International Women's Day: Highlighting the achievements of local women

·6 min read

Since the first gathering in 1911, International Women's Day has celebrated the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women annually on March 8.

A few women in Jasper each talked about their journey that has led to where they are today.

Estelle Blanchette laughed when she was reminded that when she got to Jasper in 1998, she and her friend found a way to get onto the roof of a local drug store where they slept for a week until they secured staff accommodation.

A self-confessed dreamer, Blanchette worked at various jobs through the years. She knew deep inside that she wanted to run a business - connected with food - but had to figure out how to make it happen. She did her first food tour in November 2017.

“That’s when the lightbulb lit up. ‘Oh my god - this is what Jasper needs’,” she said.

Her idea encompassed elements that Blanchette syncs with.

“I love entertaining people. I love culinary cooking. I’m a total foodie.”

Today, through Jasper Food Tours, Blanchette takes people through a full food experience from eating and drinking at local restaurants, to talking with the chefs about the dishes they've prepared, to where the ingredients are from, to the historical side of stuff.

She and her staff also guide people up to the top of Old Fort Point for an outside dining time.

Blanchette noted powerful words from author Sherry Argov: “Truly powerful women don’t explain why they want respect. They simply don’t engage those who don’t give it to them.”

“If you are having a challenge as a woman and aren’t getting the respect you should be, just move on,” Blanchette said.

“I took a leap of faith and trusted myself and I went for it. I’ve always been fearless. I like risk and adventure. It makes me feel alive.”

“I grew up on a motorcycle; I’ve been riding since I was nine,” said Candace Broughton.

It seems fitting then that she’s the CEO/owner of Jasper Motorcycle Tours. The business started in 2007 with just two bikes.

“It was just an idea; it hadn’t been done before,” Broughton said. “We went with it.”

She’s been the sole owner since 2012 and hasn’t looked back. There are six sidecar bikes - all Harley Davidsons.

“We’ve grown the business since then with the fleet of motorcycles; we’re known all over the world,” Broughton said.

“It’s very popular with the international crowd. The pandemic has hurt us a lot. Local tourism is different than international tourism.”

But the drive to provide a motorcycle experience to remember is as strong as ever. Broughton oversees the operation in her retail shop as well staff including the shuttle driver and six others to drive the bikes.

They take folks for sightseeing tours all over the park. Broughton is staying true to what propelled her to put all her savings into Jasper Motorcycle Tours.

“Life offers a thousand chances - take one,” she said.

“The risk was there but I was willing to do it. Failure might happen. I was prepared. But I knew deep down I was going to succeed. If you want it go get it. It comes from within. Just grab that and go with it. It’s scary (but) do what you love. Follow what you are generally passionate about and let that guide you to your destination.”

Matricia Bauer was already a musician and crafter when people started asking her to perform publicly and do artwork.

And so, about 10 years ago, Warrior Women began. Today, she continues with music and is known for her accomplished beadwork.

“That pairs really well with tourism in Jasper,” she said. “I got to work with tour companies. It started with word of mouth.”

Bauer works with a group of Indigenous tourism operators in Alberta.

“It’s fairly new: Indigenous Tourism Alberta,” she said.

In the beginning, Bauer worked other jobs as Warrior Women was getting off the ground.

“It evolved into full-time,” she said. “I was moving my offerings to be year-round.”

COVID has changed that and now Bauer works seasonally to supplement her income.

Bauer sits on the Jasper Chamber of Commerce board.

“When people think of the Chamber of Commerce, they think of The Old Boys Club, but it’s not that way anymore,” she said. “When women get together they do great things. The JCC has about 85-per-cent women on the board of directors.”

Brauer advised women to make sure they get certification with whatever they are trying to achieve.

“Get that paper behind you,” she said. “If you’re thinking of starting a business you’ve probably got what it takes already.”

Lynn Wannop is an advocate for LGBTQ rights and co-founder of the Jasper Pride Festival. She’s also a baker and the owner of Coco’s Café.

As well, she and her husband Andrew recently received the Mayor’s Special Award for Humanitarianism.

Wannop described their cafe as an extension of their home.

“It’s available to anyone,” she said. “It gives me a little more room to help people realize they can do the same if they have the means.”

Wannop advised ambitious women to follow their heart.

“The biggest thing is, stick to it and don’t let people get you down,” she said. “Don’t let people tell you you can’t do something. You’re going to constantly run into people (who do that).”

She said standing up for gender equality “is so important.”

“If you want something don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can’t do it alone. Surround yourself with people who have good energy.”

Wannop encouraged women in the business world to access grants, loans and education to help them move ahead.

At the age of 33, Jenna McGrath initiated the process of opening a cannabis shop and two years later opened the doors to Fleur Cannabis Boutique, the first shop of its kind in Jasper and the first one in any national park in Canada.

McGrath runs Jasper Wellness and is a yoga instructor, a doula, and a massage therapist. She is also a municipal councillor.

“Your perspectives… are not only valued but they are needed,” she said. “Women need to be present at every table, and if we are not, decisions will be made without us.”

McGrath noted how she wanted to encourage as many women as possible to put their names forward for the upcoming municipal election in October.

“Believe in yourself,” she said. “Be bold. Lean into vulnerability. Show up. Put your authentic self out there and those of us around you will lift you up and help you soar. It’s important for women to encourage other women.”

Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh