“The Woman Who Loves Giraffes” profiles Anne Innis Dagg — pictured at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago in 2016 — at last being recognized for her groundbreaking work in Africa more than half a century ago. (Courtesy Elaisa Vargas)

‘Queen of Giraffes’ among new Order of Canada recipients with global influence

Anne Dagg’s work in the 1950s documenting the creatures in Africa paved the way for others

Talk about sticking her neck out for Canada.

The latest cohort of appointments to the Order of Canada include many people whose accomplishments have had an impact around the world, including pioneering biologist Anne Dagg, known as the “Queen of Giraffes.”

Her work in the 1950s documenting the creatures in Africa paved the way for others who became famous for living among wild animals, but Dagg was originally mocked and ignored.

To now be among the latest recipients of one of Canada’s highest honours stands as proof, Dagg said, that her work had an impact.

“I’ve always worked really hard, and done new things and written books, things that have never been thought of before,” she said in an interview from her Waterloo, Ont., home.

“It’s just so exciting to find that people are now amazed that I’ve done all that.”

Dagg’s is among the 120 names announced Friday as new additions or promotions to the Order of Canada, including five people bestowed with the top rank of companion, 38 officers and 77 members.

Among them: politicians, including former prime minister Stephen Harper, athletes such as hockey star Caroline Ouellette, journalists including Phillip Crawley, publisher of The Globe and Mail, as well as scientists, community advocates and philanthropists in fields ranging from autism to multiculturalism to ecology.

Dagg’s decision to travel to Africa to observe giraffes — an animal that had fascinated her since childhood — was considered ridiculous despite the fact it would later produce one of the first reference books on the animal, she said.

Years after her work there — she would go on to earn a PhD and publish widely — she was refused tenure because she was a woman, she said.

So while Jane Goodall would go on to become an icon for her work with chimpanzees, Dagg’s contributions remained widely unknown until a documentary about her life was released last year.

She credits the film, ”The Woman Who Loves Giraffes,” with the fact her name is now on anyone’s radar — including the Order of Canada committee — at all.

Dagg joins several other women being honoured for their work in science, including 2018 Nobel prize winner Donna Strickland, Halifax’s Dr. Noni MacDonald, a pediatrician who has also played multiple roles within the World Health Organization, and Dr. Cheryl Rockman-Greenberg of Winnipeg, honoured for her work on the genetic causes of rare diseases.

Dagg said she feels a shift over the last decade has led to women’s achievements being taken more seriously.

“I hope we can get more women and girls interested in this sort of thing,” she said.

Brian Theodore McGeer, who goes by Tad, credits in part another pioneering woman in science for his inclusion on this year’s list of Order recipients — his mother.

Edith McGeer received the Order herself in 1995, along with her husband Patrick, for their achievements in neuroscience.

Tad McGeer, an aeronautical engineer, is being recognized for his achievements in unmanned aerial systems, known more commonly as drones.

Originally from B.C., he has lived in Washington state for nearly 30 years. But he got into the business for a very Canadian reason: he was looking for a way to better forecast the weather.

Today, his work focuses on military use of the technology, with the systems he’s built in application worldwide. He joked that while his parents certainly deserved the honour, he wasn’t sure he rose to their level.

“If my country wants to be proud of me, that would be a great honour indeed,” he said.

Another family connection on the list this time around? Duncan Sinclair, whose accomplishments include efforts in the late 1990s to reform health care in Ontario, is among the new recipients of the Order. He’s also the father of Tragically Hip bassist Gordon Sinclair, who received the honour himself in 2017.

Canadians who have had a global impact in the arts are well-represented on Saturday’s list. Among them: director James Cameron, actor Xavier Dolan and Gilles Ste-Croix, the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, and Brian Ahearn, a noted music producer.

Johnny Nurraq Seotaituq Issaluk’s work in the arts came after many years competing in the Arctic Winter Games. He’s played roles on stage and screen, and been an ambassador for Inuit culture at home and abroad.

Issaluk is among several leaders in Indigenous communities receiving the Order. Two others are Lorna Wanosts’a7 Williams for her advocacy of Indigenous language revitalization, and John Amagoalik, known as the “Father of Nunavut” for his role in the creation of the territory.

Issaluk said he hopes being recognized with the Order will call further attention to his efforts at not just promoting his culture globally, but inspiring others to do the same.

“No matter how hard, how great, how tough, how easy, how much hate, how much love we go through — if we believe in ourselves we can accomplish anything we desire,” he said.

“As global people, we are all in this together. So let’s do it.”

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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