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In Conversation: Michele-Elise Burnett ’86

Michele-Elise Burnett on leaving broadcasting, her Indigenous roots — and how she’s helping reshape Niagara’s cross-cultural landscape

When it comes to her Indigenous heritage, Michele-Elise Burnett ’86 is busy building bridges—and her work is helping to invigorate and reshape Niagara’s cross-cultural landscape. A proud Métis with Algonquin roots, in conversation she’s quick to laugh, wise and measured in her words, with a steady strength she credits her mother, well-known broadcaster and businesswoman, Dr. Suzanne Rochon-Burnett. Michele-Elise left a career in radio to follow in her activist footsteps, and now she’s working to find the creative platforms from which her people can speak.

“My mom was an art collector, and she would tell me that our teachings are in our art forms,” the Ridleian thoughtfully explains. “Whether it be through paintings, opera, music, or modern dance—our Indigenous artists are the ambassadors to our culture and traditions. I’m working to educate others on the power of healing through the arts, and help construct a strong cross-cultural community based on mutual and sustaining respect.”

“We’re oral people, with oral traditions, and our teachings are in our art forms—our artists are the biggest ambassadors to our culture. That’s how we tell our stories.”

To speak with Michele-Elise is to receive a lesson in conversation—but you might say it’s in her blood, coming from a heritage rich with oral traditions, and the only child of one of Canada’s broadcasting pioneers. Michele-Elise was raised in radio, her time spent playing in production studios, her world filled with music, talk and entertainers. Her father, radio-station owner Gordon Burnett, served two terms as President of the Juno Awards, and brought country music to life in Canada. In 1992, he was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame as one of the founding members of the Country Music Awards.

“I always knew I’d go into broadcasting,” she says, looking back. “I loved that you weren’t at the mercy of the size of a screen—you had to think outside the box to be able to paint pictures with only words and sound.” In 1996, after graduating from Ryerson University’s Radio, Television & Film programme, Michele-Elise and Suzanne took over the radio station and launched Spirit 91.7 FM, a hard-won battle that followed two gruelling years spent in and out of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The women proudly became the first Indigenous people in Canada to be granted licenses by the CRTC.

“I always knew I’d go into broadcasting. I loved that you weren’t at the mercy of the size of a screen—you had to think outside the box to be able to paint pictures with only words and sound.”

Before her mother passed in 2006, she entreated her daughter to take over where she left off, to continue sharing the deep-rooted beauty of her people’s culture and traditions through the lens of art. Michele-Elise was heartbroken by the loss. Suzanne was highly decorated and revered in the community, named to the Orders of Canada and Ontario, a founding member of the Métis Nation of Ontario, recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, and the first woman to be inducted into the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame. But she was also Michele-Elise’s best friend, her mentor and teacher.

When Michele-Elise left the business two years later, there was no set plan. “In the radio industry, I knew who I was. I lived a great life,” she shares. “But I still have pain. I still carry the pain of my mother, my grandmother, my ancestors. I just knew that I wanted to bridge people together, to find those platforms that would give our people a voice.”

“My people will sleep for 100 years, but when they awake it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” — Louis Riel

And, over time, the plan came into focus. Michele-Elise now develops projects that are transforming the Niagara’s understanding of Indigenous people—and, looking forward, she’s determined to bring those projects to life across the country.

She officially relaunched Kakekalanicks, the consulting company her mother had started back in the 1980s, which helped champion and sell Indigenous art pieces all over the world. But where her mother focused on visual arts, Michele-Elise takes a multidisciplinary approach, working to promote and educate people about Indigenous ways of life on stage, in outdoor spaces and in classrooms nationwide. The company now supports many of the area’s cultural projects.

Joining forces in 2014, she and business partner, Tim Johnson have since worked together to develop arts and educational programmes across the Niagara region. Projects include the Indigenous Cultural Map—an online resource which brings to life historic and cultural locations along the Niagara Escarpment through artistic expression; the Celebration of Nations event—an annual gathering of Indigenous arts and culture; and Landscape of Nations 360°—an ambitious not-for-profit which works to create, design and implement educational and expressive arts programmes to help transform public understanding of Indigenous peoples.

