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Article

Maggie Vail Murder Case

In September 1869, berry pickers in Saint John, New Brunswick, discovered the remains of an adult and a child hidden in some bushes. The bodies were soon identified as belonging to Sarah Margaret “Maggie” Vail and her infant daughter, Ella May. Later that month, architect John A. Munroe was charged with the murder of Vail, with whom he had an affair. Although his lawyer argued that Munroe was incapable of murder given his education and social standing — an early example of the “character” defence — he was convicted in December 1869. Munroe eventually confessed to the murders and was executed in February 1870.

Article

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.

Article

Lady Grey

Alice, Countess Grey, viceregal consort of Canada from 1904 to 1911 (born 18 November 1858 in London, United Kingdom; died 22 September 1944 in Lowood, United Kingdom).

Article

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).

Article

Florence Bird

Florence Bayard Bird (née Rhein, pseudonym Anne Francis), CC, senator, journalist, broadcaster and author (born 15 January 1908 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; died 18 July 1998 in Ottawa, Ontario). Chair of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada from 1967 to 1970, Florence Bird made her name as a broadcast journalist for CBC/Radio-Canada, reporting news and producing documentaries on women’s working conditions and on conditions for women in Canada’s prisons.

Article

Gertrude Guerin

Gertrude Guerin (née Ettershank; traditional name Klaw-law-we-leth; also known as “Old War Horse”), chief, politician, community advocate, elder (born 26 March 1917 on the Mission Reserve in North Vancouver, BC; died 25 January 1998). Guerin, born into the Squamish First Nation (see Central Coast Salish), was a fierce protector of Indigenous people and culture. She represented the Musqueam nation locally as an elected chief, and on the national stage in challenges to Canadian jurisdiction over traditional Musqueam territory (see Coast Salish).

Article

Lady Monck

Lady Elizabeth Louise Mary Monck, Viscountess Monck of Ballytrammon, viceregal consort of British North America from 1861 to 1867 and viceregal consort of the Dominion of Canada from 1867 to 1868 (born 1 March 1814; died 16 June 1892 in Charleville, Enniskerry, County Wicklow, Ireland). Lady Monck was the first viceregal consort of the Dominion of Canada and the first to live at Rideau Hall.

Article

Persons Case

The Persons Case (Edwards v. A.G. of Canada) was a constitutional ruling that established the right of women to be appointed to the Senate. The case was initiated by the Famous Five, a group of prominent women activists. In 1928, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that women were not “persons” according to the British North America Act (now called the Constitution Act, 1867). Therefore, they were ineligible for appointment to the Senate. However, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council reversed the Court’s decision on 18 October 1929. The Persons Case enabled women to work for change in both the House of Commons and the Senate. It also meant that women could no longer be denied rights based on a narrow interpretation of the law.

Article

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.

Article

Irene Parlby

Mary Irene Parlby (née Marryat), Alberta MLA (1921–35), women’s rights advocate, activist (born 9 January 1868 in London, UK; died 12 July 1965 in Red Deer, AB). Irene Parlby served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Alberta for 14 years. She was the first woman in Alberta, and the second in the British Empire, to be appointed to a cabinet position. One of the Famous Five appellants in the Persons Case, Parlby was a compelling advocate for women’s rights. Known as the “Women’s Minister,” her career in activism and legislation was dedicated to improving the lives of rural women and children, such as with Alberta’s Dower Act in 1917. She was also a delegate to the League of Nations in 1930. However, she has also been criticized for her views on eugenics and for her support of Alberta’s Sexual Sterilization Act. She was named a Person of National Historic Significance in 1966 and an honorary senator in 2009.

Editorial

Irene Parlby and the United Farmers of Alberta

Most Canadians, if they have heard of Irene Parlby, know her as one of the “Famous Five.” This group of five Alberta women were plaintiffs in a court case that argued women were indeed persons under the British North America Act (now the Constitution Act, 1867) and thus entitled to be named to the Senate. It was a landmark case in the long struggle by women to achieve political and legal equality in Canada. But Parlby’s historical significance rests on much more than just the Persons Case.

Article

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.

Article

Thelma Chalifoux

Thelma Julia Chalifoux, Métis, senator, entrepreneur, activist (born 8 February 1929 in Calgary, AB; died 22 September 2017 in St. Albert, AB). Chalifoux was the first Métis woman appointed to the Senate of Canada. As a senator, she was concerned with a range of issues, including Métis housing, drug company relations with the federal government, and environmental legislation. An ardent advocate for women’s and Indigenous rights, Chalifoux was involved in organizations such as the Aboriginal Women’s Business Development Corporation and the Métis Women’s Council. She was also known for her work in the protection of Métis culture, having served in the Alberta Métis Senate and Michif Cultural and Métis Resource Institute (now Michif Cultural Connections).

Article

Helen Gregory MacGill

Helen Gregory MacGill, judge, journalist, musician (born 7 January 1864 in Hamilton, Canada West; died 27 February 1947 in Chicago, Illinois). Helen Gregory MacGill was a pioneering journalist, feminist and judge. She was the first woman to graduate from Trinity College (now the University of Toronto), as well as the first woman judge in British Columbia, where she served on the juvenile court for 23 years. Her daughter, Elsie MacGill, became the world’s first female aeronautical engineer and aircraft designer.

Article

Helen (Ma) Armstrong

Helen (Ma) Armstrong (née Jury), labour activist, women’s rights activist (born 17 June 1875 in Toronto, Ontario; died 17 April 1947 in Los Angeles, California). Helen Armstrong was a labour activist who fought for the rights of working-class women throughout her life. She was the leader of the Winnipeg Women’s Labor League and a central figure in the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. She campaigned for unions, a minimum wage and social security, and against conscription. Armstrong was arrested for her activism at least three times, including twice during the Winnipeg General Strike. Historian Esyllt Jones described Helen Armstrong as “the exception in a male-dominated labour movement.”

Article

Nellie J. Cournoyea

Nellie J. Cournoyea, OC, politician, premier of the Northwest Territories 1991–95 (born on 4 March 1940 in Aklavik, NT). Cournoyea is the first Indigenous woman to lead a provincial or territorial government in Canada.

Article

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.)

Article

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). Hanley was elected mayor of Webbwood on 6 January 1936, becoming the country’s first female mayor. Trained as a teacher, she decided to enter municipal politics in an attempt to improve conditions for the town, which had been hard hit by the Great Depression. Hanley won annual re-election campaigns from 1936 to 1943, and retired as mayor in 1944. A true servant of the public, she sat on many boards and committees throughout her life, including the town ration board during the Second World War.

Article

Jean Augustine

Jean Augustine (née Simon), PC, CM, first Black female MP and Cabinet minister, social justice advocate, teacher, principal (born 9 September 1937 in Happy Hill, Grenada).