Ayako Ellen Anderson

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It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Ayako Ellen Anderson (nee Yamasaki) in the early hours of November 3rd, 2019.   She was a social activist, accomplished artist, founder of multiple non-profit organizations, and passionate community leader. Loving mother to Gabriel, Christopher, and his wife, Jessica, and Brennan and his wife, Liezel, and proud Oba to K.C., devoted wife to Robert J. Anderson (deceased) and partner to Gary Rawlings.  Her sudden passing was due to unforeseen complications of her recent diagnosis of Leukemia.  She was 76.

Ellen was born on October 17th, 1943, in a Japanese Internment Camp in Sandon, B.C., Canada, to Japanese Canadian parents during WWII.  The impact of her parents’ and her own experiences of discrimination led her to develop a strong sense of social justice and advocacy.  She dedicated her life to helping others, pushing the boundaries of legislation, and raising awareness for the acknowledgment, protection, and respect for the vulnerable. This included advocacy for the rights and safety of women, and the rights and needs of people living with mental and physical disabilities.

She first started her work in the non-profit sector as a founder and chairperson of Palmerston Daycare in the 1980s when she saw a growing need for child care as more women were entering the workforce. 

Later, she founded the Annex Women’s Action Committee (AWAC), a women-led group whose mission was to give women access to sexual assault information, police protection, and self-defence classes. This mission led to the eventual formation of the anti-stalking legislation that still continues to empower and protect the vulnerable to this day.

In 1992, she founded the Creative Spirit Art Centre through inspiration from her eldest son, who was born with Cerebral Palsy.  She created an accessible, creative space for those with various mental and physical disabilities to help bridge their creative power and give them a sense of community and contribution to society. In this work, she influenced the shifting of legislation to improve accessibility for the disabled.

Her years of dedicated community work were acknowledged by the Queen, and in 1993, Ellen was awarded the Canada 125 medal.

One could always find a smiling Ellen walking through the Annex neighbourhood she called home for over 60 years.  She was compassionate, generous with her time, and offered wise and sound advice. She donated time and money to worthy causes, and listened to people in need.  She was a walking encyclopedia on plants and gardening, and possessed a genuine interest in world cultures and new experiences.  She never liked to be the centre of attention, but she was definitely a voice for those without it.

She lived her life driven by shigoto, the Japanese word for the value of work; it is the principle which gave shape, direction, purpose, and meaning to her life.  She worked tirelessly to carry out her mission until Creative Spirit celebrated its 25th year.  Without showing signs of stopping, she was also chairperson of the Dovercourt BIA until 2019.  Throughout, her creative, indomitable spirit continued to give us all a welcoming sense of community.  Her sense of humour and appreciation for the wonkiness of life, and her wonderful laugh, will be greatly missed.

The Creative Spirit family would like to thank the artists, volunteers, donors, collectors, organizers, and elected representatives who assisted in advocacy for the arts and fundraising for the Centre.  Special thanks to the ROM, Archives of Ontario, Kensington Hospice, and many other notable organizations who have housed many selected artworks from the Creative Spirit collection.  

A celebration of Ellen’s life will take place in the Springtime.  The time and place will be announced on the Creative Spirit website, www.creativespirit.on.ca.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Momiji Foundation, or make a donation to the Canadian Blood Services.