Overcoming Obstacles

Empowering Marginalized Women Leads To National Recognition For Natalie Suzor

Story by Karen Tinsley
Photography by John Liviero

Growing up in Lakeshore, young Natalie Suzor’s first love was the performing arts.

“Singing, dancing, acting—you name it, I did it,” laughs Natalie. “Then I turned 10 and it was out with the musicals and in with competitive hockey and soccer!”

Natalie also remembers cottage weekends and Friday morning golf lessons with her cousins. 

“I can thank my grandparents for turning us all on to golf when we were kids.”

Natalie also enjoyed her elementary school French education so much that she chose to continue at École secondaire catholique l’Essor. The name l’Essor, coined by local resident Florence Limoges, is a portmanteau combining “Essex” and “Windsor”. Essor also refers to the French word “to take flight”.

“I’m glad I chose L’Essor; I’m so grateful to be fully bilingual. After graduating, I decided to pursue International Relations and Development Studies at the University of Windsor. The well-rounded program and the opportunity to study so many different subjects intrigued me.”

“To make the most of my International Relations degree, I knew I needed to go on exchange. Because of my fluency in French, France seemed like the best place to go. In addition to all the magic, romance and history of that country, I could also enhance and sustain my language proficiency.” 

Natalie hopped on a plane and took up residence in France’s third largest city, Lyon. 

The capital city in France’s Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, it sits at the junction of the Rhône and Saône rivers. Its Roman, Medieval and Renaissance architecture reflects 2,000 years of history. Covered passageways between buildings—called traboules—connect Vieux Lyon and La Croix-Rousse hill.

Natalie says, “Lyon is an amazing place. It’s big and modern, yet historic. The people have their own way of communicating that adds to the city’s charm. Not only is Lyon amazingly beautiful but it’s also the food capital of France. In 1935, French food critic Curnonsky, the Prince of Gastronomy, dubbed Lyon as the ‘world capital of gastronomy’. Love of food is a common passion in France; Lyon is the ideal place to discover—and fall in love with—French cuisine.” 

Home to the prestigious indoor market Les Halles de Lyon, Beaujolais and Rhone Valley wines, world-renowned Bresse chickens and St-Marcellin and St-Felicien cheeses, what’s not to love? Lyon boasts more than 1,500 eateries; one of the highest concentrations of restaurants per capita in France. 

“It’s a bustling, thriving metropolis”, says Natalie, “but it still retains an authentic French charm.”

Over the next 10 months, she studied European Union law, visited 10 other countries, and made lots of lifelong friends.

“It was a long way from home for a Lakeshore girl—but what a valuable, unforgettable experience!”

Natalie (right) and her role model and mentor, Aunt Colleen.

When Natalie returned to Canada, she juggled three part-time jobs and her full-time course load at U of W.  Crediting her parents Christine and David for cultivating her strong work ethic, Natalie finished her undergrad in December 2020. Shortly afterward, she was hired at Passport Canada.  

In 2017, Natalie became involved with national charity Enactus (Canada’s largest post-secondary experiential learning platform) and The Liberty Project—a social enterprise initiative created to help women who have overcome addiction, abuse or human trafficking gain meaningful employment. 

Starting at the Sandwich Teen Action Group (STAG) working with at-risk young people aged 13 to 19 years, Natalie was a positive role model, mentor and advocate for healthy relationships, self-esteem and self-respect. That led to a more senior role, executing the Liberty Project 10-week curriculum. Then, in the throes of the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, Project Manager Natalie led a team of 20 in converting it to a strictly online platform.  

Natalie confides, “Transitioning a program—that was initially focused on face-to-face engagement and personal trust—to work well virtu-ally was certainly not without some significant hurdles!”

This experience “really challenged me to expand and hone my leadership skills”, she adds.

Natalie and her team successfully shifted operations while keeping the program going without interruption. 

Chosen as Woman Entrepreneurial Leader of Year for her work with the Liberty Project, the award announcement took place at the 2021 Enactus Canada National Exposition on May 18 of this year. 

Created 11 years ago to recognize, celebrate and honour female students who embody success and inspire their peers through entrepreneurial leadership, the HSBC Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Award program has engaged hundreds of women leaders across the country.   

In recognition of the national award, Natalie and her the Enactus team at the University of Windsor will receive a $2,500 bursary and a $5,000 project grant to be used in the development and delivery of an initiative to help advance women in our community.  

Natalie also participated in the HSBC Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Forum. The forum inspires open dialogue, builds leadership aptitude and establishes connections amongst generations of top entrepreneurial women leaders.  

“Before my Enactus Windsor experience, I never would have described myself as an entrepreneur. But now, I do!” Natalie exclaims.   

When asked where her drive and dedication to community engagement comes from, Natalie is quick to answer. 

“My aunt Colleen Mitchell and grandfather Brian Hogan (Colleen’s dad) ignited the spark. Aunt Colleen (who holds Masters degree in Social Work) is a dedicated Rotarian and social justice advocate. She’s been my role model—has always encouraged me to find my own passion, get involved and give back. My grandpa is responsible for instilling this passion in Aunt Colleen. Over the years, Grandpa Brian shared his time, talent and treasure with numerous causes such as The United Way, Harmony in Action and the Red Cross Society. He passed away in 2015. My one wish is that he could be here to celebrate this important award and witness my upcoming graduation.”

But it’s not all work and no play for our industrious Natalie! 

She still loves to golf, as well as cook, read, run and do Pilates.  

“I also love Erie Street (where I worked during university); its authentic old school Italian vibe never fails to delight me.” 

And what born-and-bred Essex County girl doesn’t have a penchant for our local North Shore wineries? 

“It’s one of the best things about our region!” Natalie exclaims. Her current favourite tipple is a Pinot Rose.  

Natalie also loves meeting friends at one of Windsor’s many premium coffee shops, going for sushi or sharing a basket of wings and a pitcher of ice cold, locally brewed beer.

So, what’s next for Natalie?

As well as working full time at Passport Canada, Natalie plans to continue as an alumna with the Liberty Project. She is also volunteer-ing with Next Generation Women, a not-for-profit organization that strives to provide resources for women pursuing careers in underrepresented industries. And hoping to follow in her Aunt Colleen’s footsteps with Rotary.  

“I’m looking forward to combining my enduring passion for social justice with my newfound passion for business. The Liberty Project changed my life. Now it’s my turn to pay it forward.” 

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