Hearts sank in 2003 when Michele Landsberg retired from her post as columnist for the Toronto Star, Canada's largest daily newspaper. A fearless advocate for women's rights, Landsberg wrote for 25 years on issues ranging from sexual harassment, to sharia law, to urban affairs. Her courage in asking important, gendered questions made her a rare journalist in Canadian mainstream media. And with no consistently feminist voice to take over her beat, her departure signalled the decline of whip-smart, unapologetic feminist opinions in the mainstream media.
But those who know her well knew that the end of her column wouldn't mean the end of her work. Fortunately, retirement is just not in her blood. After leaving the Star, Landsberg devoted time to her daughter Ilana, a single mother by choice, and her two grandsons. Two years later, the next feminist battle called. Landsberg was elected chair of the board of Toronto's Women's College Hospital, an institution she had staunchly supported in her column and through her involvement in the grassroots group Friends of Women's College.
Founded 120 years ago by female doctors who were barred from practising medicine in Toronto hospitals, Women's College was the only hospital in the city that allowed women to practise medicine a century ago. The hospital did pioneering work in the fields of lumpectomies and the Pap smear. It was also a place where women had equal opportunity as department chiefs, Landsberg recalls. Over the years, the hospital was threatened with closure many times. Then, in 1997, Ontario premier Mike Harris merged the hospital with Sunnybrook Hospital, a veterans and trauma hospital in the suburbs.
"How moronic a decision was that?" …