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Women on Canadian Banknotes
Though Queen Elizabeth II has appeared on the $20 bill since she was eight years old, identifiable Canadian women have only appeared on a Canadian banknote once. In 2004, the statue of the Famous Five from Parliament Hill and Olympic Plaza in Calgary, and the medal for the Thérèse Casgrain Volunteer Award were featured on the back of the $50 note. They were the first Canadian women to appear on our currency. However, in 2011, they were replaced by an icebreaker named for a man (see Roald Amundsen). The new bill was part of a series of notes meant to highlight technical innovation and achievement, but the change sparked controversy. Other than the image of a nameless female scientist on the $100 note issued in 2011, and two female Canadian Forces officers and a young girl on the $10 bill issued in 2001, Canadian women were absent from Canadian bills.
On 8 March 2016, International Women’s Day, the Bank of Canada launched a public consultation to choose an iconic Canadian woman who would be featured on a banknote, released in the next series of bills in 2018. More than 26,000 submissions poured in. Of those, 461 names met the qualifying criteria, and the list was pared down to a long list of 12 and finally a short list of five. The final selection will be announced on 8 December 2016.
But how did we get here?
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.
Alberta's "Famous Five" were petitioners in the groundbreaking Persons Case. Led by judge Emily Murphy, the group included Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney and Irene Parlby.
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 is best known for her role in 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 controversial figure. In recent years, Murphy has attracted criticism for her views both on eugenics and immigration as well as acclaim for her success as a suffragist.
Enfranchisement (Plain-Language Summary)
Throughout much of Canadian history, a First Nations person would lose their Indian status if they were enfranchised. An enfranchised person is someone who has the right to vote in elections. A First Nations person who is deemed a Status Indian has certain rights and benefits granted to them through the Indian Act.
(This article is a plain-language summary of Enfranchisement. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry Enfranchisement).
Murray Sinclair or Mizanay (Mizhana) Gheezhik, meaning “The One Who Speaks of Pictures in the Sky” in the Ojibwe language, lawyer, judge and senator (born in 1951 in Selkirk, MB). Called to the Manitoba Bar in 1980, Sinclair focused primarily on civil and criminal litigation, Indigenous law and human rights. In 1988, he became Manitoba’s first, and Canada’s second, Indigenous judge. Sinclair joined the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2009, before becoming a senator in 2016. The breadth of public service and community work completed by Sinclair demonstrates his commitment to Indigenous peoples in Canada.
Sir Ambrose Shea
Sir Ambrose Shea, diplomat, politician, businessman, newspaperman (born c. 1815 in St. John’s, Newfoundland; died 30 July 1905 in London, England). Sir Ambrose Shea was one of the most influential Newfoundland politicians of the 19th century. He served in the colony’s House of Assembly for 34 years, including six as Speaker. He was a key player in both Liberal and Conservative administrations, having crossed the floor twice. A skilled orator and diplomat, he was admired for his attempts to mend political divisions between Catholics and Protestants, and for his promotion of the island’s economic development. His enthusiastic support for Confederation following the Quebec Conference in 1864 hurt his career in Newfoundland, as Confederation did not gain popularity there until the mid-20th century. He is nevertheless considered a Father of Confederation. He also served as governor of the Bahamas.
The Persons Case (officially Edwards v. A.G. of Canada) was a constitutional ruling that established the right of women to be appointed to the Senate.
Adolphus Egerton Ryerson, Methodist minister, educator (born 24 March 1803 in Charlotteville Township, Norfolk County, Upper Canada; died 18 February 1882 in Toronto, Ontario). Egerton Ryerson was a leading figure in education and politics in 19th century Ontario. He was born into a prominent Anglican, Loyalist family. He converted to Methodism and was ordained in 1827 in the Methodist Episcopal Church. He helped found and edit the Christian Guardian (1829), founded Upper Canada Academy (1836) and became the first principal of Victoria College (1841). He was known as a supporter of religious freedom and as the founder of the public education system in Ontario. Ryerson University was named in honour. However, his role in the development of residential schools has led to calls for the university to be renamed.
Patriation of the Constitution
In 1982, Canada fully broke from its colonial past and “patriated” its Constitution. It transferred the country’s highest law, the British North America Act (which was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867), from the authority of the British Parliament to Canada’s federal and provincial legislatures. The Constitution was also updated with a new amending formula and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These changes occurred after a fierce, 18-month political and legal struggle that dominated headlines and the agendas of every government in the country.
Opposition to Confederation has existed since a union of British North Americancolonies was first proposed in the late 1840s. In the eastern parts of the country, opponents generally feared that Confederation would strip power from the provincesand hand it to the federal government; or that it would lead to higher taxes and military conscription. Many of these opponents ultimately gave up and even served in the Canadian government. In the West, Indigenous peoples in the Red River Colonywere never asked if they wanted to join Confederation. Fearing for their culture and land rights under Canadian control, they mounted a five-month insurgency against the government. Many Quebec nationalistshave long sought to separate from Confederation, either through the extreme measures of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), or through referenda in 1980 and 1995.