The MSVU family includes a long history of women trailblazers.

From current students, staff and faculty to a legacy of alumni, presidents, board members, honorary degree recipients, donors, and our founders, leading women have been at the heart of the success of this university for more than a century.

This International Women’s Day (March 8, 2022), we’re spotlighting just some of the many women we’re proud to say are part of MSVU’s history. The following are all MSVU honorary degree recipients, and some have additional connections.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks was an American activist in the civil rights movement best known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott. Rosa refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama, USA bus. Her defiance has come to be seen as foundational in the civil rights movement, with the United States Congress honouring her as “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement.”

Rosa Parks received an honorary degree from MSVU in July 1998 while she was in Halifax to oversee the Pathways to Freedom bus tour co-sponsored by the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development and the Nova Scotia Pathways to Freedom Organizing Committee.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton is an American politician, diplomat, lawyer, writer, and public speaker. She served as the 67th United States secretary of state, as a United States senator for New York, and as first lady of the United States. She was also the Democratic nominee for president in the 2016 presidential election, becoming the first woman to win a presidential nomination by a major U.S. political party.

On June 15, 1995, while First Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton received an honorary degree from MSVU.

Alexa McDonough, OC, ONS

Alexa McDonough was a force for change since her teens when she led her youth group to fight the deplorable conditions in Africville. She was a social worker, reporter, teacher and politician. She fought for worker health and safety improvements, human rights protections and pay equity, and has been a champion of international development and peace advocacy. Also a strong advocate for women in politics, she was elected the leader of the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party in 1980, becoming the first woman to lead a major, recognized political party in Canada. After 14 years leading the NS NDP, she led the federal NDP from 1995 to 2003 and then continued to serve as an active member of parliament until her retirement in 2008. She remains the only woman in Canada to have been leader of both a provincial and federal party.

Alexa McDonough Alexa received an honorary degree from MSVU in 2009, and served as the university’s interim president from 2009 to 2010. The Alexa McDonough Institute for Women, Gender and Social Justice (AMI) at MSVU was established in February 2013.

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon

Mary Simon was sworn in on July 26, 2021 as Canada’s first Indigenous governor general. She is the 30th governor general since Confederation. Mary gained national and international recognition for her work on Arctic and Indigenous issues and for her efforts in advocating for Inuit rights, youth, education and culture. Upon becoming governor general, Mary was promoted by Her Majesty The Queen as Companion of the Order of Canada, and invested as Commander of the Order of Military Merit, and Commander of the Order of Merit for Police Forces.

Mary Simon received an honorary degree from MSVU on November 3, 2013. There is also a room in the McCain Centre named after her.

Anne Murray, CC, ONS

Anne Murray, one of the best-known Canadian singers, has sold more than 55 million recordings, and had more than 30 charted pop hits on Billboard, more than 50 country chart entries, and more than 40 adult contemporary listings. The recipient of four Grammy Awards, 24 Juno Awards, three American Music Awards and three Country Music Association Awards, Anne has recorded 32 studio albums and 15 compilations albums, and been inducted into both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. She is also a Companion of the Order of Canada and a Member of the Order of Nova Scotia.

Anne Murray was previously a student at MSVU and received an honorary degree from the University on May 20, 2016.

The Honorable Rita Joe, CM

Rita Joe was a Mi’kmaq poet who wrote powerful poetry about Indigenous identity and the legacy of residential schools in Canada. She wrote seven books, including Poems of Rita Joe (1978), Song of Eskasoni (1988) and The Blind Man’s Eyes (published posthumously in 2015). Her works continue to influence Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers and artists alike. In 1989, Rita Joe was inducted into the Order of Canada. In 1992, she became a member of the Queen’s Privy Council. She received an Aboriginal Achievement Award in 1997 and doctorates from several East Coast universities.

Rita Joe is one of the women who appear on the 18 Inspiring Women installation in the Margaret Norrie McCain Centre at MSVU, and she received an honorary degree from MSVU in 1998.

Hayley Wickenheiser, OC, MD

Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser is regarded as one of the best female hockey players in the world. Hayley joined the Canadian Women’s National Hockey Team at age 15 and has since won innumerable championships, five Olympic medals (four gold and one silver), and been named most valuable player at both the 2002 and 2006 Olympics. She’s been named among the toughest and most influential athletes in the world by Sports Illustrated, The Globe and Mail, and QMI Agency. In 2011, Hayley was appointed to the Order of Canada and, in 2015, she was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame. In addition to her athletic career, Hayley became a medical doctor in 2020, and is currently practicing family medicine.

