-month-old baby, which she did between jumps and during dirt dives—the walkthrough rehearsals we did on the ground before taking to the sky. She also brought along her other two kids, both under the age of five, as well as a nanny, a novice skydiver. Having her kids and nanny along was the only way Mercer could participate.

I answered the call because Formation Skydiving is my passion. I love the concentration and discipline required in working together to build a formation. It’s intoxicating. I love flying my body at terminal velocity to get in position: de-arching my body to cup air and slow down or punching out my hips to go faster. Such subtle and precise movements in extreme conditions, all while following a completely different set of rules to moving on the ground. I love the focus required, to breathe and stay calm, while flying at 120 mph with adrenaline coursing through my veins. And it’s rare and special to have an opportunity to fly with women only.

Despite my bank account being a little thin to take a week off freelance work, I jumped in my car along with my Toronto skydiving sister, Alanna Adleman, 29, a project manager in the tech sector currently between jobs. We packed sleeping bags, a foam roller, enough food to last three weeks, drove 600 kilometres to Joliette, Quebec, and bunked in a trailer on site, splitting the costs.

Hitting the road for a record

Attempting to set a national record was far off my radar when I took up the sport eleven years ago. Then, I was looking to escape the stress of the city, my job as a producer and a recent break-up. So, when a friend invited me to join her for a weekend in Niagara to watch her skydive, I readily accepted. Then, out of the blue, as she turned off the highway towards Skydive Burnaby, I said, “Maybe I should jump.”

Judy smacked the steering wheel with both hands, then slapped me in the shoulder. “Of course you should jump!”

I signed up for a tandem skydive: I would be attached by harness to a licensed instructor. My preparation included watching a video and getting some ground training from a man who would become my husband. Later that day, I leapt out of a Twin Otter aircraft from an altitude of 13,500 feet with almost a minute of freefall. Just before taking that leap, I felt a sense of my own mortality—combined with an all-encompassing vitality. I was both terrified and charged with anticipation. Then I stepped out of the plane and flew. It was breathtaking, exhilarating, wildly free. Everything else in the world—stress, anxiety, worry—fell away. I had no choice but to be present. I was hooked.

As we sat around a bonfire later that night, I realized I hadn’t felt so calm and peaceful in a long time. I sensed a beautiful camaraderie among the skydivers—accepting and open. I felt welcome. I also noticed there were some kick-ass women who had an unspoken bond between them. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to join this club of risk takers who were living on the edge, but also holding down real jobs and responsibilities. Suddenly, all the issues that had been overwhelming me felt small. What I wanted most was to be back in the sky again.

In the eleven years since, I’ve done 450 jumps, not a lot for that length of time in the sport, but there is no right or wrong path in skydiving. You do what you can and in a way that you want. During the first few years, I averaged 30 jumps per season, but increased that in 2012, the year my dad died. It felt like the right thing to do.

Skydiving has taught me to be less afraid, more humble, and to take more risks in other areas of my life. For example, the sport gave me the confidence to take up running, a sport I once loathed, and last year I ran a half-marathon. I risked writing fiction, weird dark humourous stories that I thought no one would want to read. And then I got a book deal.

Lana Pesch’s pink and purple canopy. Photo: Daniel Lepôt

In preparation for the women’s record, I did as many formation jumps as I could and honed my skills by skydiving indoors over the winter at iFLY Toronto. Incidentally, I won a gold medal in the 4-way FS intermediate category at the 2018 Canadian Indoor Skydiving Championships.

So when I arrived in Quebec to attempt a national record, I felt ready for the challenge.


Under ideal skydiving conditions—blue skies and low winds—14 of us gathered together in a sheltered outdoor packing area of Voltige.

Dallaire gave a pep talk and welcome speech, and stressed how the week was going to be about teamwork and discipline. And fun, of course. Certainly, we each had our own personal reasons for participating, but, overall, we were there to achieve a TEAM goal. Together, as a collective, we set that goal: a 14-way, all-female, formation skydive that would score at least eight points.

The pilot piped up, if we made nine points, he would buy the beer.

By 10:00 a.m. we had zipped up our jumpsuits and were practicing the first dive plan on the ground, what’s called dirt diving. We practiced the order of entering and exiting the aircraft as well as the formation we would make in the sky about a dozen times. Then we put on our rigs—the backpack that contains our parachute and also a reserve chute—so we would visualize who would be where in the sky, and what colours to look for, and rehearsed a few more times. A bigger goal than the record was keeping everyone safe. In addition to the dirt diving, we did repeated gear checks to ensure the correct placement of all buckles and straps, and both main and reserve closing pins. There were zero malfunctions or injuries through our 20 skydives that week.

Dirt dive. Photo: Daniel Lepôt

Then it was time to fly. Our energy in the plane as we climbed to altitude was bright with anticipation. But we were dead quiet, immersed in our own visualization process: going over the exit, the dive plan, deployment and emergency procedures. That’s all standard, healthy skydiving practice.

Just prior to jump, five of us, plus our videographer Dan Lepôt, climbed out and hung onto the outside of the aircraft. That’s anticipation at an extreme level, requiring 100% focus. We all watched for Dallaire’s visual signal—a full body jiggle, then watched her final cue: up, down, OUT—all she could manage while wearing a helmet with a full-face visor. We exited as a group as close together as we could and became a chunk of bodies flying through the air at 13,500 feet.