And Niagara has been quick to respond. In 2018, Michele-Elise won the GNCC Women in Business Cultural Arts Award for her work with the Celebration of Nations. “It felt like I was receiving this on behalf of our artists, our knowledge keepers,” she recalls, honoured to be amongst so many accomplished women. “To have Niagara honour an Indigenous person was heartwarming—because without our community behind me, nothing happens. Things are shifting.”

“I’m working to educate others on the power of healing through the arts, and help construct a strong cross-cultural community based on mutual and sustaining respect.”

The pair is now working on a new project called Empathic Traditions, a virtual museum created in partnership with the Niagara Falls Historical Museum which will teach people about the region’s rich history. “Before contact, the different chiefs would come to Niagara’s ‘Thundering Falls’ to discuss what was going on in our nations on Turtle Island,” she says, using the name used by many for North America. “It was a migration path for millennia. We’ve found artifacts in Niagara dating back 13,000 years.”

A Brock Board of Trustees member and co-chair of the Aboriginal Education Council, Michele-Elise is also working closely with the school’s inaugural Vice-Provost of Indigenous Engagement, helping to develop plans for the years to come. “It’s a moment of change,” Brock President Gervan Fearson said in an interview with Brock News. “We’re building an institution that’s inclusive of all peoples—and in particular Indigenous communities.” The university now proudly flies the Two-Row Wampum flag, gifted by Michele-Elise and Tim, and the campus roundabout has been named “Suzanne Rochon-Burnett Circle,” and a scholarship given in her name.

“We need to always think about how things are going to affect the next seven generations: How will doing this or that affect my family? Am I being a good ancestor? Will they thank me for it? Everything we do today will impact everything we do tomorrow—and when you have this philosophy in mind you will do things differently; you will think and not simply react.”

The first training programme of its kind in Canada, the Landscape of Nations 360° Indigenous Education Initiative is going into its third phase, developing a framework for essential understandings about the region’s Indigenous peoples, aimed at educators across the Peninsula. “We in Niagara are the inheritors of a profound story involving many of the Indigenous nations,” Michele-Elise explains, hoping to expand the programme country-wide. “But students have been taught with materials which leave them with no understanding of the world-changing achievements of our ancestors. Policy decisions that negatively impact Indigenous, Inuit and Métis people—these deficiencies result, in large part, from a lack of education beginning in grade school.”

The impressive programme, which aims to soon rollout these materials in classrooms, has been eagerly taken up by schools across Niagara—including ours. This past year, four teachers from Ridley participated in the training sessions. For Michele-Elise, working to bring Indigenous history and culture to its familiar classrooms is a natural fit.

“We’re a Ridley family,” she laughs, sharing that they’re building a memento-filled ‘Ridley Room’ in their new house. “I was no longer a minority when I went there,” she explains. “There were so many different cultures and backgrounds; I was just like everyone else, all raised under the same Ridley roof.”

“To now be working with Ridley and collaborating on LON 360° is incredible. It’s family.”

One of the few women on Ridley’s U.S. Foundation Board, Michele-Elise has been an integral part of our community for years, whether serving on the Marketing Committee (now Advancement Committee), on the Board of Governors, or launching the Women of Ridley—a group where like-minded alumnae can reach out for mentorship and support.

“I was one of the few single mothers. It was difficult, at times, and led me to think about how we can help other women, other alumnae, who are now doing the same.”

She dreams of one day establishing a Women of Ridley scholarship. When Michele-Elise had children, it was important to her that they attend Ridley, which provided her with the discipline, global mindset, and friendships she still has to this day. “But I was one of the few single mothers,” she remembers. Her children, Zander Burnett Metz ’12 and William Louis Reich ’19 both graduated from Ridley. “It was difficult, at times, and led me to think about how we can help other women, other alumnae, who are now doing the same.”

And, as the region continues to embrace its Indigenous history, our school one of many eager to incorporate a rich and little-known past into its future, Michele-Elise’s commitment to her community only deepens, the footprints on the path her mother travelled now shared by her own steps.

“My people will sleep for a hundred years,” Métis leader Louis Riel predicted more than a century ago, a quote that’s close to her heart. “But when they awake it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” For Michele-Elise, who has long recognized the need to rouse us all—be it by brush, on stage, or in the classroom—the voices of our past are growing louder, and the stirrings of these lands are coming to life once more. It’s time to wake up.

This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our summer issue.

