June 15, 2023

Calgary Awards honour remarkable community members

Eight UCalgary award recipients celebrated during ceremony on June 14
Calgary Awards placed on top of a black cloth on a table, next to a book.
The City of Calgary

Each year, people connected to the University of Calgary leave indelible marks on their community. The City of Calgary recently honoured some of them at the 2023 Calgary Awards for improving the lives and social fabric of the city and beyond.  

 “The University of Calgary is proud to recognize the altruistic contributions of our community members,” says Amanda Affonso, BA’00, associate vice-president of alumni, community and partnerships. 

“We’re thrilled to see so many UCalgary faculty, staff, and alumni honoured by the Calgary Awards,” says Affonso. “The commitment and dedication of this year’s honourees demonstrates that the University of Calgary is the place to Start Something: conversations that deepen our shared bonds; initiatives to uplift members of the community; cutting-edge technologies that will revolutionize the health-care industry; works of literature that remind us of our long-forgotten past; and improving accessibility standards for our fellow neighbours.”  

The recipients were announced during a ceremony on June 14, with honours being handed out in 13 categories.

Meet the UCalgary community’s 2023 Calgary Award recipients:  

Left: Rose Crowshoe, Right: Reg Crowshoe

Riley Brandt

Grant MacEwan Lifetime Achievement Award  

Elder Reg Crowshoe Hon. LLD’01, and Elder Rose Crowshoe, Traditional Knowledge Keepers 

The Grant MacEwan Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Calgarians who, over the past 25 years or more, have made significant contributions to the community that improved the quality of life for citizens or brought recognition to Calgary. This is the first year that the award is being given to a duo. 

As Traditional Knowledge Keepers from the Piikani First Nation, Elders Reg and Rose Crowshoe are bridge-builders and agents of systemic change. Together, they’ve made significant contributions to the preservation and celebration of Blackfoot culture in Canada and beyond. They continue to establish new ways for individuals and groups to respectfully learn about and work with Indigenous people.   

As stewards of the community, they have established relationships throughout the country aligned with the spirit and intent of Truth and Reconciliation to uplift and create change. Their involvement in Calgary’s arts, business, social and cultural environment, not to mention education, are numerous and include: acting as advisors for the theatrical play, Making Treaty 7; setting the Alberta Energy Regulator on a path of understanding; and acting as spiritual and cultural advisors for UCalgary’s Solar House Decathlon project, Spo'pi, which addresses First Nations housing issues. For their many contributions they were inducted to the Order of Canada in 2022.  

The Crowshoes are “traditional grandparents” to many across the globe and their support and guidance has created a path to rebuilding relations with Indigenous communities, ethically and with sanctified kindness. Their work will positively influence Canadian society for generations to come.  

Meenu Ahluwalia

Courtesy Meenu Ahluwalia

Community Achievement Award: Community Advocate (Individual) 

Meenu Ahluwalia, BSc’95, LL’99, lawyer, Department of Justice  

Like many Calgarians, Meenu Ahluwalia knows what it’s like for families to start anew for an opportunity at a better life. Rooted in her experience as an immigrant, she uses her skills as an accomplished lawyer to improve her community, reduce barriers and to create opportunities for others.   

Ahuwalia is a community volunteer, mentor and entrepreneur. As a person of action, when she sees a need she is compelled to act. Her mission is to support, empower and gain visibility for women and families from racialized and immigrant communities. Throughout her years of community service, Ahluwalia has worked with organizations that focus on poverty-reduction, financial-literacy, and community well-being programs.  As a community advocate, she was a founding board member of an agency focusing on mental health, addiction and domestic violence support for Calgary’s South Asian community where seeking help is stigmatized.  She is also a founding member of an organization celebrating the helpers, leaders and heroes of the South Asian community.   

For her years of continued community service, Ahluwalia has been the recipient of several legal community service awards, and she isn’t stopping. Her next project is setting up accessible and affordable family-mediation services to support those going through challenging times.   

Jeanae Elisha Ventura

Courtesy Jeanae Elisha Ventura

Community Achievement Award (Youth)  

Jeanae Elisha Ventura  

UCalgary is proud to have sponsored the Youth Award for the 15th consecutive year. This award is presented to a young Calgarian whose exceptional achievements have culminated in the recognition of, or improved the quality of life in Calgary. This year’s recipient is 13-year-old Jeanae Elisha Ventura.  

Holding a zest for life and a compassion to help others, Elisha embodies the philosophy of “giving back,” with personal deeds that have deeply affected the community, dedicating her energy and positivity towards 24-hour food drives, supporting the Alberta Children’s Hospital by collecting and donating 4,000 toys, advocating for the Kids Cancer Care Foundation, helping citizens affected by COVID-19, raising funds for the homeless in Calgary, and more.  

