Many with whom I am acquainted know that I have a brilliant and beautiful daughter just about to turn twenty. On the verge of graduating university in 2012, she has bright hopes of moving forward into medical school. As her mother, of course I couldn’t be prouder, but I realized that my pride in the extensive work she has put in to achieve her goal conjointly stems from a separate place: our fellowship as Canadian women.

The gender equality strides in Canada have been boundless over time. Canadian women are becoming clearly visible and prominent in our communities, but of course there is still a plethora of work to be done. However, when we have so much work on our plates, we often forget to take a second to look back at our journey and who it is we have to thank for bringing us to where we stand today.

I’d like to take this opportunity to mention some of the heroic and powerful women in Canadian history that stand out to me. These cherished Canadian sisters laid the bricks and mortar for women like me and my daughter to follow our passions, without hesitance or resistance from our society.

The 1800’s

Mary Fubbester, in 1803, disguised herself as a man to work as a clerk for the Hudson Bay Company in Rupert’s Land. When she became pregnant in 1807 her ruse was revealed and she was forced to quit.
Laura Secord, in 1813, walked 32 km to warn Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon of the impending danger of American attacks.
Julia Catherine Hart, in 1824, wrote St. Ursula’s Convent, the first work of fiction by a native-born Canadian to be published in Canada.
Mrs. John Fletcher, in 1840, opened a portrait studio in Montreal, Quebec and was likely Canada’s first female professional photographer.
Sarah Emma Evelyn Edmonds, in 1861, as a native of New Brunswick, joined the Union Army to serve as Frank Thompson, nurse and Union spy in the American Civil War. Successfully hiding her true sex from most of her comrades, Edmonds/Thompson participated in the battle of First Bull Run (1861) and the Peninsular Campaign (1862). She made several information-gathering trips behind Confederate lines, posing variously as a slave woman, a young Confederate boy, and an Irish peddler woman.
Emmaline Shadd, in 1855, as a black student, received top honours, first prize and a first class teaching certificate from the Toronto Normal School.
Sophia Pooley, in 1865, was interviewed by writer and American abolitionist Benjamin Drew who was conducting research in Canada regarding former slaves and the Black refugee experience. Pooley claimed to have been one of Joseph Brant’s slaves and the “first Black girl in Upper Canada.”
Dr. Emily Stowe, in 1867, graduated in medicine from New York State University, but was not legally allowed to practice in Canada until 1880.
Grace Annie Lockhart, in 1875, became the first Canadian woman to receive a university degree. This in turn led Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, to become the first university in Canada to grant a degree to a woman.
Félicité Angers, in 1878, under the pen name of Laure Conan, authored nine novels about French-Canadian Life. She was the first French-Canadian female novelist.
Mary Shadd Cary, in 1883, became the first black woman in North America to become an editor of a newspaper when she established the “Provincial Freeman”, a weekly paper designed to cover the lives of Canadian blacks and promote the cause of black refugees to Canada.
Anna Harriett Leonowens, in 1887, organized an exhibit of art in Halifax, Nova Scotia that would eventually lead to the establishment of the Victoria School of Art.
Isobel Stanley, in 1889, as the daughter of Governor General Lord Stanley of Preston, was one of the first women hockey players in Canada. Her Government House hockey team played the Rideau Ladies team in what may have been the first women’s hockey game on the ice rink at Rideau Hall, Residence of the Governor General of Canada.
Robertine Barry, in 1891, as a well known personality in Montreal society and a pioneer feminist lecturer/writer, joined the staff of the weekly newspaper “La Patrie”. She was considered the first woman journalist in French Canada.


