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.
Julia Verlyn (Judy) LaMarsh, OC, lawyer, politician, broadcaster, author (born 20 December 1924 in Chatham, ON; died 27 October 1980 in Toronto). Judy LaMarsh was a force in politics at a time when Canadian women were fighting for equal treatment in the country’s political system. She became the second female federal Cabinet minister in Canadian history when Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson named her Minister of National Health and Welfare in 1963. She was instrumental in the development of several groundbreaking federal programs, including Medicare and the Canada Pension Plan. As Canada’s Secretary of State (1965–68), she pushed for the establishment of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada and coordinated Canada’s Centennial year festivities. Fiercely outspoken, LaMarsh remained active in public life after her retirement from politics, as an author, a broadcaster and a lawyer.
Sara Riel, (also known as Sister Marguerite Marie), sister of Louis Riel, Métis Grey Nun and missionary, cultural liaison, teacher, founder of female Catholic lay organization (born 11 October 1848 in St. Boniface, Red River Colony [now Manitoba]; died 27 December 1883 in Île-à-la-Crosse, SK). Sara Riel strove to empower Métis people and women through English-language and Catholic studies. Her education and multilingual abilities made her a valuable mediator between conflicting cultures in the early Red River Colony. Today, a charitable organization established by the Grey Nuns of Manitoba bears her name.
Mary Greyeyes Reid, Cree veteran of the Second World War (born 14 November 1920 on the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation reserve, Marcelin, SK.; died 31 March 2011 in Vancouver, BC). The first Indigenous woman to join Canada’s armed forces, Mary became a member of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps during the Second World War. The military tried to boost Indigenous recruitment and demonstrate Canada’s military might by posing her in a staged photo that has since been widely circulated in Canada.
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.
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. Payette will officially become Governor General on 2 October 2017.
Women’s movements (or, feminist movements) during the period 1985–present — sometimes referred to as third- or fourth-wave feminism — engaged in multiple campaigns, from employment equity and daycare, to anti-racism and ending poverty and violence against women.
Catharine Sutton (née Sonego or Sunegoo) (sometimes spelled Catherine, also known as Nahnee, Nahneebahwequa and Upright Woman), Anishinaabe (Mississauga) writer, Methodist missionary and political advocate (born 1824 in the Credit River flats, Upper Canada; died 26 September 1865 in Sarawak Township, Grey County, Canada West). Catharine Sutton was as an advocate for her people during a time when the cultural, political and economic rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada were formally eroded by assimilationist policies.
Madeleine Meilleur, politician (born 22 November 1948 in Kiamika, Québec). Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) in Ontario from 2003 to 2016, she was Minister of Culture, Minister of Community and Social Services, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Attorney General of Ontario, and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs. On 9 June 2016, after 25 years in politics, Meilleur announced that she was resigning as MPP, Attorney General and minister.
Viola Irene Desmond (née Davis), businesswoman, civil libertarian (born 6 July 1914 in Halifax, NS; died 7 February 1965 in New York, NY). Viola Desmond built a career and business as a beautician and was a mentor to young Black women in Nova Scotia through her Desmond School of Beauty Culture. It is, however, the story of her courageous refusal to accept an act of racial discrimination that provided inspiration to a later generation of Black persons in Nova Scotia and in the rest of Canada. In December 2016, it was announced that Desmond would be the first Canadian woman depicted on the face of a Canadian banknote — the $10 note in a series of bills released in 2018.1
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.”
Canada has been involved in various wars from the beginning of its colonial history. Just as the nature of these wars has changed over time, so too has their effect on Canadian women. Women have actively participated in war, from nursing and munitions manufacturing during the First and Second World Wars to the increasing involvement of Canadian women in the military.