Barbara Paterson | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Barbara Paterson

Barbara A. Paterson, CM, sculptor (born in Edmonton, AB). Barbara Paterson is a sculptor who works with wax, stone, bronze and steel. Her works often depict women and historical figures. She is perhaps best known for Women are Persons!, a bronze monument to the Persons Case that depicts the Famous Five. There are two copies of the monument, one located on Parliament Hill and the other in Calgary’s Olympic Plaza. Paterson was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2021.
Famous 5

Early Years

Barbara Paterson was born in Edmonton, Alberta, and has lived in the province her whole life. She is the great-granddaughter of William MacKay, a Hudson’s Bay Company doctor who was one of the first physicians in Alberta. MacKay met his wife, Jane Flett, when he was stationed at Fort Chipewyan. Flett was Métis and worked with MacKay as a nurse. The couple experienced discrimination in Edmonton because of their interracial marriage. Paterson grew up a block away from the home of one of the Famous Five, Emily Murphy. But she has admitted to not knowing much about the five suffragists or the Persons Case in her youth.

Education and Family

Paterson studied at the University of Alberta. She was working towards a Diploma of Arts with a major in painting when she met her future husband, John. She decided to suspend her studies to get married and eventually earned a Diploma in Arts with a major in painting in 1957. While attending the University of Alberta, Paterson took an evening anatomy class to learn how to sketch the human form. It was conducted at the university’s cadaver lab in its medical sciences building. She continued developing her talents as an artist at home and through courses offered by the university extension program, all while raising her three sons, Duncan, David and Jamie. In 1988, Paterson completed a Bachelors of Fine Arts with a major in sculpture at the University of Alberta.

Career Highlights

Paterson was selected to create the Women are Persons! monument in a national competition held in 1997. This led her to create the first iteration of the monument, which was unveiled in Calgary’s Olympic Park by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson on 18 October 1999, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Persons Case. The Ottawa monument was unveiled the following year on the same date, at an event attended by many thousands of people. The monument was the first artistic representation of women other than royalty on Parliament Hill.

The Women are Persons! monuments both feature an unoccupied chair — a deliberate choice, as Paterson wanted to make her monuments more interactive. Visitors can choose to sit among the Famous Five (Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney and Irene Parlby). They are depicted celebrating the announcement of their victory in the Persons Case. Paterson also included a facsimile of a newspaper page from the date of the Persons Case decision, which also features Paterson’s mother’s photograph and wedding announcement.

Images of Paterson’s Women are Persons! monument have made their way into various everyday objects. An image of the monument was featured on the reverse of the $50 bill in the Canadian Journey Series of Canadian currency issued in 2004, as well as on a stamp issued by Canada Post. A part of the monument can also be seen in Canadian passports.

Paterson’s work can be found in public spaces and private collections across Canada, as well as in private collections in the United States and Europe. Her life-sized sculptures can be found at St. Albert City Hall in St. Albert, Alberta, at the Coady Institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and at the Edmonton Catholic School Board. Her work has also been featured in exhibitions around the world.

Back of the $50 Note (2001–06)

Barbara Paterson is fond of dogs. She likes to include dogs or representations of dogs in all her sculptures. Her sculpture of Emily Carr features a dog at Carr’s side. Suffragist Henrietta Muir Edwards, one of the Famous Five featured in the Women are Persons! monument, sports the likeness of a dog on her brooch. Paterson also sculpted a dog for the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog in New York City.

Honours and Awards

In 2000, the University of Alberta presented Paterson with a Distinguished Alumni Award. As part of this recognition, the university also produced a video recounting her life and work.

In December 2021, Governor General Mary Simon named Barbara Paterson to the Order of Canada as a Member, citing her significant contributions to the arts in Canada. In 2022, Vancouver Island University presented Paterson with an Honorary Doctorate of Letters, citing her accomplishments and significant contributions to the world of Canadian art and sculpture.

Selected Artworks

  • Our Emily (a larger-than-life bronze sculpture of painter Emily Carr), Victoria, British Columbia
  • Father Coady, (a sculpture of the Rev. Dr. Moses Coady), Antigonish, Nova Scotia
  • Lois Hole: A Legacy of Love and Learning(a larger-than-life bronze sculpture of the former lieutenant-governor of Alberta, Lois Hole), St. Albert, Alberta
  • Women are Persons! monument, Olympic Square, Calgary and Parliament Hill, Ottawa
  • Irving Guttman (a bronze bust at the Edmonton Opera), Edmonton, Alberta