Photo: Daniel Lepôt

We had about 50 seconds to complete our dive plan then, at 5,500 feet, women on the outside of the formation tracked away like Superman—or Superwomen rather. They turned 180 degrees and made their bodies into human arrows—straight legs, flexed thighs, clenched abs, arms at sides, cupped palms, pointed toes, rounded shoulders—shooting as far away from the group as possible before deployment, so everyone could open their chutes in clean air. The second group tracked away at 4,500 feet and then all of us deployed our parachutes at 3,500 feet, a standard altitude for a group of our size and caliber. Leaving deployment too long increases the chance of ground rush, the illusion of the ground abruptly rushing up to meet you, which creates a terrible, panicked feeling.

We managed to score four points on that first jump. Not bad for 14 people who had never jumped together before, but we had work to do. We completed four more jumps, following up each one with a video debrief and notes on where we could improve—finessing a myriad of details from the position of hips or bending of elbows, to reaching for a grip and staying close to the formation.

Exit at mockup. Photo: Daniel Lepôt

The goal that day was to get to know each other’s abilities, establish our fall rate as a group since we were a variety of heights and weights, and find out where people might feel more comfortable. All positions require specialized skills—floaters who start outside the plane need to track up; the base who are second to exit need to be stable and provide a solid centre for the formation; and divers who are last out and need to, well, dive like a bullet to catch up to the group.

It was a solid first day and that night I slept like a rock.


We only got three jumps in before we were put on weather hold due to rain. During debriefing, we poured over how we could make our next jump better than the last. Or “Try to suck less,” is how one of my Burnaby friends puts it.

We also used the rain delay to have a round table discussion on our experiences as women in the sport. Mercer said that knowing it was an all-women’s event reassured her that she wouldn’t be judged for bringing her kids and a nanny along or breastfeeding between jumps. “You live your life for your children, but you can’t stop living your own life. I want to show them the world. I hope my girls jump someday.”

Photo: Daniel Lepôt

She added that she also finds herself constantly defending the safety of the sport, pointing out that skiers, horseback riders and hockey players all risk breaking bones and getting concussions. Even driving a car may prove more life threatening given fatalities in road accidents. hosts an unofficial database that reports six skydiving fatalities in Canada in the last five years. In the province of Ontario, Canada alone, 341 people died in highway accidents in 2017.

Our skydiving coach, Dallaire, also a mother of three boys, said she’s been asked, “When are you going to get a real job?” It’s a question her partner, a pilot, never gets.

Daniel, our videographer, chimed in to describe the vibe of the all-woman’s event as relaxed and joyous. “There is a lot more laughing and dancing!”


As usual, we gathered at 8:00 a.m. with jumpsuits on to rehearse our first dirt dive. But weather was against us again. We managed just one jump—but scored six points!—before a downpour grounded us. We waited it out by chatting, napping, eating, then dancing.

The weather cleared by 1:00 p.m. and we scored seven sweet points on jump number two – just a point away from our goal!

But that afternoon, our energy started fading. Formations that should have been easier were becoming more challenging. Something was off. We were overthinking things, losing focus, making novice mistakes. We did five jumps in total and debriefed after the sunset load.

Dallaire encouraged us to get a good night’s rest. Were we being too hard on ourselves? Of course. But we wanted to prove to ourselves and others that women are capable of extraordinary things. The eight points had become the symbol of that collective goal, and now we desperately wanted to achieve it.


The weather cooperated for our first two jumps, which were solid, with better flow than the day before. But we were still making small mistakes.

Third jump in we scored seven points, again. But we were back in tune with each other and having fun. “This aircraft smells incredible!” the pilot said. Well, that’s what you get when the plane is full of women!

The fourth time, while climbing to altitude, our energy was buzzing, palpable. We were focused. Confident. Driven to nail that elusive eighth point.

The jump itself had the rhythm of a heartbeat. Natural and calm, with the exact right amount of anticipation. Precise grips. Fast was slow and slow was smooth.

Photo: Daniel Lepôt

Our formation built from the centre out. I was part of the base and needed to approach fast but in control. Only then could I reach out and grab hold of my teammates’ arms. Once we had formed the base and were flying stable, the outer group could latch onto our legs to create the first pattern. We all had one responsibility: fly our slot, and fly it well. For everyone to stay on level in our group of all shapes and sizes, we had to make adjustments as each person joined. For instance, along with the rest of my gear, I strapped on twelve pounds of weights in order to fall faster to get in position to form the base.

As soon as we created one design, Dallaire gave the key—an exaggerated head nod—and we all let go of our grips, then moved swiftly into position for the next pattern, and latched on again. Eight times in total, requiring hundreds of small precise movements carried out while traveling 120 mph, belly to earth.

After we all landed safely, we broke into wide grins and exchanged hugs and high fives. We felt we had nailed the record but had to wait for the videographer to send proof to the CSPA judges—and await their final decision.

We did two more jumps that day, but couldn’t top our performance.

Photo: Daniel Lepôt


The weather crapped out again, limiting us to just one more jump but, right after, we heard back from the judges: We popped the bubbly. We hugged, laughed, cried and danced to our theme song, as if we had known each other years, though it had just been five days.

We also got national media coverage for the record: Here’s the video of the jump, and the story on CBC.

Taking in What it Means for 14 Women to Jump for a Record

When I got home and started to recount the stories of our week to my husband, I was brought to tears. The hashtag #girlpower sums it up but doesn’t capture my sense of pride and accomplishment—what I imagine my 13 skydiving sisters feel. We made history in our sport and proved how pushing your boundaries, discipline, and teamwork can pay off. We set a big goal, worked hard to achieve it, and gave each other support, respect, and encouragement that made us all stronger—individually and together as a team. At the end of the day, a record is just a record unless it does what we hope for most: Inspire women to set big goals and join forces in extraordinary communities to get support and achieve them.

Record setters. Photo: Daniel Lepôt

For more inspiration, consider attending the upcoming Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum!