Search for "Women"

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Frances Oldham Kelsey

​Frances Oldham Kelsey, CM, pharmacologist (born 24 July 1914 in Cobble Hill, BC; died 7 August 2015 in London, ON). As an employee of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Kelsey blocked the sale of thalidomide in the United States. The drug, which had been widely prescribed in Europe and Canada, was later shown to cause severe birth defects in children whose mothers had taken the drug while pregnant. In recognition of her “exceptional judgment” and determination, Kelsey received the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service. Kelsey and her work have been widely lauded in the United States but are less known in Canada. She was made a Member of the Order of Canada shortly before her death.

Education Guide

Women in Canadian History Education Guide

As we celebrate a century of women’s suffrage, it’s important to recognize that while this victory was a landmark achievement, social change and the push for equality weren’t born from, nor completed by, achieving the right to vote. Women in Canada have played a crucial role in the story of the past and how it shapes the present. Women’s history seeks to write women back into the parts of the narrative from which they have been omitted, with the goal of telling a more complete story.

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Demasduwit

Demasduwit (also known as Shendoreth, Waunathoake, Mary March), one of the last of the Beothuk (born 1796; died 8 January 1820 at Bay of Exploits, Newfoundland). Demasduwit helped to preserve the Beothuk language and culture. In 2007, the Canadian government recognized her as a person of historic significance.

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Indigenous Feminisms in Canada

At their root, Indigenous feminisms examine how gender and conceptions of gender influence the lives of Indigenous peoples, historically and today. Indigenous feminist approaches challenge stereotypes about Indigenous peoples, gender and sexuality, for instance, as they appear in politics, society and the media. Indigenous feminisms offer frameworks for learning about and understanding these, and other issues, regardless of one’s gender or ethnicity.

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Women and the Quiet Revolution

The Quebec of the 1960s was synonymous with the Quiet Revolution. The mandate of the Liberal government led by Jean Lesage, which began with the election on 22 June 1960, marked a period of significant reforms. Political, economical, social, cultural — these reforms had major repercussions on the people of Quebec and drastically changed the lives of women. With the creation of a Ministry of Education, women obtained the same right to higher education as men. Additionally, Bill 16 conferred in principle full legal capacity to married women. The reformist spirit was also at work within the Union Nationale governments of Daniel Johnson, Sr., from 1966 to 1968 and Jean-Jacques Bertrand from 1968 to 1970. Finally, it was during the Quiet Revolution that women in Quebec began to use contraceptive pills to control their fertility, entered the workforce in large numbers and demanded maternity leave as well as the right to equality with men in all areas of public life.

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Catharine Parr Traill

Catharine Parr Traill, née Strickland, pioneer writer, botanist (born 9 Jan 1802 in London, England; died 29 Aug 1899 in Lakefield, ON). Catharine Parr Traill’s books are some of the earliest in the Canadian literary canon. Works such as The Backwoods of Canada: Being Letters from the Wife of an Emigrant Officer (1836) offer detailed descriptions of pioneer life in Canada, while Canadian Wildflowers (1868) and Studies of Plant Life in Canada (1885) showcase her skill as an amateur botanist.

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Shawnadithit

Shawnadithit (also known as Nance or Nancy April), the last Beothuk (born circa 1800-6 in what is now NL; died 6 June 1829 in St. John’s, NL). Shawnadithit’s record of Beothuk culture continues to shape modern understandings of her people. In 2007, the federal government announced the unveiling of a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque recognizing Shawnadithit’s importance to Canadian history.

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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.

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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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Kathleen Wynne

Kathleen O’Day Wynne, 25th premier of Ontario 2013–18, member of provincial parliament 2003–18, school trustee, community activist, mediator, teacher (born 21 May 1953 in Toronto, ON). The skills of a mediator, coupled with a strong sense of will, propelled Kathleen Wynne’s political career, making her Ontario’s first woman premier and Canada’s first openly gay head of government.

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#MeToo Movement in Canada

The #MeToo movement protesting sexual violence against women began in the United States in October 2017 in the wake of accusations against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein. Since then, it has rapidly expanded internationally through Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. In Canada, #MeToo and its French equivalent, #MoiAussi, have amplified the voices of victims and changed the conversation pertaining to rape, sexual abuse, sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence, harassment and misconduct.

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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.

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Michelle Douglas

Michelle Douglas, LGBTQ activist and advocate, humanitarian, civil servant (born 30 December 1963 in Ottawa, ON). Michelle Douglas began a promising career in the Canadian Armed Forces in 1986 but was honourably discharged for being a lesbian. She launched a successful lawsuit against the military that resulted in the end of its discriminatory policy against gays and lesbians. Douglas has gone on to work with numerous charitable organizations and is director of international relations at the Department of Justice.

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Thelma Chalifoux

Thelma Julia Chalifoux, Métis, senator, entrepreneur, activist (born 8 February 1929 in Calgary, AB; died 22 September 2017 in St. Albert, AB). Chalifoux was the first Métis woman appointed to the Senate of Canada. As a senator, she was concerned with a range of issues, including Métis housing, drug company relations with the federal government, and environmental legislation. An ardent advocate for women’s and Indigenous rights, Chalifoux was involved in organizations such as the Aboriginal Women’s Business Development Corporation and the Métis Women’s Council. She was also known for her work in the protection of Métis culture, having served in the Alberta Métis Senate and Michif Cultural and Métis Resource Institute (now Michif Cultural Connections).

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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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Sandra Birdsell

Sandra Birdsell (née Sandra Bartlette), CM, Mennonite-Métis, short-story writer, novelist (born 22 April 1942 in Hamiota, MB). Birdsell’s fiction often investigates the lives of small-town characters, especially women. She has written novels, plays, radio dramas and scripts for television and film. Appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 2010, Birdsell has been nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award for English Language Fiction three times, and for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2001.

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Helen Mussallem

Helen Kathleen Mussallem, CC, nursing educator, reformer and administrator (born 7 January 1915 in Prince Rupert, BC; died 9 November 2012 in Ottawa, ON). Mussallem started her career as a nurse at Vancouver General Hospital and was deployed overseas during the Second World War. She was instrumental in reforming nursing education in Canada and around the world. In her 18 years as the executive director of the Canadian Nurses Association, she helped transform nursing into a profession and promoted its role within Canada’s health care system.

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Hayley Wickenheiser

Hayley Wickenheiser, OC, hockey player, softball player (born 12 August 1978 in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan). A four-time Olympic gold medallist, Wickenheiser is the all-time leader in goals (18), assists (33), and points (51) for women’s ice hockey at the Olympic Winter Games and all-time leader in assists (49) and points (86) at the Women’s World Hockey Championship. She was also the first woman to score a goal in a men’s professional league. Wickenheiser retired from competitive hockey on 13 January 2017, finishing with 379 points (168 goals and 211 assists) in 276 games with Team Canada.

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Elizabeth May

Elizabeth May, OC, politician, environmental activist, lawyer, author, leader of the Green Party of Canada (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.

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Lady Byng of Vimy

Marie Evelyn Byng, Viscountess Byng of Vimy, viceregal consort of Canada (1921–26), author (born 11 January 1870 in London, United Kingdom; died 20 June 1949 in Essex, United Kingdom). Lady Byng donated the Lady Byng Trophy for good sportsmanship to the National Hockey League (NHL) in 1925 (it was renamed the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy after her death in 1949). She returned to Canada during the Second World War and wrote about her impressions of the country in her 1945 memoir, Up the Stream of Time.