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.
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.
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.
Emily Pauline Johnson (also known as Tekahionwake, “double wampum”), poet, writer, artist and performer (born 10 March 1861 on the Six Nations Reserve, Canada West; died 7 March 1913 in Vancouver, BC) was one of North America’s most notable entertainers of the late 19th century.
Mary Sandra Lovelace Nicholas, CM, Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), Tobique Nation, Liberal Senator for New Brunswick, Indigenous rights advocate (born 15 April 1948 on Tobique reserve near Perth-Andover, NB). Sandra Lovelace Nicholas is the first woman of Indigenous background appointed to the Senate from Atlantic Canada. She championed changes to the Indian Act that seek to restore the legal rights of many Status Indian women and children.
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.
Thanadelthur (Chipewyan for “marten shake”), peace negotiator, guide, teacher, interpreter (born c. 1697 likely in present-day northern MB; died 5 February 1717 at York Factory, MB). Known as the Ambassadress of Peace, Thanadelthur negotiated peace between the Chipewyan (Denesuline) and Cree peoples during the early fur trade. She was also instrumental in creating ties between the Chipewyan people and the Hudson’s Bay Company, as well as expanding the fur trade in today’s Churchill, Manitoba region.
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
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.
Evelyn Merle Roden Nelson, mathematician, professor (born 25 November 1943 in Hamilton, ON; died 1 August 1987 in Hamilton, ON). A brilliant mathematical mind, Evelyn Nelson fought gender barriers in a discipline long dominated by men to become a rising star in the field both in Canada and abroad. She contributed to the fields of universal algebra, equational compactness and formal language theory. Nelson was particularly interested in applying universal algebra to the then-burgeoning field of computer science. She was a devoted teacher, sought-after research partner and the author of over 40 publications during what was a tragically short career.
Cypra Cecilia Krieger, mathematician, professor (born 9 April 1894 in Jasło, Galicia [Poland]; died 17 August 1974 in Toronto, ON). Krieger was the first woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics from a Canadian university (the University of Toronto) and only the third person to be awarded a mathematics doctorate in Canada. She taught mathematics and physics at the University of Toronto for over 30 years. Krieger is best known for her English translation of noted mathematical texts Introduction to General Typology and General Typology.
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).
Françoise David, CQ, community organizer, politician and feminist activist (born 13 January 1948 in Montréal, Québec). Chair of the Fédération des femmes du Québec from 1994 to 2001, David has been a member of the National Assembly of Québec since 2012 and is a spokesperson for Québec solidaire.
Marion Meadmore (née Ironquill), OC, Ojibwe-Cree, first Indigenous female lawyer in Canada, newspaper editor, community activist, founder and co-founder of national and Prairie Indigenous organizations (born in 1936 on the Peepeekisis reserve near Balcarres, SK.) She helped create the National Indian Council and co-founded the National Indigenous Council of Elders and the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada.
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.
Helen Battles Sawyer Hogg (née Sawyer), CC, astronomer and educator (born 1 August 1905 in Lowell, Massachusetts; died 28 January 1993 in Toronto, ON). Recognized internationally for her research on globular star clusters, Helen Sawyer Hogg significantly advanced astronomers’ understanding of the location and age of stars as well as the origins and evolution of our galaxy, the Milky Way. She also contributed greatly to the Canadian public’s understanding of astronomy and inspired women to enter scientific professions.4
Shawnadithit (also known as Nance or Nancy April), the last Beothuk (born circa 1800-6 in what is now NL; died 6 June 1829 in St. John’s, NL). Shawnadithit’s record of Beothuk culture continues to shape modern understandings of her people. In 2007, the federal government announced the unveiling of a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque recognizing Shawnadithit’s importance to Canadian history.
Angela James, hockey player (born 22 December 1964 in Toronto, ON). Known as "the Wayne Gretzky of women's hockey," Angela James was a pioneering and dominant force in women's hockey during the 1980s and 1990s. James led the Canadian women’s hockey team to four world championships (1990, 1992, 1994, and 1997). She was also one of the first three women to be inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame. When James was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (in Toronto) in 2010, she was one of the first two women, the first openly gay player, and the second black athlete to ever be inducted.
Ariane Moffatt, singer, songwriter and producer (born 26 April 1979 in Saint Romuald, today Lévis, QC). Ariane Moffatt sets herself apart with her urban pop style songs, whose alternately acoustic and electronic sounds lend them an airy, dreamlike quality. The recipient of numerous Félix Awards, including Revelation of the Year in 2003, she also won a Juno Award in 2009 for her album Tous les sens. That album was well received in France, where the singer has built valuable friendships in the artistic community; it also earned her the Grand Prix of the Académie Charles Cros.
Madeleine Meilleur, politician (born 22 November 1948 in Kiamika, Quebec). 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.