Browse "Women"

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Agnes Macphail

Agnes Campbell Macphail, politician, reformer (born 24 March 1890 in Proton Township, Grey County, ON; died 13 February 1954 in Toronto, ON). Agnes Macphail was the first woman elected to the House of Commons (1921–40) and was one of the first two women elected to the Ontario legislature (1943–45, 1948–51). She was also the first female member of a Canadian delegation to the League of Nations. Macphail was a founding member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the forerunner of the New Democratic Party). She was a noted pacifist and an advocate for prison reform. As a member of the Ontario legislature, she championed Ontario’s first equal pay legislation (1951).

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Alexa McDonough

Alexa McDonough, social worker, former Nova Scotia New Democratic Party leader, federal NDP leader (born 11 August 1944 in Ottawa, ON).

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Barbara Hanley

Barbara McCallum Hanley (née Smith), teacher, politician, Canada’s first female mayor (born 2 March 1882 in Magnetawan, ON; died 26 January 1959 in Sudbury, ON).

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Cairine Wilson

Cairine Reay Wilson (née Mackay), senator, diplomat, philanthropist (born 4 February 1885 in Montreal, QC; died 3 March 1962 in Ottawa, ON). In 1930, the year after the success of the Persons Case, Wilson was the first woman appointed to the Senate of Canada. She helped found and run political organizations that encouraged women and youth to get involved in politics. From the 1930s onwards, Wilson advocated for the admission of European refugees to Canada.

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Carla Qualtrough

Carla Qualtrough, politician, athlete, lawyer (born 15 October 1971 in Calgary, AB). Carla Qualtrough is the Liberal member of Parliament for Delta, a suburban constituency south of Vancouver. She has served as Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities and is currently Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility. Prior to entering politics, she worked in human rights law and in sports administration. Qualtrough, who is legally blind, was the first Paralympian elected to the House of Commons. She won three bronze medals in swimming at the Paralympic Games and four medals at the world championships.

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Chrystia Freeland

Christina Alexandra “Chrystia” Freeland, politician, journalist, editor and writer, Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, 2019–present (born 2 August 1968 in Peace River, Alberta). Chrystia Freeland is the Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for University-Rosedale and currently serves as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. She is the first woman in Canada to hold the latter position. She has also served as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of International Trade. Notably, she handled the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as well as complicated diplomatic situations involving Ukraine, Russia, Saudi Arabia and China. Freeland is an award-winning journalist, editor and author of such books as Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (2012).

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Clara Brett Martin

Martin finally achieved her goal on 2 February 1897, becoming the first woman lawyer in the British Empire. She went on to earn Bachelor of Civil Law (1897) and LLB (1899) degrees and to establish a successful Toronto practice.

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Ellen Fairclough

Ellen Louks Fairclough, politician (born on 28 January 1905 in Hamilton, Ontario; died 13 November 2004 in Hamilton). A chartered accountant by profession, she became secretary of state and Canada's first woman federal cabinet minister in John Diefenbaker’s 1957 Conservative government. She was instrumental as head of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in pushing for less racist immigration policies. She also pushed for granting Status Indians the right to vote (see Indigenous Suffrage.)

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Elsie Gibbons

Elsie May Gibbons (née Thacker), first woman elected as mayor of a municipality in Québec (born 23 May 1903 in Ottawa, Ontario; died 28 January 2003 in Shawville, Québec). In 2015 the pioneering role of Gibbons in municipal politics was recognized by the Québec government, and in 2017 the Elsie-Gibbons award was created by the Fédération Québécoise des Municipalités.

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Elsie Knott

Elsie Marie Knott (née Taylor), Ojibwe chief, community leader, entrepreneur (born 20 September 1922 on Mud Lake Reserve [now Curve Lake First Nation], ON; died there on 3 December 1995). Knott was the first elected female First Nations chief in Canada, after a 1951 amendment to the Indian Act permitted Indigenous women to vote and participate in band governments. She was also chief of her First Nation for 14 years, from 1954 to 1962 and from 1970 to 1976. Knott was dedicated to preserving the Ojibwe language and was known for her community activism and support of education.

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Emily Murphy

Emily Murphy (née Ferguson, pen name Janey Canuck), writer, journalist, magistrate, political and legal reformer (born 14 March 1868 in Cookstown, ON; died 27 October 1933 in Edmonton, AB). Emily Murphy was the first woman magistrate in the British Empire. She was also one of the Famous Five behind the Persons Case, the successful campaign to have women declared persons in the eyes of British law. A self-described rebel, she was an outspoken feminist and suffragist and a controversial figure. Her views on immigration and eugenics have been criticized as racist and elitist. She was named a Person of National Historic Significance in 1958 and an honorary senator in 2009.

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Emily Murphy's Famous Triumph

“I feel equal,” wrote Emily Murphy in 1927, “to high and splendid braveries.” By that point in her life, the 59-year-old native of Cookstown, Ontario, had earned the right to big ambitions: her achievements included turns as a successful writer (under the name “Janey Canuck”), social activist, self-taught legal expert and, as of 1916, the first woman magistrate in the British Empire. She was also a wife and mother.

Macleans

Fall From Grace

Inside the high-flying life of Sen. Pamela Wallin—and how it all came crashing down in a frenzy of backstabbing and bitterness. In Maclean’s second major profile of a senator caught in scandal, Anne Kingston reports.

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Famous Five

Alberta’s “Famous Five” were petitioners in the groundbreaking Persons Case. The case was brought before the Supreme Court of Canada in 1927. It was decided in 1929 by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Canada’s highest appeals court at the time. The group was led by judge Emily Murphy. It also included  Henrietta EdwardsNellie McClungLouise McKinney and Irene Parlby. Together, the five women had many years of active work in various campaigns for women’s rights dating back to the 1880s and 1890s. They enjoyed a national — and in the case of McClung, an international — reputation among reformers.