Search for "black history"

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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.

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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).

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Viola Desmond

Viola Irene Desmond (née Davis), businesswoman, civil rights activist (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. In 1946, Viola Desmond challenged racial discrimination when she refused to leave the segregated Whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Viola Desmond was arrested, jailed overnight and convicted without legal representation for an obscure tax offence as a result. Despite the efforts of the Nova Scotian Black community to assist her appeal, Viola Desmond was unable to remove the charges against her and went unpardoned in her lifetime. Desmond’s courageous refusal to accept an act of racial discrimination provided inspiration to later generations of Black persons in Nova Scotia and in the rest of Canada. In 2010, Lieutenant-Governor Mayann Francis issued Desmond a free pardon. In December 2016, the Bank of Canada announced that Viola Desmond would be the first Canadian woman to be featured by herself on the face of a banknote — the $10 note released on 19 November 2018. Viola Desmond was named a National Historic Person by the Canadian government in 2018.

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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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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.

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Palbinder Kaur Shergill

Palbinder Kaur Shergill, QC, judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in New Westminster (born in Rurka Kalan, Punjab, India). Shergill spent 26 years practising law before she was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. She was the first turbaned Sikh woman to be appointed as a judge in Canada.

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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.

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10 Interesting Facts About Queen Elizabeth II

In 2022, Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Platinum Jubilee, the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne. Over the course of her record-breaking reign, the Queen has witnessed unprecedented social, cultural and political change and travelled extensively throughout the United Kingdom, Canada and the wider Commonwealth. Here are 10 interesting facts about the long and eventful life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II.


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Lady Lansdowne

Maud Evelyn Petty-Fitzmaurice, Marchioness of Lansdowne, viceregal consort of Canada from 1883 to 1888 and Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Alexandra (born 17 December 1850 in Strabane, Ireland; died 21 October 1932 in London, United Kingdom).

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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). 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.

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Hilary M. Weston

Hilary M. Weston, philanthropist, businesswoman, lieutenant-governor of ONTARIO from 1997 to 2002 (b in Dublin, Ireland, 12 Jan 1942). Born Hilary Frayne, she grew up in Dublin, Ireland and is the eldest of five children. In 1966, she married Galen Weston and had two children, Alannah and Galen.

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Helen Mamayaok Maksagak

Helen Mamayaok Maksagak, CM, politician, public servant, community leader (born 15 April 1931 in Bernard Harbour, NT [NU]; died 23 January 2009 in Cambridge Bay, NU). Maksagak was the first woman and Inuk to serve as the commissioner of the Northwest Territories. A vocal and engaged advocate for Inuit affairs, she contributed to efforts to establish Nunavut as Canada’s third territory in the 1990s. In March of 1999, she was chosen as the first commissioner of the newly created Nunavut territory; her term lasted until March 2000. Maksagak returned to a formal political role in November 2005, when she was appointed deputy commissioner of Nunavut. In addition to her political career, Maksagak performed advocacy work, focusing on Inuit and, more broadly, Indigenous initiatives, such as improving access to social services.

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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.

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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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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.

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Idola Saint-Jean

Idola Saint-Jean, feminist and pioneer in the fight for women’s suffrage (born 19 May 1880 in Montréal, QC; died 6 April 1945 in Montréal). The first woman from Québec to run as a candidate in a federal election, she devoted over 20 years of her life to active efforts to improve women’s legal rights.

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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).