The game is six degrees of Canadian history. Take two seemingly unrelated pieces of Canadian culture and connect the dots through various people, places and events to discover how they’re distantly — or maybe not-so-distantly — related. Along the way, we visit the quizzical and curious, the tragic and comic, and everything in between.
Women’s suffrage (or franchise) is the right of women to vote in political elections; campaigns for this right generally included demand for the right to run for public office. The women’s suffrage movement was a decades-long struggle intended to address fundamental issues of equity and justice and to improve the lives of Canadians.
Mona Parsons (b at Middleton, NS Feb 17, 1901; d at Wolfville, NS Nov 28, 1976) was an actress. That was what she had decided when she was still in her teens, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and enrolled in the Acadia Ladies' Seminary. She was tall, beautiful, graceful; and she could really act.
Julie Payette, OC, CQ, astronaut, engineer, jet pilot, musician (born 20 October 1963 in Montréal, QC). Payette participated in two space flights to the International Space Station, STS-96 (1999) and STS-127 (2009), and served as the chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency from 2000 to 2007. In 1999, she became the first Canadian to board the International Space Station. An accomplished scientific authority, musician and athlete, Payette is a board member of Own the Podium and a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s board of directors. In July 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Payette will become Canada’s 29th governor general, succeeding David Johnston.
Founded in 1974, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is an organization that supports the socio-economic, political and cultural well-being of Indigenous women in Canada. Dedicated to the principles of humanitarianism, NWAC challenges the inequalities and discrimination that Indigenous women face by remaining politically engaged in causes such as education, housing, child welfare and more.
Women have looked to the law as a tool to change their circumstances, while at the same time the law is one of the instruments which confirms their dependent status as citizens (see Status of Women). The first phase of the Women's Movement, in proclaiming that women were capable of reason as well as reproduction and nurturing, claimed a place for women in the public sphere, while also relying upon the concept of "separate spheres" to delineate their areas of strength and competence.
Jeannette Vivian Corbiere Lavell (called Keewednanung, “North Star” in the Anishinaabe language), activist, educator and community worker (born 21 June 1942 in Wikwemikong, ON). Corbiere Lavell, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) woman, was one of several Indigenous women who brought increased public awareness to the gendered discrimination that First Nations women faced because of status law, namely section 12(1)(b) of the Indian Act. Her efforts were central to revising patriarchal (male-dominated) aspects of Canadian legal code.
Penelope (Penny) Oleksiak, swimmer (born 13 June 2000 in Scarborough, Ontario). At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Oleksiak won four medals, setting the Canadian record for most medals won at a single Olympic Summer Games. Her four swimming medals came in the women’s 100 m freestyle (gold), women’s 100 m butterfly (silver), women’s 4 x 100 m freestyle relay (bronze) and women’s 4 x 200 m freestyle relay (bronze). In the 100 m freestyle, Oleksiak tied for gold with American Simone Manuel, with both swimmers setting an Olympic record of 52.70 seconds in the final. Oleksiak is tied with the late Victor Davis for the most Olympic career medals won by a Canadian swimmer (four) and holds the record as the youngest Canadian ever to win an Olympic gold medal (16 years and 59 days). In 2016, Oleksiak received the Lou Marsh Trophy (Canada’s athlete of the year) and the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award (Canadian Press female athlete of the year).
Mary Two-Axe Earley, Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) elder, advocate for women and children, human rights activist (born 4 October 1911 on the Kahnawà:ke reserve, QC; died 21 August 1996 in the same place). Mary Two-Axe Earley was a pioneer and architect of the Canadian women’s movement. Her political activism helped to forge a coalition of allies to challenge Canadian laws that discriminated against Indigenous women. The great bulk of her political advocacy spanned the last three decades of her life, and she was particularly active in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Gloria Mary Maureen George, Indigenous politician, activist and public servant (born 24 July 1942 in Hubert, BC). A tireless advocate for non-status Indians, George was elected president of the Native Council of Canada in 1975, becoming the first and only woman to lead a major Indigenous political organization.
Marie-Joseph Angélique (born circa 1705 in Madeira, Portugal; died 21 June 1734 in Montréal, QC). Angélique was an enslaved Black woman owned by Thérèse de Couagne de Francheville in Montréal. In 1734, she was charged with arson after a fire leveled Montréal’s merchants' quarter. It was alleged that Angélique committed the act while attempting to flee her bondage. She was convicted, tortured and hanged. While it remains unknown whether or not she set the fire, Angélique’s story has come to symbolize Black resistance and freedom.
The Canadian Women's Press Club (CWPC) was founded in June 1904 in a Canadian Pacific Railway Pullman car, aboard which 16 women (half anglophone, half francophone) travelled to the St. Louis World's Fair. All but one were working journalists who covered the event. The CWPC offered female journalists professional support and development in its mission to “maintain and improve the status of journalism as a profession for women.”
Lucy Maud Montgomery, OBE, writer (born 30 November 1874 in Clifton (now New London), PEI; died 24 April 1942 in Toronto, ON). Lucy Maud Montgomery is arguably Canada’s most widely read author. Her first novel, Anne of Green Gables (1908), became an instant bestseller and has remained in print for more than a century, making the character of Anne Shirley a mythic icon of Canadian culture. Montgomery’s body of work — more than 500 short stories, 21 novels, two poetry collections and numerous journal and essay anthologies — has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide. Anne of Green Gables alone has been translated into at least 36 languages as well as braille, and been adapted dozens of times in various mediums. Montgomery was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and the Literary and Artistic Institute of France, and declared a Person of National Historic Significance in Canada.
Bonnie Brooks, CM, retailer, department store executive (born 19 May 1953 in Windsor, ON). Brooks earned her MBA from the Ivey Business School at Western University and also holds two honorary doctoral degrees. She is best known for her work modernizing retail department stores, including Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford, Canada’s Holt Renfrew and Hudson’s Bay, where she was the first woman to be appointed president and CEO. Brooks was later appointed as the first woman vice-chairman of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier (née Watt), OC, human rights and Indigenous rights activist, cultural preservation advocate, politician, writer and educator (born 2 December 1953 in Old Fort Chimo, QC). Watt-Cloutier is a respected Inuit leader who has received international recognition and acclaim in the areas of rights activism, environmental and climate change awareness and social justice.
Domestic work refers to all tasks performed within a household, specifically those related to housekeeping, child care and personal services for adults. This traditionally unpaid work may be assigned to a paid housekeeper (the term caregiver is preferred today). From the early days of New France, domestic work was also considered as a means for men and women to immigrate to the colony. In the 19th century, however, domestic service became a distinctly female occupation. From the second half of that century until the Second World War, in response to the growing need for labour in Canadian households, British emigration societies helped thousands of girls and women immigrate to Canada. In 1955, the Canadian government launched a domestic-worker recruitment program aimed at West Indian women. It wasn’t until recently, in 2014, that the government lifted the requirement that immigrant caregivers live with their employer in order to qualify for permanent residence — a requirement that put domestic workers in a vulnerable position.