In Passing: Catherine Chard Wisnicki

Catherine Chard Wisnicki, formerly registered as an architect with the AIBC and also an honourary member, passed away on October 21, 2014. Born in Winnipeg, in 1917, she was raised in Montreal and attended McGill University where she became the first woman to graduate from McGill’s School of Architecture. In 1945, she married Paul Wisnicki, a former aeronautical structural engineer in the Polish Air Force. In 1946, they moved to Vancouver where she became one of the first women to become a member with the Architectural Institute of BC.  Catherine worked as a senior designer with the prestigious firm of Sharp, Thomson, Berwick, Pratt. Somehow she also found time to start a family with twins, Nina and Michael arriving in 1946 followed by Julia in 1949.

In 1963, Catherine began a career as a lecturer and assistant professor at the UBC Faculty of Architecture.  She was well-known to students at the Architecture School until her retirement from the school in 1985.  Her courses and her design tutorials were imaginative studies of elements of architecture, planning and mentoring in the design studio.  “Students were finally exposed to a female role model whose passionate enthusiasm for architecture encouraged them to follow her adventurous example.” 1

In 1996, McGill University conferred an honorary degree of doctor of science upon her.  On her retirement, Catherine and Paul moved to Naramata, BC, where they designed and built an innovative passive solar house. Paul jokingly called Naramata his ‘white elephant’ while for Catherine it was ‘a land for the eye,’ hence the name Elephant Island.  Donations in Catherine’s name can be made to Because I am a Girl at


1) Constructing Careers; Profiles of Five Early Women Architects in British Columbia; Women in architecture Exhibits Committee; Vancouver, BC, 1996

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