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Mabel Hubbard Bell

Mabel Gardiner Hubbard Bell, aeronautics financier, community leader, social reformer and advocate for the deaf (born 25 November 1857 in Cambridge, Massachusetts; died 3 January 1923 in Chevy Chase, Maryland). Bell actively supported and contributed to the work of her husband, inventor Alexander Graham Bell. Her financial investment in his work made her the first financier of the aviation industry in North America. She was a community leader in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, where the Bell family spent their summers. She was also a social reformer and supported innovation in education.

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Article

Afua Cooper

Afua (Ava Pamela) Cooper, educator, historian, performance artist, poet (born 8 November 1957 in the Whithorn district of Westmoreland, Jamaica), is considered one of the most influential and pioneering voices in the Canadian dub poetry and spoken word movement. Her poems are published in numerous regional, national and international journals and anthologies. Afua Cooper also has CDs of her performances that make her work well known to the global community. In addition to her renown as a performance artist, she is an internationally-ranked historian. She has taught Caribbean cultural studies, history, women's studies and Black studies at Ryerson and York universities, at the University of Toronto and at Dalhousie University.

Article

Maria Campbell

Maria Campbell, O.C., Cree-Métis writer, playwright, filmmaker, scholar, teacher and elder (born 26 April 1940 in Park Valley, SK). Campbell’s memoir Halfbreed (1973) is regarded as a foundational piece of Indigenous literature in Canada for its attention to the discrimination, oppression and poverty that some Métis women (and Indigenous people, in general) experience in Canada. Campbell has authored several other books and plays, and has directed and written scripts for a number of films. As an artist, Campbell has worked with Indigenous youth in community theatre and advocated for the hiring and recognition of Indigenous people in the arts. She has mentored many Indigenous artists during her career.

Article

Nadine Caron

Nadine Rena Caron, surgeon, researcher, mentor, educator, patient advocate, community leader (born 1970 in Kamloops, BC). Nadine Caron was the first female First Nations student to graduate from the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine. She was also the first female First Nations general surgeon in Canada. For many years, Caron has highlighted the needs and voices of northern, rural and Indigenous populations in Canada.

Article

Highway of Tears

The Highway of Tears refers to a 724 km length of Yellowhead Highway 16 in British Columbia where many women (mostly Indigenous) have disappeared or been found murdered. The Highway of Tears is part of a larger, national crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. In 2015, the federal government launched a national inquiry into these cases.

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Marie Gérin-Lajoie

Marie Gérin-Lajoie, feminist, pioneer social worker, founder of the Institut Notre-Dame du Bon-Conseil (born 9 June 1890 in Montréal, QC; died 7 January 1971 in Montréal).

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Claire Bonenfant

​Claire Bonenfant, CQ, bookseller, film director, feminist (born 27 June 1925 in Saint-Jean, Île d’Orléans, QC; died 29 September 1996).

Article

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.

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.

Article

Rose Johnstone

Rose Mamelak Johnstone, FRSC, biochemist (born 14 May 1928 in Lodz, Poland; died 3 July 2009 in Montreal, QC). Rose Johnstone is best known for her discovery of exosomes, a key development in the field of cell biology. These tiniest of structures originating in all cells of the human body are vehicles that transport proteins, lipids and RNA from one cell to another. A pioneer of women in science, Johnstone was the first woman to hold the Gilman Cheney Chair in Biochemistry and the first and only woman chair of the Department of Biochemistry in McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine.

Article

Marie Gérin-Lajoie

Marie Gérin-Lajoie (née Lacoste) author, educator, social activist, founder of the Fédération nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste (born 19 October 1867 in Montréal, QC; died 1 November 1945 in Montréal). From her family base in Montréal’s Catholic francophone elite, Gérin-Lajoie advocated for improvements in women’s status, including the right to vote. (See also Catholicism in Canada.) Through her writings and public lectures, she tried to ensure that all Quebec women would understand their rights and duties as defined in what she called the droit usuel: the law of daily life.

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Marguerite Marie “Marge” Plante (Primary Source)

Marguerite Marie “Marge” Plante left Alberta to join the Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force, serving as a timekeeper and typist during the Second World War. Read and listen she describes her enlistment, the death of her brother in Italy, interacting with prisoners of war, and the V-E Day celebrations.

Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.

Article

Rural Teachers in Canada

​Up until the second half of the 19th century, most rural teachers in Canada were young, female, poorly paid, and held the most limited professional qualifications. These teachers delivered a rudimentary education to thousands of Canada’s rural children, often amidst difficult conditions. Indeed, until the 1960s, rural teachers frequently taught students of various ages and wide-ranging academic abilities together in one-room schoolhouses while also shouldering the burden of maintaining the schools themselves.

Article

Bertha Clark-Jones

Bertha Clark-Jones (née Houle), OC, Cree (Nehiyawak)-Métis advocate for the rights of Indigenous women and children (born 6 November 1922 in Clear Hills, AB; died 21 October 2014 in Bonnyville, AB). A veteran of the Second World War, Clark-Jones joined the Aboriginal Veterans Society and advocated for the fair treatment of Indigenous ex-service people. She was co-founder and first president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Clark-Jones devoted her life to seeking equality and greater power for women in Canada.

Article

Isabel Macneill

Isabel Janet Macneill, OC, OBE, naval officer and correctional system supervisor (born 4 June 1908 in Halifax, NS; died 18 August 1990 in Mill Village, NS). Isabel Macneill was a pioneering woman in nontraditional leadership positions. She was the first female commanding officer of a navy ship in the British Commonwealth and the first female prison superintendent in Canada.

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Women and the Indian Act

The Indian Act has affected Indigenous cultures, systems of governance, societies and ways of life since its enactment in 1867. Gender discrimination in the Act further disadvantaged First Nations women, in particular. Until 1985, women with Indian status who married someone without status lost their status rights. Men, on the other hand, did not lose Indian status in the same way. Even after Bill C-31 reinstated the status rights of many women in 1985, the Act still discriminated against women by privileging male lines of descent. Amendments in 2011 and 2017 sought to fix these issues. In 2019, the federal government brought into force the remaining part of Bill S-3, which is meant to address lingering sex-based inequities in the Indian Act. (See also Indigenous Women’s Issues.)

Article

Roberta Jamieson

Roberta Louise Jamieson, OC, Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk) lawyer, ombudsman, Six Nations chief, policy advisor, senior mediator, businesswoman (born in 1953 at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory near Brantford, ON). Jamieson was the first Indigenous woman in Canada to earn a law degree (1976); first non-Parliamentarian appointed to a House of Commons committee (1982); first woman appointed ombudsman in Ontario (1989); and first woman elected as Six Nations chief (2001).

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Roberta Bondar

Roberta Lynn Bondar, CC, OOnt, FRSCastronaut, neurologist, physician, educator, photographer (born 4 December 1945 in Sault Ste Marie, ON). Bondar became the first Canadian woman and second Canadian in space when she flew aboard the American space shuttle Discovery in 1992. A doctor specializing in the nervous system, she is a pioneer in space medicine research. Bondar is also an exhibited and published nature photographer. She established The Roberta Bondar Foundation to educate people about environmental protection through art, and she currently serves as one of the organization’s directors.