19 Montrealers changing the world

published on February 29, 2024
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Montréal is a one-of-a-kind city — a gateway between North America and Europe and a bilingual haven of creativity and experimentation. And so, it makes perfect sense that Montrealers themselves are unique, original and unlike anyone else. Standing at the forefront of industry, culture, entertainment, the life sciences, invention and more, Montréal’s talent pool runs deep — and here’s a look at a handful of locals who, each in their own way, are helping to change the world.

Joëlle Pineau

As co-director of the Reason and Learning Lab at McGill University, Dr. Joëlle Pineau famously headed the Meta (then Facebook) AI research lab in Montréal. Her research ranges from seismic developments in healthcare, to AI, to gaming. Her work at McGill in utilizing AI to improve the treatment of heart disease and cancer has earned her the NSERC’s Steacie Memorial Fellowship award and a Governor General’s Innovation Award.

Brenda Milner

Montréal’s role as a world leader in the field of neuroscience has a long history — see Dr. Wilder Penfield’s “Montréal Procedure” , for example, still used today in treatment of epilepsy sufferers 75 years on. Dr. Brenda Milner has helped shape that history since completing her B.A. studies in Experimental Psychology in 1939. Currently an impressive 105 years old, Dr. Milner holds more than 20 degrees, countless awards and an integral position within the legacy of McGill’s trendsetting Neuro institute and hospital — fully living up to her title as the founder of neuropsychology.

Yoshua Bengio

Yoshua Bengio’s research findings and innovations are changing the face of artificial intelligence and deep learning. Besides acting as Scientific Director of the MILA (Montréal Institute for Learning Algorithms), being a Full Professor at Université de Montréal, co-directing the CIFAR Learning in Machines & Brains program and acting as Scientific Director of IVADO, Bengio’s Google Scholar citations number more than 750,000 and if that doesn’t say “resident genius,” we don’t know what does.

Alanis Obomsawin

Honoured with a giant mural portrait at the corners of Montréal’s Lincoln and Atwater Avenues, the 91-year-old Abenaki filmmaker and activist Alanis Obomsawin is a ground-breaking cultural figure in the city. Since joining the ranks of Canada’s National Film Board in 1967, Obomsawin’s landmark work has made her one of the most acclaimed Indigenous directors in the world, having garnered numerous awards along the way — and her celebrated filmography has grown to over 60 films with no sign of slowing down.

Guy Rouleau

Director of the Neuro since 2013, Dr. Guy Rouleau has focused on collaboration and communication, bringing researchers and patients closer together in research and health. He’s contributed to the identification of over 20 disease-causing genes, and his research in neurological and psychiatric diseases have been cited over 30,000 times and form a bedrock of the Neuro’s continuing monumental findings. He is an Officer of the National Order of Québec, an officer of the Order of Canada and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. 

Melissa-Ann Ledo

Melissa-Ann Ledo’s creative practice blend arts, LGBTQ+ and first nations identities with initiatives stretching across Canada. As the educational director of Mikw Chiyâm (commissioned by the Cree School Board in 2015), she assists in bringing students into collaboration with Canadian Indigenous artists. She’s also involved with the non-profit N’we Jinan organization, which offers educational and artistic programs in Métis, Inuit and First Nations communities coast to coast, with initiatives including a mobile recording studio and year-long cross-country festival events. 

Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Since beginning his studies in piano at the age of five (switching his focus to conducting at 10), Yannick Nézet-Séguin has carved a notable path in classical music, presently holding the title as the Music Director of Montréal’s Orchestra Métropolitain, the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York City’s Metropolitan Opera. He was the principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra from 2008 to 2018. More recently, he served as a creative consultant on Days of Happiness, a 2023 film about an orchestra conductor by up-and-coming Québec director Chloé Robichaud.

Doina Precup

Doina Precup’s trailblazing work in reinforcement learning is focusing the abilities of AI on positive social impact. She is Research Team Lead at Deepmind, a Senior Fellow at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, a member of MILA’s scientific committee and Associate Scientific Director of Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives, and interdisciplinary neuroscience and big data research initiative at McGill. Precup’s activism in repairing the gender imbalance in AI also includes involvement in AI4good, focusing on increasing the number of women in AI research.

Rita Baga

Rita Baga is the stage name of Jean-François Guevremont, a Montréal-based drag queen and television personality who appeared as one of the top three finalists in the first season of Canada’s Drag Race, then a top-four in Drag Race: Canada vs. the World, and finally host of Drag Race Belgium, currently airing. In addition to performing as Rita Baga throughout the Montréal Village, Guevremont has worked as director of programming for Fierté Montréal. He is an alumnus of Université du Québec à Montréal, where he studied human resources and tourist development.

