Back in 1959, while still a teenager, Katherina “Katie” Ellis left her home in Germany and came to Canada seeking adventure and a new kind of life. Determined, independent and bright, she would go on to become a top executive in a printing company at a time when few women rose to such positions. And she became mother to three sons and a grandmother many times over.
When her beloved husband, John, died in 2002, Katie envisioned a new path forward, one that would see her fulfill her dream of advancing her education. She was 65 when she began attending classes at U of G. She earned a BA at age 71 and a master’s degree in English at 74.
Katie Ellis died peacefully at her home in Guelph on March 30, aged 79. With the COVID-19 pandemic declared just a few weeks earlier and with provincial restrictions limiting the size of gatherings, her family planned a celebration of life for a future date.
But Katie’s grandson Jason Ellis wanted to do something extraordinary to celebrate his grandmother and to honour her tireless spirit, her influence and her love.
This past summer, Ellis and his wife, Marilyne, embarked on an ambitious cycling journey spanning nearly 2,000 kilometres in memory of Katie and to support a cause that was close to her. Their ride would raise funds and awareness for the Canadian Women’s Foundation, an organization focused on gender equality and removing barriers faced by women, particularly those who identify as women, girls, trans, genderqueer, non-binary and 2SLGBTQI+.
The Chute-a-Blondeau couple began their Wheels of Strength trek in May, cycling through eastern Ontario and western Quebec.
In an article in The Review newspaper, Jason spoke about his grandmother’s extraordinary character.
“What defined her was being a powerful woman who really did things very differently – especially 50 years ago when she did things that were not even thought of for women,” he said in the article. “That is why we decided to do something to raise awareness for the Canadian Women’s Foundation.”
His grandmother, he added, had “a massive taste for adventure.” Marilyne said Katie was an inspiration to the women who knew her.
“She worked as a mom, which was almost unheard of back then. She wasn’t a single mom – she had a husband – but she didn’t want to just be a mom, she wanted to be herself, too.”
Katie Ellis’s determination to pursue higher education in her senior years serves as an example for all those in later life, Marilyne added.
The Wheels of Strength cycling challenge ended Sept. 13 on what would have been Katherina’s 80th birthday