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She created, she wrote, she led: Remembering Professor Bonnie Burstow

By OISE Staff

Dr. Bonnie Burstow

Here at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, the OISE community is mourning the loss of Bonnie Burstow, an exceptional scholar, author and activist who died on Jan. 4. Completing her PhD in adult education at OISE in 1982, she had taught at OISE since 1995. The Professor, Teaching Stream had a number of teaching and research interests – psychiatric and trauma survivors, feminism, feminist therapy and transgenerational trauma, among other subjects.

She was 74 years old. She will be missed.

To celebrate her life, we wanted to look back at some of Professor Burstow’s efforts and achievements. They were many.

She established a scholarship in antipsychiatry

In 2016, Bonnie established the Bonnie Burstow Scholarship in Antipsychiatry – awarded annually to an OISE thesis student conducting antipsychiatry inquiry. Antipsychiatry is a study and social movement that considers psychiatry a coercive instrument of oppression due to an unequal power relationship between doctor and patient. In her lifetime, Bonnie matched (with her own money) donations to the scholarship.

Learn more about this scholarship

She wrote a book of fiction about children of the Holocaust

Published in 2006, The House on Lippincott is a Jewish family saga set in downtown Toronto between 1947 and the turn of the century. Told from the perspective of Miriam (a feminist scholar and thinker), the story follows the Himmelfarb family ­– Rachael and Daniel, Miriam’s parents (who are Holocaust survivors and activists), Uncle Yacov and sisters Sondra and Esther. As children of survivors, early on, Miriam and her sisters make a decision which is to haunt them. And then, Rachael presents her family with yet another harrowing choice.

Bonnie’s story weaves together family caring, Holocaust trauma, abuse, aging, betrayal, anti-Semitism, resistance, and celebration.

(Bonnie also wrote two other books, Psychiatry And The Business Of Madness in 2015 and The Other Mrs. Smith in 2017.)

Learn more about The House on Lippincott

She established a scholarship for research into violence against Indigenous women

In 2018, Bonnie established Burstow’s Scholarship for Research into Violence Against Indigenous Women: In Memory of Helen Betty Osborne. The scholarship is directed to a graduate student whose thesis focuses on violence against Indigenous women. Priority will be given to students who are themselves Indigenous women.

“This scholarship is what allyship looks like, finding a real way to support important and significant issues in the Indigenous community,” she told OISE News. “All Canadians (settlers) should take note and ask, ‘What kind of resources do I have that I can share?’” 

Learn about this here

She won the David E. Hunt Award for Excellence in Graduate Education

Awarded in 2011, Bonnie was recognized for demonstrating her ability to foster an enriching teaching and learning experience and impact on graduate students. She also demonstrated excellence in teaching and supervision at the graduate level.

Learn more about the award

(Bonnie also won a Constance E. Hamilton Award on the Status of Women from the City of Toronto in 2003, and a Rebel with a Cause Award from the Elizabeth Frye Society in 2000.)

Bonnie played a range of leadership roles within OISE

For a time, Bonnie was the admissions chair for the Adult Education and Community Development program. She was also a feminist studies interdepartmental liaison for the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education.

Speaking of the Adult Education and Community Development program…

She loved telling stories. She once told a story about the photos hanging in room 7-162. What’s the story? About 20 years ago, Indigenous activist and photographer Danny Beaton travelled the world. On this journey, he spoke to various wise Indigenous people about the environment and made sure to take photographs of everyone with whom he met.

Learn more about that room, from Bonnie herself