Ridley Carries On: 130 Years of Resilience

“If there’s anything our school’s history has taught us, it’s that these are the moments when fresh, new ideas are born, moments when we, together, rise to the occasion.”

As the world faces one of the largest global crises on record, one can’t help but reflect on our school’s history. From the Springbank House fire in 1903, to world wars, economic turmoil, and more, Ridley has, quite literally, risen from the ashes through more than 130 years of unexpected plight. Though it may feel as though the COVID-19 pandemic has dented our amour, we know our school will once again prove its resilience and persevere in the face of this significant event.

We’ve flipped through our anthologies to illustrate the major crises and challenges Ridleians have overcome.*


Springbank House Fire (1903)

It was a cold October morning when students were roused from their sleep by shouts of “Fire!” The boys jostled each other to get outside, grabbing a random assortment of belongings in their haste, as the fire-bell rang in their ears. They stood under the street gaslight, answering, one by one, as Headmaster J.O. Miller called the roll—thankfully, all were accounted for. By the time the firemen arrived, it was clear the building would be completely destroyed; spurred on by the wind, the fire had raced along the attic before turning its attention to the main school building. The firemen concentrated their efforts on protecting the adjacent houses, and what belongings could be saved were piled on the street and in the headmaster’s backyard. The Upper School students watched, helpless, as Ridley collapsed before their eyes.

Springbank House Fire (1903)
Springbank House Fire (1903)

But those who knew Miller, knew that he would not give up on his beloved school. The loss of the Springbank building, though devastating, only spurred on in him a determination to build the school he’d wanted all along. Boys were temporarily rehoused, and within a month of the fire, everything was relatively normal in the academic programme and general activities; there was even a gym of sorts. Miller got to work finding and securing funds to build a brand-new Upper School and chapel on the same land as the Lower School—finally bringing the schools together on the Western Hill in 1905.

“Those who knew Miller, knew that he would not give up on his beloved school. The loss of the Springbank building, though devastating, only spurred on in him a determination to build the school he’d wanted all along.”


The First World War (1914-1918)

When the Great War broke out, Old Ridleians immediately enlisted in military services, and the school was filled with the spirit of patriotism. But what started out as a feeling of adventure—the sound of marching infantry, bands playing martial music in the streets, and students filled with the rightness of the cause—by 1916 became grim, the realities of war all too real.

The Acta Ridleianas of the era published obituaries of Ridley’s dead, their names and photographs raised on panels along Chapel walls. Tributes also went up celebrating those who were decorated for valour and leadership. Students donated pocket money to social appeals, war relief funds, and hospital wards; and the boys held a minstrel show to raise money for the cause.

Ridley Cadet Corps
Ridley Cadet Corps

They were told it was their duty to perform well at school, and the students took it to heart. They found solace in music; the Glee Club was restored, concerts held, and the gymnasium was, on occasion, converted into a motion-picture theatre, where it would be filled with laughter at the slapstick comedy of film stars like Charlie Chaplin. On the ice, the hockey team was filled with a formidable fierceness, finishing the season with 16 victories.

“By the end of the war, the school had won a high place in public regard, and the mood on campus was one of confidence—that of a firmly established institution ready to grow and expand.”

Canada lost 61,000 lives in that war, more than half of Ridley’s 800 graduates were in active service, and of them, 61 died. The Old Boys proposed a chapel in honour of the Ridleians who had lost their lives and raised nearly $50,000 by the spring of 1919. By the end of the war, the school had won a high place in public regard, and the mood on campus was one of confidence—that of a firmly established institution ready to grow and expand. Canada’s attitudes toward school and higher education grew with it; the number of applications for admittance to Ridley rose.

The Memorial Chapel
The Memorial Chapel

Recession (1922) in the midst of Spanish Flu Pandemic (1918-20) & Encephalitis Lethargica Pandemic (1915-26)

The war years, and those that followed, were plagued by worries for health, as the Encephalitis Lethargica pandemic—a curious brain-attacking disease which left its victims still as statues, in a zombie-like state, or dead—raged worldwide.

During those same years, the Spanish Flu pandemic swept the globe, killing millions. In an effort to prepare for what they worried would soon come to campus, Ridley’s governors approached architectural firm, Sproatt & Rolph to plan an isolation hospital. Construction began behind Dean’s House that September, and the new hospital was dubbed “The Pest House” by its first patients.