Hayley Wickenheiser received an honorary degree from MSVU on May 18, 2017.

Dr. Roberta Bondar wearing astronaut suit.Roberta Bondar, OC, PhD, MD

Dr. Roberta Bondar is a physician, scientist, educator, astronaut, author, speaker, and professional photographer. On January 22, 1992, she became the first Canadian woman – and the world’s first neurologist – to go to space. She launched aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on Mission STS-42 to conduct experiments in the International Microgravity Laboratory. As an acclaimed professional nature and landscape photographer, Roberta has travelled around the world capturing the beauty of life on planet Earth.

Roberta Bondar received an honorary degree from MSVU in 1990.

The Honorable Margaret McCain, OC, ONB

Margaret McCain is a Canadian philanthropist who was the first woman to serve as the Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick. She is known for her work in the promotion of early childhood education, and has donated millions of dollars to charitable causes.

Margaret McCain received an honorary degree from MSVU in 2005. The Margaret Norrie McCain Centre for Teaching, Learning and Research at MSVU, which opened in May 2015, is named after her, and is the only building on a Canadian university campus dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of women.

Daurene E. Lewis, CM

Daurene Lewis was the first Black woman to be elected mayor in Canada in 1984. She was also the former executive director of the Centre for Women in Business at MSVU, and was the principal of both the Institute of Technology and Akerley Campuses of the Nova Scotia Community College. In 2001, she became the first Black senior administrator in the history of the college. She completed extended terms on the board of directors of Canada Post and the Governor General’s Order of Canada Advisory Council, and was on the executive of the Vanier Institute of the Family and the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts.

Daurene Lewis received an honorary degree from MSVU in 1993.

Sister Dorothy Moore, CM, ONS

Mi’kmaq Elder Sister Dorothy Moore is known for her devotion to and achievements in education, her service to community, and her ongoing efforts to defend and promote the rights of Indigenous peoples. She played a key role in establishing a provincial Mi’kmaq language curriculum for the province of Nova Scotia. From 1985 to 1995, Sr. Dorothy served on the faculty at the (then) University College of Cape Breton as Native Education Coordinator, Native Studies counsellor and advisor and classroom lecturer. In addition, she was appointed Director of Mi’kmaq Services for the Nova Scotia Department of Education. She is the recipient of the Order of Nova Scotia and Member of the Order of Canada.

Sister Dorothy Moore received an honorary degree from MSVU in 2002, and is a former member of the MSVU Board of Governors. She is also the subject of a book and documentary being co-produced by Dr. Mary Jane Harkins in the Faculty of Education at MSVU; Dr. Don Julian, MSVU honorary degree recipient and member of the L’nu Advisory Circle at MSVU; and the Mi’kmawey Debert Cultural Centre.

Arlene Dickinson

Arlene Dickinson is widely recognized for her role as a Dragon/Venture Capitalist for over 12 seasons on the multi-award-winning television series, Dragons’ Den. She is also a three-time best-selling author and accomplished public speaker. Her leadership has been recognized many times, including through membership in Canada’s Most Powerful Women Top 100 Hall of Fame, receipt of the Pinnacle Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence, and being named one of PROFIT/Chatelaine’s Top 100 Women Business Owners. She is a Marketing Hall of Legends inductee and a proud recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Award. Dickinson has served for many years as an Honourary Captain in the Royal Canadian Navy.

Arlene Dickinson received an honorary degree from MSVU on October 24, 2010. She also established the Arlene Dickinson Endowed Scholarship at MSVU.

Nancy Ruth, CM

Nancy Ruth is a well-known Toronto-based feminist, activist, philanthropist, and former Canadian Senator. She has been a noted benefactor of hospitals and art galleries throughout Canada, and was named a member of the Order of Canada in 1994. She founded several women’s organizations in Canada, including the Canadian Women’s Foundation and the Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies at MSVU. The Nancy’s Chair was established in 1986, and raises awareness of women’s issues, advocates for social justice nationally, and brings distinguished guests to MSVU to discuss the advancement of women.

Nancy Ruth received an honorary degree from MSVU in 1989. MSVU Interim President Dr. Ramona Lumpkin also authored a biography of Nancy Ruth.


Want to learn about some more inspirational women? Check out the 18 Inspiring Women Installation in the atrium of the Margaret Norrie McCain Centre for Teaching, Learning and Research or the hundreds of women featured on the Riva Spatz Women’s Wall of Honour just outside.