Spotlight on Seniors:   Roberta Bondar - One of our Local Heroes

Roberta Lynn Bondar,  astronaut, neurologist, physician, educator and photographer (born 4 December 1945 in Sault Ste MarieON). Bondar became the first Canadian woman and second Canadian in space when she flew aboard the American space shuttle Discovery in 1992. A doctor specializing in the nervous system, she is a pioneer in space medicine research. Bondar is also an exhibited and published nature photographer. She established The Roberta Bondar Foundation to educate people about environmental protection through art, and she currently serves as one of the organization’s directors.


Early Life and Education

Roberta Bondar is the second of two daughters born to Edward and Mildred Bondar. Edward worked as an office manager for the Sault Ste Marie Public Utilities Commission, and Mildred was a business and commerce teacher. The couple’s first child, Barbara, was born the year before Roberta, in 1944.
Roberta was interested in space as a child: “When I was eight years old, to be a spaceman was the most exciting thing I could imagine.” She was given a camera when she was young, which sparked her interest in photography. She was involved in sportsGirls Guides, the YMCA, and church groups in her youth.

Bondar was also very interested in science; her father built a laboratory in their basement so she could conduct  experiments. She led the science team at her high school and received honourable mention at the Canada Wide Science  Fair in Grade 13. Bondar spent summers working as a science researcher with the federal Department of Fisheries and  Forestry in Sault Ste Marie. Her high school guidance counsellor tried to dissuade her from pursuing science in university,  believing that it wasn’t a subject for girls, but Bondar persisted.

Bondar attended the University of Guelph, where she completed a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and Agriculture in 1968.  During this time, she also received her pilot’s license. She continued in higher education, earning a Master of Science in experimental pathology from the University of Western Ontario in 1971, a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Toronto in 1974, and a Doctor of Medicine from McMaster University in 1977.

Medical Career

Roberta Bondar worked as a clinical science researcher and neurologist, a doctor who specializes in the nervous system. She completed post-graduate work at Toronto General Hospital, the University of Western Ontario, Tufts New England Medical Center (Boston), the Playfair Neuroscience Unit of Toronto Western Hospital, and the Pacific Vascular Institute (Seattle). She was admitted as a Fellow to the Royal College of Physicians in 1981 for neurology. Bondar was an assistant professor of medicine (neurology) at   McMaster University from 1982 to 1984.

She has also served as a member of the Ontario Premier’s Council on Science and Technology, as a civil aviation medical examiner and as a member of the scientific staff of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.