By October, as many as 60 boys had fallen ill. The most serious cases were reserved for The Pest House, the dorms converted to hospital bays for the overflow. Football season was disrupted, and a 10-day holiday decreed in late October to help reduce human contact. Though Ridley lost one member of its faculty and one nurse, no student died during the pandemic—a testimony to the skill and care of its medical staff. The Pest House continued to serve as an isolation hospital until the Schmon Hospital opened in 1947. With increased enrollment in the decades that followed, The Pest House was converted into a residence and renamed Governors House.

The Pest House
The Pest House

The Great Depression (1928-1932)

By 1931, as Canada’s industrial and trade situation became more desperate, it was soon evident that Ridley could face a serious crisis. By fall 1932, enrollment had plummeted, and many questioned the wisdom in building the new dormitory (which would become Merritt House). Old Boys attending the annual meeting that December were worried about the cost of the forthcoming build. Though they acted confident, Ridley’s principal and governors knew the only way they could justify the spend was to find new boys to fill its dormitories.

“We can only assume that a number of Ridley families made great sacrifices to keep their sons at the school.”

Old Boys were challenged to get to work as recruiters, and by the next fall, all heaved a sigh of relief when 27 new students started at Ridley. On campus, students became increasingly interested in current events, absorbed by questions of government, capitalism, and the various ‘isms of communism, pacifism, and fascism being debated around the world. Nevertheless, school spirit remained strong and, as early as 1933, enrollment began rising again.

Only one or two boys were withdrawn for economic reasons during the Depression, indicating that Canadians considered education important enough to be one of the last expenses to be eliminated. We can only assume that a number of Ridley families made great sacrifices to keep their sons at the school.

The Second World War (1939-45)

Still raw from the toll of The Great War, by the time the Second World War broke out, the hundreds of Old Ridleians who reported for active service did so with eyes wide open. Gone were the adventurous spirits of 1914; these men knew what it meant to be at war. Graduates of 1940 left the Prize Day presentation table went straight to the fighting forces. Many seniors didn’t even stay to graduate.

For Ridley, the war threatened to be an enormous burden; the school lost staff and students, had difficulty getting supplies, and there were problems of families divided. The mood amongst students was one of defiance, peppered by the occasional fierce display.

“During the span of the war, the administration recognized the great advances being made in industrial technology, and of the worldwide move toward science. Ridley got on board, creating the strongest physics and science staff they could assemble in order to adapt to the impending age.”

Though it was hard to concentrate—for both students and teachers alike—academic rigour was still upheld, and the boys were active in debate, public speaking, music, drama, and athletics. The new Iggulden Gymnasium revolutionized the school, the perfect site for performances and plays, and the state-of-the-art space made way for activities and sports beyond the traditional trio of football, hockey and cricket.

At the end of the war in 1945, a gesture to commemorate the dead, similar to the Memorial Chapel, was desired by all, and the Memorial Hall was planned. During the span of the war, the administration recognized the great advances being made in industrial technology, and of the worldwide move toward science. Ridley got on board, creating the strongest physics and science staff they could assemble in order to adapt to the impending age.

Recession (1950) and the Korean War (1950-53)

People had not yet recovered from the Second World War, when the Korean War broke out, and active service loomed yet again for Ridley’s seniors. The Cadets received new attention, now looked upon to train Canada’s soldiers of the future. A lavish provision of supplies filled the gymnasium’s armory with guns, rifles, drums, bugles, and signal radio equipment; the Cadet Bugle Band was upgraded with new artillery trumpets, cymbals and bell lyres. School time was spent on military training, able-bodied young men prepared to enlist for Korea or any other areas of conflict.

The numbers of Ridleians who were serving were troubling: 14 Old Boys were in the Canadian Army; five in the Royal Canadian Air Force; seven in Korea serving with the U.S. Air Force; 12 in the Royal Canadian Navy; three in the Royal Navy; and eight serving in the U.S. Navy. Though the school’s atmosphere didn’t have the same tension that was present during the major wars before it, there was a deep anxiety about what the future would hold and where communist aggression could go. Student enrollment numbers declined as the recession tightened wallets around the country but recovered in step with the war’s ending in 1953.

