Honourary Doctor of Laws - Spring 2011
Helen Hughes embodies a lifelong commitment to social welfare, fostering better lives for the communities in which she has lived and served and devoting her time to consumer rights, the arts, education, and volunteering with her church. Mrs. Hughes was a pioneer in initiating several innovative social programs, and her contributions to the City of Saskatoon are significant and long-lasting. Through the local branch of the Consumer Association of Canada, she was an early advocate for better labelling of food products. She contributed greatly to the work of the Saskatoon YWCA as its president and was key in the establishment of Saskatoon’s Big Sister Association. Addressing the need for comprehensive crisis response services for families, she was a founder of Crisis Intervention Services.
While a member of Saskatoon City Council Mrs. Hughes was the originator and subsequent chair of the Community Liaison Committee where she worked with Métis, First Nations and non-native people to address the problems of housing, health, recreation, employment, justice, education and cross‑cultural understanding in an urban city. One of her legacies in Saskatoon is the Native Survival School, now called Oskayak High School, a school dedicated to providing a safe and stable environment to enable students to experience academic success and personal healing.
Mrs. Hughes’ interest in social welfare issues were informed by her upbringing as the daughter of an Anglican minister. Her work in the church continued as a member of Saskatoon’s Inner City Council of Churches and the relief and development agency of the Anglican Church of Canada. She was a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee to the Public School Board and served for four years as a councilor for the City of Saskatoon. She also supported Saskatoon’s arts community serving on the boards of Gateway Players, Persephone Theatre and 25th Street Theatre.
Following her family’s move to Victoria, Mrs. Hughes served on Victoria City Council for eighteen years and spent ten years working at the Office of the Ombudsman and the B.C. Council of Human Rights. She initiated the Souper Bowls of Hope Fundraiser in 1997 with the Victoria Youth Empowerment Society to assist at-risk youth and support empowerment through educational and recreational activities. As a member of the Victoria Public Library Board, she founded the Lifelong Learning Festival held on International Literacy Day.
She is the recipient of the Generosity of Spirit Award by the Victoria Foundation and in 2009 received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Mrs. Hughes was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada in 1982 for her work with aboriginal communities. One nominee stated, “I believe her work was a catalyst that led to the empowerment of aboriginal people, other minority groups, and women, who were relatively unheard.” Helen Hughes has introduced a new way of bringing about changes by encouraging community leaders, thinkers, and activists to join together to articulate their collective needs and dreams.