Vincent Leclerc 

As co-founder and partner of PixMob, Vincent Leclerc has had a direct impact on the advancement of entertainment technologies in worldwide events such as the Super Bowl Half-Time show, for which the company has delivered crowd-captivating immersive experiences for five consecutive years now. PixMob crafts human experiences with light and new technologies that transform each individual in a crowd into a mobile, interactive pixel, turning the whole crowd into a huge living video display.

Inder Bedi 

Inder Bedi launching what was to become one of the biggest global brands in vegan accessories straight out of school. Matt & Nat — named after “materials” and “nature” — was Bedi’s first foray into sustainable clothing. After selling in 2013, he pursued that line of thought with BEDI, a label of high-style utilitarian pieces made from material sources including upcycled seat belts, retired airline seats, salvaged furniture and regenerated fishnets. The brand ethos is simple: one day, everything new will come from something old. In 2021, Bedi was named Climate Champion by the United Nations through its COP 26 Initiative.

France-Margaret Bélanger

As Sports and Entertainment President of the CH Group, France-Margaret Bélanger not only is making sports history — being the first woman to serve on the Montréal Canadiens hockey team’s executive committee since it was founded in 1909 — she is presiding over entertainment giants, including evenko and Équipe Spectra. Trained as a lawyer, Bélanger first made waves and won accolades in the legal sphere. In 2020, she took a role on the NHL Executive Inclusion Council.

Harley Finklestein

Harley Finkelstein founded his first company at age 17 while he was a student at McGill, and, after completing both his law degree and an MBA, he founded Shopify. He has been one of the “dragons” on CBC’s Next Gen Den, starred on Discovery Channel’s I Quit, and has received a whole bunch of awards and recognition, including Fortune’s 40 Under 40 and an Order of Ottawa. Still President of Shopify, he recently co-founded Firebelly, a modern high-end tea brand, and created Big Shot, a project and podcast that archives the stories of the greatest Jewish entrepreneurs of the last century.

Stanley Vollant

Stanley Vollant is an Innu surgeon from Pessamit who grew up along the St. Lawrence in Quebec’s North Shore region. From an early age, he learned strong community values through the traditional teachings of his grandfather. Dr. Vollant earned his medical degree from the Université de Montréal and in 1994, becoming Quebec’s first Aboriginal surgeon. He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2022 for his visionary leadership in ethical governance and corporate responsibility, and for his transformative advocacy of collaborative philanthropy.

Léuli Eshrāghi

Curator of Indigenous Arts at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts since 2023, Léuli Eshrāghi is a mentor for the Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership: The Pilimmaksarniq / Pijariuqsarniq Project, and member of the Conseil des arts de Montréal’s Indigenous Arts and Visual Arts committees. They have served on the Board of the Indigenous Curatorial Collective as a representative of the Great Ocean, and been part of a number of curatorial collectives. 

Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël

As founders of the EMMY-winning Felix & Paul Studio, Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël are visionary creators that mix creative and technological innovation in VR, AR and MR to create immersive and interactive experiences that forge new frontiers in cinematic storytelling. They have collaborated with NASA, SpaceX, the Obamas, LeBron James and Wes Anderson, among others. In addition to creating their own original works, they’ve also sprinkled their magic on projects including Jurassic World, Cirque du Soleil and Fox Searchlight’s Wild and Isle of Dogs.

Sasha Luccioni

Dr. Sasha Luccioni is a leading scientist at the nexus of artificial intelligence, ethics and sustainability, with a PhD in AI and a decade of research and industry expertise. She is the AI & Climate Lead at Hugging Face, a global startup in responsible open-source AI, where she spearheads research, consulting and capacity-building to elevate the sustainability of AI systems. A founding member of Climate Change AI and a board member of Women in Machine Learning, she is passionate about catalyzing impactful change, organizing events and serving as a mentor to under-represented minorities within the AI community.

Sakchin Bessette 

Since co-founding Moment Factory in 2001, Executive Creative Director Sakchin Bessette has spearheaded the creation of over 400 multimedia shows and installations around the world. He leads the studio in a perpetual quest to amaze, inspire and bring people together by exploring new types of entertainment.

Zébulon Perron

Over his 25-year career architectural designer, Zébulon Perron has completed hundreds of interior design projects, mainly in the hospitality industry, some standing today as pillars of the Montréal bar and restaurant scene. Recipient of numerous awards, this committed lover of his city is inspired by contemporary art and photography to create authentic and striking spaces that stand the test of time.


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