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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

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.

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.

Article

Françoise David

Françoise David, CQ, community organizer, politician and feminist activist (born 13 January 1948 in Montréal, Quebec). Chair of the Fédération des femmes du Québec from 1994 to 2001, David was elected member of the National Assembly of Québec in 2012 and was co-spokesperson for Québec solidaire from 2006 to 2017.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

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).

Article

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada

Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada (MMIWG) refers to a human rights crisis that has only recently become a topic of discussion within national media. Indigenous women and communities, women’s groups and international organizations have long called for action into the high and disproportionate rates of violence and the appalling numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Prior to the launch of the national public inquiry on 8 December 2015, these calls were continually ignored by the federal government. Described by some as a hidden crisis, Dawn Lavell-Harvard, former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, refers to MMIWG as a national tragedy and a national shame. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada supported the call for a national public inquiry into the disproportionate victimization of Indigenous women and girls. The National Inquiry’s Final Report was completed and presented to the public on 3 June 2019.

Article

Alexa McDonough

Alexa Ann McDonough (née Shaw), OC, ONS, social worker, former Nova Scotia New Democratic Party leader, federal NDP leader (born 11 August 1944 in Ottawa, ON; died 15 January 2022 in Halifax, NS). A former Halifax social worker, Alexa McDonough became the first woman to lead a major political party in Canada when she was elected leader of the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party (NDP) in 1980. She served as leader until 1994 and also led the federal NDP from 1995 until 2003. She was the Member of Parliament for Halifax from 1997 to 2008. In 2009, she served as interim president of Mount Saint Vincent University and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

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).