Born in Cairo, SallyThorsen, FCIP (1938-1997) lived in Britain before coming to Canada in the early 1960s. Her educational background included three Masters degrees earned from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, the University of Toronto, and Queen’s University. She also lectured at the Universities of Alberta and Guelph.
Her illustrious career—which included becoming the first female head of a planning department in Ontario—began with her appointment as a senior planner on the Waterloo-South Wellington Study. The results of this Study contributed to the creation of Regional government in Waterloo in 1973. Sally’s next stop was the City of Galt as Director of Planning. Later, when the former municipalities of Hespeler, Preston, and Galt were amalgamated, Sally became the first Commissioner of Planning for the new City of Cambridge in 1973. After steering the new City through its first Official Plan and Comprehensive zoning by-law, Sally moved on to the Region of Waterloo in 1984 where she spent the next twelve years as Commissioner of Planning and Culture.
At the Region of Waterloo, Sally shepherded a series of innovative policy concepts, many of which found their way into a new and improved Regional Official Plan in 1995. The Region’s State of the Environment Report and the Archaeological Resource Master Plan were both firsts for a municipal jurisdiction in Canada.
Her involvement in the Region of Waterloo extended far beyond her role as a municipal planner through her work with the Kitchener-Waterloo United Way, the Social Planning Council of Kitchener-Waterloo, and her role as president, and member of the board of Anselma House in Kitchener—an emergency shelter for women. Whether it was championing to save Via Rail service, imploring area municipalities to provide affordable housing in their official plans, nurturing native trees in the regional arboretum, or pushing for plans to ensure the preservation of the rich archaeological heritage of Waterloo Region, Sally worked tirelessly for many important local concerns.
Sally’s expertise in planning was not limited to Waterloo Region. She made her mark on the provincial scene as well. A long standing member and Chair of the Regional Planning Commissioners of Ontario, she provided extensive input to the province on a wide variety of planning policy and legislative issues. She also served as Administrative Vice President and a member of the Executive of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.
In 1997, one year following her retirement, Sally Thorsen became a Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Planners. The Waterloo Regional Heritage Foundation established the Sally Thorsen Award of Excellence to honour an outstanding level of commitment to heritage concerns in the Waterloo Region.