A Decade of Transition: The Hong Kong Flu and the 1970s

By the time the devastating Hong Kong Flu finished in 1969, it had killed over one million people worldwide, and helped kick a recession into high gear. Like many boarding schools, Ridley saw a staggering 14 per cent drop in enrollment, brought about not only by financial woes, but by major changes the country was facing at the turn of the decade: the dismantling of the conventional family; drugs; student resistance; egalitarianism; a diversifying society, and the start of the computer revolution.

“The question of the day was on everyone’s mind: how could Ridley preserve its 80-year heritage while adapting to these new realities?

Parents were complaining, faculty and students expressed dissatisfaction, Ridley’s policies and systems seemingly out of date. The school was caught between its conservative traditions and a society which had increasingly progressive aspirations. The question of the day was on everyone’s mind: how could Ridley preserve its 80-year heritage while adapting to these new realities?

Its answer lay with a new, young headmaster, Richard Alan Bradley, fresh from the U.K., with experience leading schools that had been through similar changes. Buoyed by a willing faculty, a loyal and dedicated group of senior Prefects, and a $5 million financial campaign, over the 1970s, Bradley made changes which would pay off in the decades to come. 

Ridley goes co-ed in the 1970s.

Aware it could no longer solely depend on expanding its boarding population, Ridley welcomed day boys to the Upper School in 1972. By the early ‘70s, Ridley went co-ed—arguably the single most radical change in Ridley’s history. Bradley’s argument was not solely based on numbers; he saw it as a logical step in a world where equal opportunities between sexes were becoming a fact of life. The first girls attended the school in 1973; by 1978, 26 female boarders were welcomed to the school, along with 18 day girls. Ridley’s numbers were rising.

Post-Gulf War Economic Slowdown Leads to Recession: The Early 1990s

There was a general restlessness that occurred in the 1990s, brought in part by the economic recession. Parents were dissatisfied, students impatient. Many areas of the school were showing signs of wear, resources limited, and renovations were slower than some would have liked. Financial aid was stretched thin and, as the demand for information technology increased, concerns about what it might mean for the school increased with it. Co-ed programmes had been launched at Lakefield, Trinity and Appleby Colleges, and Ridley’s administration was uncertain what the competition would mean for its future.

“The Planning Committee assessed all aspects of Ridley life, revisited the school’s mission statement and vision, addressed school spirit, and created a blueprint that would move the school into the 21st century.

For students, things were becoming stricter. A dress coded was enforced and rules were tightening in response to a feeling amongst faculty that the honour system was being disregarded. Spirits declined as many students chafed at the new rules; seniors felt they were losing status and privilege, and everywhere on campus people seemed to complain—whether about lagging technology, long construction projects, a disappearing Old Boys system, or something else entirely.

Students needed to feel heard and Ridley needed an ongoing, focused plan—a review cycle which would examine the school’s nooks and crannies, and take into account changing environments, new technologies, competition, and new demands. The Planning Committee ensured a wide range of Ridleians were involved in the process. They assessed all aspects of Ridley life, revisited the school’s mission statement and vision, addressed school spirit and the perceived lack of student enfranchisement in Ridley’s affairs, and created a blueprint that would move the school into the 21st century.

Changes were soon made. Seniors were given more control, more time was spent on arts and activities, Chapel service was moved to a more-convenient Friday slot, academic programmes reviewed, and changes made to student schedules. And, as the calendar pages flipped toward the late 1990s, Ridley recovered its numbers. By 1998, the school population—along with its spirit—had bounced back. 


Now, another moment in time, a moment when our world feels a little off kilter, our community just a little bit raw. But if there’s anything our school’s history has taught us, it’s that these are the moments when fresh, new ideas are born, moments when we, together, rise to the occasion. Each time we’ve been shaken, we’ve stood firmer, only inspired by another opportunity to grow.

And tomorrow will be no different.


*Research gathered from Ridley: a Canadian School, by Richard A. Bradley and Paul E. Lewis.

This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our summer issue.


A Tribute To Susan Hazell

We’re wishing a fond farewell to one of our most valued colleagues, Director of Development, Susan Hazell, who will be retiring from Ridley this summer. Susan first came to our school in 1979 to teach French and Spanish; returned in 1984 as a teacher and swimming coach, becoming the official Housemaster of Arthur Bishop East the following year; and, in later years, made an enormous impact as Ridley’s Director of Development. For decades, Susan has been an integral part of our community, and we couldn’t be more grateful for her experience, leadership, vivacity, and warmth.