Elisha’s acts of selflessness are also international. She created the Gift of Hope program to support 250 affected Filipino families during Typhoon Ulysses last 2020. Using her talent and passion for singing, she donated proceeds from her community events to purchase and fill 80 Christmas Eve food hampers to be sent to less-fortunate families in her native Philippines.  

Her message to the youth is to encourage them to be the change that they aspire to see. “You are the one behind the steering wheel and you get to choose what path you want to go down to. Leave a mark in the world that you are proud of.” 

Kristina Rinker

Courtesy Kristina Rinker

International Achievement Award 

Dr. Kristina Rinker, PhD, professor, Schulich School of Engineering and Cumming School of Medicine 

Dr. Kristina Rinker is a professor of biomedical engineering, chief scientific officer and co-founder of Syantra Inc. Her groundbreaking work has received international recognition, spotlighting the excellence of Calgary’s innovation and technology sector.   

Syantra is a precision biotechnology company developing new ways of blood testing, enabling the detection of complex diseases like cancer at the early stages. Its one-of-a-kind flagship product, which was developed by Rinker’s research group, is a blood test for breast cancer, the Syantra DXTM Breast Cancer Test. Using propriety technology, the test measures a panel of biomarkers in whole blood and uses custom software developed with machine learning to interpret data to provide results.  

Rinker’s work in biotechnology and the development of the test promises to revolutionize the standard of breast cancer care, with the potential to save millions of lives around the world. 

Suzette Mayr

Heather Saitz

The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize  

Dr. Suzette Mayr, BA’90, PhD, author of The Sleeping Car Porter; Professor of English, Faculty of Arts   

A professor of creative writing in the Faculty of Arts, Dr. Suzette Mayr has won numerous awards for her writing. She has left a substantial mark on Canadian literature, her work often exploring race, identity and belonging in the Canadian context, combined with lush cultural mythologies readers can’t help but become absorbed in. 

Her sixth novel, The Sleeping Car Porter, is no different. Readers are drawn into the life of queer Black train porter, R.T. Baxter’s voyage through Canada’s rustic landscape from Montreal to Vancouver. Mayr’s novel was also named as one of 2022's top works of fiction by Publisher’s Weekly and netting Mayr the Giller Prize, Canada’s top literary award, last November.  

Mayr, a Killam laureate, previously won the 2012 W.O Mitchell Book Prize for her 2011 novel, Monoceros.  

Garden Loft

John Brown

Award for Accessibility 

Garden Loft (Co-founder Dr. John Brown, PhD, dean, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape) 

Garden Loft is a Calgary-based company with a novel solution that expands accessibility standards in existing residential homes that go well beyond legislated building code requirements without having to undertake expensive renovations that can negatively impact the functionality of the home and its potential resale value. Garden loft offers a dignified housing option to seniors and other individuals with stamina, stability, visual acuity, and upper or lower body movement disabilities, enabling them to live independently, or semi-independently close to family and friends.  

The company fabricates and installs Garden Lofts, prefabricated secondary suites with advanced support and safety features that can be craned into a friend or family member’s backyard. This proximity makes it much easier for the family to provide companionship and any needed support (such as shopping, meal prep, personal care, housecleaning) with a minimum of inconvenience. When no longer needed, the units can be sold to another family looking for an innovative accessible housing solution. This can recoup a significant portion of the original purchase price so that the resulting net cost of a Garden Loft will be much less than the cumulative cost of renting in a typical care facility. 

Centre for Sexuality logo, 50th anniversary

Community Achievement Award: Community Advocate-Organization

Centre for Sexuality (President and CEO, Pam Krause, BA'86)

The Centre for Sexuality (C4S) is a welcoming and inclusive hub for sexual health and identity, catering to individuals, families and communities in Calgary and the surrounding areas. In 2022, the organization secured funding from the federal government to adapt their Relationships and Sexual Health Education program, tailoring it to better address the specific needs of 2S/LGBTQ+ and Indigenous communities, as well as individuals with developmental disabilities.

The Calgary community has also benefited from various remarkable initiatives by C4S. These include the enhancement of virtual services, creating a safe haven that offers specialized activities, counseling, and support to 2S/LGBTQ+ students. Additionally, C4S has been a vocal advocate for systemic change, striving to establish equality for gender diverse individuals, and has played a pivotal role in advocating for and providing the monkeypox vaccine.

For countless individuals, organizations and communities, the Centre for Sexuality has remained a trusted and dependable resource, offering invaluable support. Their ongoing endeavors continue to make a profound difference in the lives of Calgarians.

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