10 Canadians Changing the World as an Older Adult

Ageism is a challenge that many people still find themselves facing as an older adult. To show that humans are capable of changing the world at any age, we compiled a list of 10 Canadians who have made and continue to make great impacts regardless of their age.

Tommy Douglas

Tommy Douglas

In 2004, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) held a TV contest to crown the “Greatest Canadian”. Almost 18 years after his passing, Tommy Douglas, once premier of Saskatchewan, won the contest. Although he was the first Canadian to successfully lead a socialist government, his greatest achievement was something even bigger: universal public health care. Most noteworthy, at age 56 and into his older adult years, Tommy Douglas introduced universal medicare legislation in Saskatchewan; the first province to do so. As Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson stated, “Say what you like about medicare today, its arrival in Saskatchewan in 1962 and its extension across Canada in 1972 was one of the most consequential developments in 20th-century Canada”. Tommy Douglas’ greatest achievement came to fruition in his later years. And, he continued impacting Canada in the political scene for many more years after.

Louise ArbourLouise Arbour

Most notably, Louise Arbour is known for her work in the prosecution of crimes against humanity. She was a former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Even at age 72, she is still active in this realm. She currently holds an appointment as the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for International Migration. Consequently, Louis Arbour is known for changing the “old strategy of peace without accountability”. She put her work best, stating, “we are witnessing an irreversible globalization of human rights expectations, and a consequent growth in institutions necessary to remedy the grossest abuses of the most fundamental of these rights”.

Maude BarlowMaude Barlow

Canadian author and activist Maude Barlow wants the world to know we are running out of freshwater. As co-founder of the Blue Planet Project and chairperson of the Council of Canadians, she has made it her life’s mission to inform the world about the ever-present global water crisis. As an older adult, at age 72, she still passionately involves herself in the activist community, working diligently to globally spread information on solutions to save our freshwater.

Marshall McLuhan

If you’ve never heard of Marshall McLuhan, you must not consume digital media. In his 50’s, McLuhan published two seminal works, The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964). These works would come to define the digital age and its impact on humans. McLuhan argued that the medium is what truly impacts human interaction. He coined the phrase, “the medium is the message”. Today, people refer to McLuhan as the Apostle of the Electronic Age. Various literary publications, movies, and other works quote him. Therefore, his work is leading to an understanding of the technological revolution and its transformation to human interactions and behaviors. Certainly, McLuhan’s intellect and desire for understanding human ethos will undoubtedly have implications for years to come.

Farley MowatFarley Mowat

At age 89, Farley Mowat publishes his forty-fourth and final book, Eastern Passage. His life became a fight for those who had no voice: animals. In his last book, he made a case for the dramatic drop in the beluga whale population in the St. Lawrence River. As a conservationist, Mowat’s greatest hope was that we would “change our attitudes and modify our future activities so that we do not become the ultimate destroyers of the living world… of which we are a part.” His impact as an older adult is profound.

Kenojuak AshekavKenojuak Ashevak

Preening Owl

Preening Owl by Kenojuak Ashevak

As a receiver of the Order of Canada, Kenojuak Ashevak is one of the most notable indigenous pioneers of modern Inuit art. Above all, prints of Ashevak’s art is on Canadian coins, bills, and appears as a showcase in museums around the world. In addition, her art is thoroughly studied and even inspired producton of a documentary by the National Film Board, called Eskimo Artist: Kenojuak. She is known for creating works of art that were always artistically experimental, explorative, but full of vibrancy and intensity. Although she travelled the world creating art, she always came back home to Baffin Island. Up until her death at 85, Ashevak contributed annually to the Cape Dorset Annual Print Release and continued creating works. Since passing, her works have reached new records, including the sale of a copy of her work Rabbit Eating Seaweed at a cost of $59,000.

Joy KogawaJoy Kogawa

Poet and novelist, Joy Kogawa, cleared the way for minorities. The Japanese Canadian produced several masterpieces. These would go on to win her numerous awards. Including, the Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Canadian Authors Association Book of the Year Award, and the American Book Award. Kogawa became an activist in the redress movement. Hence, her 1992 novel Itsuka dramatizes the reality and struggle of Japanese Canadians as they sought acknowledgement for mistreatments faced and government action for prevention. She does not let being an older adult stop her, and at age 84, she continues to produce works. Moreover, Vancouver now celebrates Joy Kogawa Day.

Lorne MichaelsLorne Michaels

As the creator of Saturday Night Live, Lorne Michaels has brought laughter into the homes of people all around the world. Now, in its 45th season, Saturday Night Live has won a whopping 72 Emmy’s and isn’t slowing down. Neither is Lorne Michaels. At age 74, he continues to produce, write, act and make us laugh every Saturday night.

Leonard CohenLeonard Cohen

Serenading Canadians and people all over the world for the last 52 years, Leonard Cohen would continue to do so up until his passing. At age 74, Cohen began touring once again. His presence would bring droves of people to his shows, receiving standing ovations at every packed stadium. The Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and novelist explored topics around religion, politics, isolation and relationships. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Which all occurred as an “older adult” after the age of 55. To this day, songs like Hallelujah are still playing like it just came out.

Brenda MilnerBrenda Milner

Finally, we recognize Brenda Milner for her work in memory and neuroscience. Often referred to as the founder of neuropsychology, Milner has contributed to various topics. Most notably, Milner and her graduate students distinguished between “a primary memory process with a rapid decay and an overlapping secondary process by which the long-term storage of information is achieved”. Wonderfully, at 101 years old, she still oversees scientific studies and contributes to scientific research. Nothing short of a great example that being an older adult is just a number, she was in a 2018 video promoting female scientists and researchers. As a result of her work, her induction into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame made her the ninth woman to earn this honour.


McGoogan, K. (2014). 50 Canadians Who Changed the World. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

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