We asked Susan’s close friend and former colleague, Vera Wilcox—another long-time member of our community—to reflect on Susan’s career in Canada’s independent school system—and to give us a peek into what’s next. But if you’ve met Susan, you’ll know that wherever this next stretch of the journey takes her, it’s almost certain she’ll be smiling.


Sue and I first crossed paths in January 1980 when, at the suggestion of her tennis-playing fiancé Mike Hazell ’73, she came to take lessons at White Oaks Tennis and Racquet Club, where I was the tennis pro. I had met Mike a few years earlier, when my husband and I played tennis with him in Stratford.

“My first impressions include how Sue’s smile lit up her entire face, making me feel great just being around her; her eagerness to try something new—and how hard she worked to learn the skills; and her strong determination to excel.”

My first impressions from those lessons include how Sue’s smile lit up her entire face, making me feel great just being around her; her eagerness to try something new—and how hard she worked to learn the skills; and her strong determination to excel. I soon realized these were not just impressions, but Sue’s inherent essence, the enthusiasm which she brought to everyone and everything in her life. In 1984, Mike was hired to run Sports Ridley, and the couple returned as teachers and housemasters of Arthur Bishop East. The move rekindled what came to be a lifelong friendship and, for me, started a period of mentorship, as we worked together in independent schools for more than 35 years.

“Teacher, coach, housemaster, parent, administrator, mentor, friend – through her warmth, enthusiasm and her strong sense of doing what is right, Susan Hazell’s contribution, not only to Ridley but to independent schools across Canada, is immeasurable.”

— Trish Loat

As Sue moved through her career—at Ridley, The Bishop Strachan School, and later at Lakefield College School—she held a variety of leadership roles, ranging from Head of Residence, to Dean of Students, to Assistant Head of School Life—always dealing with staff, students and their families. In each role, she brought with her a curiosity and love of learning (Sue is a voracious reader and researcher), sincere listening skills, and a passion for helping others to improve and get the most out of their experience in their environment.

Sue provided opportunities for people to voice their ideas, concerns and dreams, and she would always listen intently. She made them feel validated when she integrated this information into a vision, presented the group with a plan to evaluate, and then looked to each member for ownership—not only during the plan’s implementation, but its success. A consummate team player and leader, Sue always stood in front of, beside, and behind her team, whether it was made up of students, families or staff. Her passion for teaching continued with her involvement in the Independent School Management (ISM) Summer Institute, where she worked as a workshop leader alongside Ellie Griffin, presenting sessions such as “Balance Your Contrasting Roles as Dean of Students” and “Power and Influence: Women and Leadership”. 

“Thinking about my relationship over many, many years with Susan, reaching back to when I was a student at Ridley, babysitting the boys, housesitting the pets, working for her at Bishop Strachan School, working in the Hazell family business, connecting with Susan in a variety of professional roles, and recently in her capacity as head of Development, simply brings a smile to my face.

Every experience has felt like its own little adventure full of friendship, optimism, energy, laughter and purpose. Susan lifts up everyone and everything she touches with humility and heart. I am one of many women who have benefitted from her mentorship and friendship over the years.”

— Georgina H. Black ’85

Sue’s role changed in the early 2000s, when she became the Executive Director of CAIS, working with heads of schools from across Canada. Three years later, her career took another turn when she was invited to become the first Executive Director of Advancement at Collingwood School in Vancouver. Both moves were built on a solid foundation of knowledge and deep understanding of the independent school system—along with her valuable hands-on experience working with staff, students, families, and alumni. And, along the way, Sue took courses in fundraising and strategic planning, earning her IAP-S and CFRE certifications. Because she was such an effective and inspirational teacher, Sue continued to teach at ISM—now as a member of the Advancement Academy, where she worked with mentees developing action plans for capital campaigns and strategic planning.

“For over forty years, Susan has devoted her professional life to advancing independent schools, especially Ridley. I’m personally grateful for her guidance and the ways she has bolstered our school’s fundraising over the past six years. Susan’s ties to our community run deep and her daily presence on campus will be missed. I have no doubt she will remain connected to the RCA as she enters into a much-deserved retirement.” ­

— Ed Kidd, Headmaster

This period led Sue full circle back to Ridley College in 2014, when she became the school’s Director of Development. During her time at Ridley, Sue has not only worked in Development, but has shared decades of experience in helping to develop a number of the school’s areas, such as residential life, student leadership and more. 

