Take Inspiration from the Work of 5 Canadian Design Pioneers

This International Women's Day, from the Canada Modern archive, we bring to you the work of five women who have made lasting contributions to Canadian design history and carved a path for women today. 


Susan McFee

International Woman’s Year, Stamps, 1975


Archive: CM59

Montréal-based Susan McPhee designed this commemorative stamp based on a variation of the female symbol. It adapts the traditional symbol to reference a human eye and a globe at its centre, reflecting the UN’s global perspective on advancing gender equality. 1975 marked the first year to celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8th).


Patricia Turnbull

Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering Logo, 1969

Archive: TM23
The Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering was founded in 1970 in order to form a single organization — with a clear identity — for Canadian mechanical engineers and technologists. It is a constituent society of the Engineering Institute of Canada. This icon was created for its initial inception and remains in use to this day. The icon appears to illustrate the creation of engineered solutions from raw materials, an arrow leading to the complex form from its more simple beginnings — expertly anchored to the horizon.

Diane Mellor

Canadian Physiotherapy Association, Logo, 1985

Archive: TM68
Physiotherapy in Canada made its first appearance in the aftermath of both World Wars. Thousands of returning soldiers required help with rehabilitation of injured joints and muscles as well as assistance with prosthetic limbs. Three spirited nurses responded to these needs: Enid Finley from Montréal, Alice Britton from Ontario and Elizabeth Harpham from Toronto. After the war ended working women throughout society were expected to return to domestic life. These three nurses then went on to develop a university training curriculum to educate others about this multi-disciplinary form of treatment. Alongside this they also founded a regulating organization for members of the profession — the Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA). Under the supervision of the CPA, physiotherapy education became standardized.
The logo, designed in 1985 by Diane Mellor whilst working at Toronto-based agency Calverhill Russell, is still in use today and has become widely recognized as symbol of quality and care. It is presented as a heart, formed from a grid of circles in varying scales, similar to an enlarged halftone screen pattern but also evocative of pressure points and perhaps heat mapping. Winner in the Art Director’s Club of  Toronto’s ‘Directions 85’ awards for Symbols and Logotypes.

Kathy Jull

Canadian Issues. Canada and the Sea, Book, 1980


Archive: CM146  
A biannual publication by the Association for Canadian Studies, with papers and proceedings from their national conferences, where various concerns of importance to the Canadian studies movement are addressed. The book covers numerous topics around Canada’s relationship to its marine environment, including fisheries, marine law and how best to manage the country’s coastal zone.
The cover features a simple hand drawn wave graphic reproduced in dark blue, together with a maple leaf symbol designed by David Bartholomew for the Association. Bartholomew worked at the University of Waterloo alongside Kathy Jull and George W. Roth. The distance between the wave lines increases each time, adding a sense of perspective as the viewer looks out to sea.

Margrit Kapler

Ross Wemp Photo, BusinessCard, 1973


Archive: CM277


Ross Wemp was most well known as the founder and president of Ross Wemp Motors and Ross Wemp Leasing, operating out of Toronto and the GTA  for well over 40 years. Outside of his automobile career Ross had a passion for photography, which he maintained right into his later years. Ross was a personal friend of John Weatherseed and it was through his practice that this piece was produced in the early 70s. It’s not known what sort of photography work Ross undertook and if this was anything more than a small sideline.
The design of this single sided business card was tasked to Margrit Kapler. Margrit had a knack of introducing hand drawn illustrative elements into some of her work, and paired these with her Swiss design sensibilities. This simple card, printed onto a cream vellum stock, folds in 2 positions, allowing the camera lens to shorten and the little red birdie to come closer to the photographer.
List curated by Blair Thomson, Founder and Creative Director, Canada Modern

About Canada Modern

Canada Modern is a physical archive of modernist Canadian graphic design focused on the period 1960-1985. It exists to preserve, document, educate, inspire and build a richer understanding of a seminal point in Canada’s development as a nation. The collection is primarily interested in identity design, typography and graphic communication and is shared online via its own website. We cannot find the way forward without clear knowledge of where we began — perhaps through fostering a greater understanding of Canada’s first golden era of design we can begin the process of heralding a new one.
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