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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

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

Elizabeth May

Elizabeth May, OC, politician, environmental activist, lawyer, author, leader of the Green Party of Canada 2006–19 (born 9 June 1954 in Hartford, Connecticut). May served as a policy advisor (1986–88) to the government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and in 1989 became the founding executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada. In 2011, she became the first Green Party member elected to the House of Commons. May resigned as party leader in November 2019.

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

Jim Egan

James Leo (Jim) Egan, gay activist, writer, politician, environmental activist (born 14 September 1921 in Toronto, ON; died 9 March 2000 in Courtenay, BC). Egan was the first person to publish long articles written from a gay point of view in Canada. He was also one of the first openly gay politicians to serve in Canada. Egan is best remembered for a court challenge he and his partner, Jack Nesbit, launched against the spousal allowance benefit under the Old Age Security Act in 1988. In the subsequent Egan v. Canada decision (1995), the Supreme Court read in that sexual orientation is a protected ground of discrimination in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — a monumental finding in support of LGBTQ2 rights in 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

Kay Livingstone

Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone (née Jenkins), organizer and activist, broadcaster, actor (born 13 October 1919 in London, ON; died 25 July 1975). Kay Livingstone founded the Canadian Negro Women’s Association in 1951 and organized the first National Congress of Black Women in 1973. An established radio broadcaster and actor, Livingstone also devoted a great deal of her life and energy to social activism and organizing. Her tireless work to encourage a national discussion around the position of racialized people in society, particularly Black women, led Livingstone to coin the term visible minority in 1975.

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).

Article

John Callihoo

John Callihoo, politician, Indigenous-rights leader (born on Michel First Nation, Alberta 1882; died in St Albert, Alberta 11 Aug 1957). Of Haudenosaunee-Cree descent and self-educated, he was a freighter and then a farmer, but his leadership capabilities soon made him a rallying point for Indigenous causes.

Article

Balarama Holness

Balarama Holness, professional football player, jurist, political activist, social entrepreneur (born 20 July 1983 in Montreal, QC). Balarama Holness put a wayward youth behind him to become a Grey Cup-winning professional football player with his hometown Montreal Alouettes. He then pursued a career as a jurist and political organizer and ran for mayor of the borough of Montréal-Nord in 2017. His community organizing efforts led to two separate reports (in 2019 and 2020) that acknowledged the existence and extent of systemic racism in the province, while also recommending solutions. In 2021, Holness ran to become mayor of Montreal but was defeated.

Article

Andrew Paull

Andrew Paull, Squamish leader, organizer, lobbyist (b at Squamish, BC 6 Feb 1892; d at Vancouver 28 July 1959). Born into a prominent family in the Durieu system at Mission Reserve No 1, Burrard Inlet, Paull was educated at the reserve school and became a longshoreman.

Article

Bromley Armstrong

Bromley Lloyd Armstrong, CM, OOnt, Black trade unionist, community organizer and activist (born 9 February 1926 in Kingston, Jamaica; died 17 August 2018 in Toronto, ON). Bromley Armstrong was a pivotal figure in the early anti-discrimination campaigns in Ontario that led to Canada’s first anti-discrimination laws. A self-described “blood and guts” ally of the working poor, Armstrong demonstrated a lifelong commitment to the trade union movement and the battle against disadvantage and discrimination. For more than six decades, Armstrong worked for human rights, helping to generate civic and government support for racial equality and advocating for human rights reforms in public policy.

Article

Masumi Mitsui

Masumi Mitsui, MM, farmer, soldier, Canadian Legion official (born 7 October 1887 in Tokyo, Japan; died 22 April 1987 in Hamilton, ON). Masumi Mitsui immigrated to Canada in 1908 and served with distinction in the First World War. In 1931, he and his comrades persuaded the BC government to grant Japanese Canadian veterans the right to vote, a breakthrough for Japanese and other disenfranchised Canadians. Nevertheless, Matsui and more than 22,000 Japanese Canadians were displaced, detained and dispossessed by the federal government during the Second World War (see Internment of Japanese Canadians).

Article

Idola Saint-Jean

Idola Saint-Jean, feminist and pioneer in the fight for women’s suffrage (born 19 May 1880 in Montreal, QC; died 6 April 1945 in Montreal). The first woman from Quebec 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.

List

30 Political Leaders

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, The Canadian Encyclopedia created 30 lists of 30 things that have helped define our identity, from famous people and historic events, to iconic foods and influential artists.