Not one to sit still, in addition to tennis, walking, hiking, biking, spinning, and golf, Sue has now added curling and rowing to her ever-growing list of activities. With her retirement, not only will Sue now have plenty of time for these active pursuits, but she’s looking forward to spending time with family and her boys; connecting with friends near and far; planting, working and harvesting her garden; travelling; and any other new adventures that come her way. Sadly, Ridley’s loss is everyone else’s gain!

I’m sure I speak for many when I say, thank you, Sue, for sharing your passion, your wisdom, your joy in mentoring others, and your life’s journey with all of us. 

— Vera Wilcox

This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our summer issue.

10 Inspiring Alumnae to Celebrate

Driven, ambitious and passionate are a few words you may use to describe an inherently inspirational woman in your life. Today is International Women’s Day and we’d like to celebrate a few of Ridley’s alumnae who have made their mark on the world.

Georgina Black ’85

Georgina Black ’85: As the first female Chair of the Board of Governors at Ridley College, Georgina has paved the way for young women to succeed in both leadership and governance. In addition to her role at Ridley, she is a Partner at KPMG Canada and was named one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women in 2016.

Michele-Elise Burnett ’86: Michele-Elise founded the Indigenous festival, Celebration of Nations, which takes place every September. In addition, during the 18th annual Women in Business Awards this past November, Michele-Elise Burnett ’85 was recognized for her commitment to helping the arts thrive in Niagara; winning the Cultural Arts Award.

Sarah Eyton ’86: As Vice President of Fund Development at Special Olympics Canada, this alumna has dedicated her career to supporting those with intellectual disabilities in realizing their dreams of competing in sport. In addition, she serves Ridley College as a member of the Board of Governors and the Advancement Committee.

Nadine Karachi-Estrada ’87: Passionate about social justice, this alumna was appointed the Honorary Consul for Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2016. In addition, she has served on a number of Boards, including Ridley College, Patrons of Contemporary Art in Mexico and MEXFAM. She was also a founding member of Camp Deen, which is a camp that empowers Muslim Canadians to be proud of their heritage.

Michele-Elise Burnett ’86 & Nadine Karachi-Estrada ’87

Wendy O’Brien ’88: This alumna started her own casting company in Los Angeles, Wendy O’Brien Casting, and has been the Casting Director for hit television shows such as: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Sons of Anarchyand Prison Break.

Hilary Caters ’89: Hilary was once an entrepreneur and marketing agency owner, until she realized her path was leading her down a different direction. Now, she is a passionate life coach and motivational speaker. During the Niagara Leadership Summit for Women in October of 2018, Hilary spoke to aspiring leaders about taking control of ones’ life and the importance of seeking and uncovering both passion and purpose.

Jane Lewis ’90: This Canadian singer-songwriter has always been involved in the arts. While she began her career as an author and editor, she shifted towards music in 2009. Since then, she has honed her skills, released a number of CDs and launched both a solo career and her band, Gathering Sparks. She will be performing at our Toronto Branch event, Curating Connections, on April 2nd.

Jane Lewis ’90

Alison Loat ’94: This alumna co-founded Samara Canada, a charitable organization that works to improve political participation in Canada. In addition, she has published several notable books, is the Managing Director at FCLTGlobal, serves on both Ridley’s Board of Governors as well as Ai-Media and has been named one of WXN’s most influential women in Canada.

Jeanette Stock ’09: This alumna is paving the way for a more inclusive and diverse tech landscape through Venture Out. Venture Out is an initiative launched by Jeanette and her peers in 2016, with the goal of connecting LGBTQA+ people, working in technology, with career and networking opportunities. In 2017, Venture Out held its first conference; welcoming over 450 individuals to Canada’s first conference for LGBTQA+ students and professionals, seeking careers in the tech industry.

Jeanette Stock ’09

Laura Court ’14: After a unanimous vote, former Ridley rower and current Brock Badger, Laura Court ’14 was named Brock University’s OUA Female Athlete of the Year—the first coxswain to receive this honour. With a number of gold medal wins behind her and a promising future ahead, it is no surprise that she was recognized for her grit, determination and skill.