In honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, The CJN presents 40 profiles of some of the most prominent Jewish Canadians throughout our history.
Myra Freeman has the double distinction of being the first Jew to be appointed lieutenant governor of a Canadian province and the first woman to hold the office in Nova Scotia, which she did from 2000 to 2006. Freeman is a member of the Order of Canada, a recipient of the Order of Nova Scotia and is the recipient of six honorary doctorate degrees, as well as the Woman of Action Humanitarian Award from the Canadian Israel Research Foundation. She was also recognized as one of Canada’s 100 Outstanding Women by the Richard Ivy School of Business and the Women’s Executive Network.
A list of her activities and accomplishments could easily lead an ignorant observer to come to the conclusion that her name refers to a foundation staffed by dozens of people, not to a single woman. Throughout her career, Freeman has been active on numerous boards and foundations, including the Atlantic Theatre Festival Foundation, Canadian Healthcare Consulting Services Ltd., the Grace Maternity Hospital Foundation and the Nova Scotia Talent Trust Fund.
Freeman has also served with numerous voluntary organizations, including the Kidney Foundation of Nova Scotia, the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Gift of Israel program. In 1990, she was festival chair for the World Figure Skating Championships in Halifax and helped develop a Nova Scotia teachers’ resource kit for this event.
In 1995, she was manager of the spousal program for the Halifax G-7 Summit. She served as Nova Scotia campaign co-chair for the Liberals in 1993 and 1997, and from 1995 to 2000, she served as Atlantic chair of the Charles R. Bronfman Foundation, the decades-spanning Jewish philanthropic organization that closed its books 2016.
Freeman was born in St. John, N.B., as were her parents, Anne Golda and Harry Holtzman. Freeman began her energetic community service while still a child. She was a leader at school, in Girl Guides of Canada and in youth groups at synagogue. She decided to become a teacher when only 15, while instructing an arts and crafts course at the YWCA. She attended Dalhousie University, earning a bachelor’s of arts degree in 1970 and a bachelor of education in 1971. In the year of her graduation she married Lawrence Allan Freeman, a lawyer and native of Halifax, where her family settled and continues to live.
From 1970 to 2000 Freeman was an elementary teacher in the Halifax public schools, where she gained a reputation as a gifted teacher. At the same time, she volunteered in a variety of public service agencies in the Jewish and general communities. She served on the education committee of Beth Israel Synagogue in Halifax and chaired the committee that oversaw the renovation of the congregation’s social hall, as well as beginning to amass her epic list of organizational affiliations.
In recognition of her leadership and accomplishments, prime minister Jean Chrétien appointed her lieutenant governor in 2000, the 30th person to hold the post since Confederation in 1867. Freeman was one of the youngest lieutenant governors in history and was the first woman to hold the position in its 400-year history. As lieutenant governor, she opened Government House to more than 20,000 visitors a year and encouraged young people to take an active interest in volunteerism and public service.
As lieutenant-governor, she was also the honorary patron of more than 90 not-for-profit organizations. Since the end of her tenure, Freeman continues to serve in an impressive array of capacities. She is chair of the community leadership advisory council to Maritime Forces Atlantic, national council chair of the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust and director of the Canadian Forces liason council. Freeman also serves with Save the Children Canada and the chairperson’s advisory group to the Canadian Judicial Council. She is on the board of governors of Mount Saint Vincent University, and served as adviser on the legacy committee of the 2011 Halifax Canada Games. Believe it or not, that’s just a small, partial list of her affiliations and activities.
Freeman is notable for the high Jewish profile she maintained as lieutenant governor. In 2003, she was the main speaker at the annual Chabad dinner in Toronto and in 2004 she delivered the inaugural lecture of the “Women in Public and International Affairs” series at New York’s Yeshiva University. While she and her family were in residence in Government House, the kitchens were kosher.