1297591441501_ORIGINALA woman can be described as “unlucky” due to her presence. At least in the mining industry in the early 1900’s, that is. What are the thoughts that arrive in your mind? Inequality, perhaps? Feelings of outrage, frustration or insignificance? All of the above, most likely.

Introducing Viola MacMillan who arrived at her brother’s Cobalt silver mine in the 1920’s. She arrived to confront her potential “bad luck” as men thought women would disrupt their luck in the mines. She had her brother take her below ground, disguised as a man to avoid any conflict with her presence. Determined Viola was, as after descending into the mine she was thrilled by her experience and in awe of the caves. This is where Viola began to make her mark and set wheels in motion in creating her long, infamous history of being a legend in the Canadian mining industry.

Along with her husband, George MacMillan, Viola rose to the crest of her career as they both became developers and producers of precious base metals across Canada. She made noteworthy contributions including the discovery of the Hallnor deposit in Timmins, Ontario, and the development of the Canadian Arrow open pit gold deposit. She acquired and developed the Kam-Kotia base metal mine in Timmins, and many others. However, her greatest contribution to the industry was her commitment to transforming the Prospectors and Developers Association, which has grown exponentially to 4,000 members today. This association is active in setting public policy, and their annual convention attracts international attendees.

This formidable woman came from a farming family that, having fifteen children, struggled to survive. Viola was the thirteenth child, and from a very early age had to separate herself from the pack, create an individual identity, and learn to support herself. Her success began after business college, when she worked as a stenographer, and progressed as she followed her curiosity to her brother’s mine. This curiosity and determination ultimately led Viola to make her millions.

There are a few lessons we can learn from Viola. One is to follow your curiosity and let yourself marvel at things that are unexpected and different; basically, follow your gut response. Second (and an obvious point) would be to take Viola’s lead in not only surpassing female stereotypes and roles, but also reaching beyond yourself to become a leader in your industry. Challenge yourself and those around you. It’s okay to be the minority in your role. It’s possible to make an impact, regardless of your financial background or where your starting point is.

“I see no reason why girls can’t take their places beside the men in the field…Mind you, they must expect to pull their weight and not be cry-babies when things don’t go too well — when it rains and the fire goes out, or when the black flies make life miserable.” — Viola MacMillan