By: Brooke Downey
At the age of 15, Whitefish River First Nation member, Lillian McGregor (1924-2012), left her home of Birch Island, Ontario for Toronto. For over 70 years, McGregor would work to preserve and celebrate Aboriginal culture in the city.
While living in Toronto, McGergor worked as a nanny, factory worker during the war, and as a nurse before being appointed by the University of Toronto to be the first Elder-in-Residence at First Nations House. In this position, she worked on supporting and teaching Aboriginal students, encouraging them to remember their culture, language, and traditions. She also helped to establish the Native Canadian Centre in Toronto.
McGregor’s work would be recognized with an honorary doctorate in law from UofT in 1996 (the first Aboriginal woman to receive it), being made an Officer of the Order of Ontario in 2005, an Olympic torch bearer in 2010 and receiving the National Aboriginal Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. She is remembered for her work in strengthening the Aboriginal community in an urban area.
Portrait by Emma Jenkin