Joyce Hayden was legally blind, but she saw the community better than most people.
The tireless social advocate died in Whitehorse on Saturday at the age of 77.
She leaves behind a legacy few can match.
She helped found the Whitehorse transit system, the Yukon New Democratic Party and the Status of Women Council in the mid-1970s, to name but a few non-profit groups she was actively involved with at the time.
She sat in the Yukon legislature, first as a backbencher and later as a cabinet minister, from 1989 to 1992.
She wrote several books on the history of women in the Yukon, most notably Yukon’s Women of Power: Political Pioneers in a Northern Canadian Colony.
And she did much of this while legally blind.
Hayden rarely dwelled on her disability. Indeed, for many years few knew about it.
“I guess I was a great admirer,” said Audrey McLaughlin, Yukon’s MP from 1987 to 1997. “She did so many things with a pretty big handicap.
“It wasn’t something very obvious, and it wasn’t something she talked about,” McLaughlin said of Hayden’s failing vision.
Hayden learned to recognize friends by the way they walked, long after their faces became blurred by her deteriorating vision, recalls her husband of 60 years, Earle.
Hayden was born in her grandparents’ log farmhouse in Birch Lake, Saskatchewan. She met Earle at a Saskatchewan country dance in 1948. A year later they married during the year’s worst winter blizzard.
And, in 1953, the couple headed to Whitehorse in a 1949 Dodge pickup, following the promise of plenty of work.
Work was certainly one thing Hayden never shied from. Over her life she sat on the boards of more than 40 organizations.
Among them was the Yukon Women’s Mini-Bus Society, which brought mass transit to Whitehorse in 1975. Prior to that, women were often stranded at home during much of the cold, dark winter months, Hayden wrote in Whitehorse Transit, A Brief Look Back.
So the Yukon’s Status of Women Council, established in 1973, began to push for city council to start a bus service.
When the mayor snubbed the request, they secured an $80,000 grant from the federal government to purchase a fleet of boxy Fleury buses and run a transit system themselves.
She was a committed New Democrat for most of her life. In 1989, Hayden ran in the territorial election and was elected. Mid-term, she was appointed to cabinet and became responsible for Health and Social Services, Juvenile Justice and the Yukon Housing Corporation.
In 2003, Hayden received a Governor General’s award in commemoration of the Persons Case.
The award, named after the 1929 legal decision that allowed women to sit in the Canadian Senate, honours women who have made outstanding contributions to quality of life of women in Canada.
Focusing solely on Hayden’s notable political achievements overlooks much of the work she did to help women, said McLaughlin.
For example, she ran the Whitehorse YWCA in the early 1970s, which was one of the few organizations to offer child care services. Hayden was also devoted to Girl Guides.
The Haydens moved south in 1976, first to Vernon, BC, and later to Masset, BC. But the pull of the North proved too strong and they returned to Whitehorse in 1987.
Hayden is survived by her husband, three children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A memorial service has yet to be announced.
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