The 1900’s

Josephine Dandurand, in 1900, produced “two systems of art”, which proposed government funding for the arts. The Canadian government did not listen; it would be another 50 years before the Canada Council of the Arts is organized.
Annie Taylor, in 1901, as a former school teacher, became the first person in Canada to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
Jennie Moore, in 1902, as a native from Vancouver, became the first female employee of the Royal Bank of Canada.
Lucy Maud Montgomery, in 1908, had the first edition of her destined-to-be famous Canadian novel Anne of Green Gables published in Boston.
Carrie Derick, in 1912, became the first woman in Canada to become a full professor at McGill University in Montreal, as a professor of Morphological Botany.
Alys McKey Bryant, in 1913, became the first woman to pilot an airplane in Canada.
Mary Pickford, in 1915, a famous Canadian actress, was receiving 500 fan letters a week. She earned $4,000.00 a week (a 2011 equivalent would be approximately $89, 600.00 a week) and was reputed to be the highest paid woman in the world.
Esther Marjorie Hill, in 1920, became the first woman architect in Canada when she graduated from the University of Toronto.
Jenny Dill, in February of 1921, left Halifax on a cross Canada walk with her husband. They finished their walk in Vancouver June 14, 1921.
Phyllis Munday and Annette Buck, in 1924, became the first women to reach the summit of Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.
Lela Brooks, in 1926, as a speed skater, won the world title in Saint John, New Brunswick. She was Canada’s first woman to be a world champion.
Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Henrietta Muir Edwards and Louise McKinney, in 1928, known as the “Famous Five”, asked the Supreme Court of Canada if the word “person” in Section 24 of the British North America Act included persons that were female.
Cairine Reay Wilson, in 1930, became the first woman appointed to the Senate in Canada.
Fay Wray, in 1933, a Canadian actress, was cast as the lead female role in the movie King Kong.
Ethel Stark, in 1934, was the first woman soloist heard on radio when she played the violin, performing the Tchaikovsky “Concerto” under conductor Fritz Reiner. In 1947, Ethel conducted the Montreal Women’s Symphony, an ensemble of 80 Canadian Women, in a performance at the renowned Carnegie Hall in New York. The ensemble is the first Canadian symphony orchestra to achieve this.
Helen Alice Kinnear, in 1935, was the first Canadian female lawyer to appear as counsel before the Supreme Court of Canada.
Dorthea Palmer, in 1936, a social worker, was arrested and charged under the Criminal Code of Canada for offering birth control information. She would not be acquitted until 1938.
Léa Roback, in 1937, lead 5000 garment industry workers in Montreal on a massive strike that lasted 25 days. They were protesting 60 hour work weeks, poverty level wages and miserable working conditions.
Elsie Gregory MacGill, in 1939, was the first Canadian woman to design and witness the construction of an airplane based on her designs.
Tillie Hosken, in 1940, as a native of Toronto was the first woman to bowl a score of 450 in 5-pin bowling.
Jessie Gray, in 1941, was the first Canadian woman to become a “fellow” in the Royal College of Surgeons and the first woman member of the Central Surgical Society of North America.
Ruth Bailey and Gwennyth Barto, in 1948, were the first black women to graduate from a Canadian school of nursing.
Elsie Knott, in 1952, as a member of the Ojibwa tribe, was the first Native woman elected chief.
Olivia Poole, in 1954, as a mother of seven children living in Vancouver, invented the internationally successful Jolly Jumper.
Marilyn Bell (Di Lascio), in 1954, as a 16 year old from Toronto, was the first person to swim across Lake Ontario. She later swam the English Channel and Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Margaret Gee, in 1955, was the first Chinese-Canadian woman lawyer to be called to the bar.
Abby Hoffman, in 1955, wanted to play hockey, but had no female teams to join. In order to play, she had to cut her hair short and play as a boy. All went well until the all-star game, when players had to submit birth certificates. Abby became an overnight sensation and other women soon were inspired to try out for boy’s hockey teams.
Lucille Wheeler, in 1956, won a bronze medal in the Olympics, the first ever Canadian Olympic ski medal.
Blanche Margaret Meagher, in 1957, became the first woman appointed as an Ambassador of Canada.
Betty Oliphant and Celia Franca, in 1959, founded the National Ballet School.
Mary “Bonnie” Baker, in 1964, as a member of the All-American Girls Baseball League, became the first female sportscaster on CKRM Radio in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Joni Mitchell, in 1968, released her first album Song to a Seagull.
Michaëlle Jean, in 1968, a future Governor General of Canada, emigrated from Haiti to Canada with her family as refugees.
Margaret Atwood, in 1969, published her first novel The Edible Woman.
Joyce Wieland, in 1971, was the first living Canadian woman artist to have a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada.
Muriel McQueen Furgusson, in 1972, was named the first woman Speaker of the Senate of Canada and then became the first woman speaker in the Canadian Parliament.
Roberta Jamieson, in 1976, was the first aboriginal woman in Canada to become a lawyer. In 1986 she became the first aboriginal and the first women to be appointed as a provincial Ombudsman for Ontario. In 2001, she became the first woman elected Chief of Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, Ontario.
Sandra Lovelace, in 1977, as an aboriginal woman from Tobique Reserve in New Brunswick, appealed to the United Nations Human Rights Commission against the injustice of Canada’s Indian Act which gave native status through the male head of the household. The UNHRC would rule in Lovelace’s favour.
Judy Cameron, in 1978, was the first woman pilot hired by Air Canada.
Rosella Bjornson, in 1979, was the first pregnant commercial air pilot.
Dr. Roberta Lynn Bondar, in 1983, was selected as one of the “Original 6”, and then would become the first woman Canadian astronaut. In 2003, she was recognized by TIME magazine as one of Canada’s five best explorers and was inducted into the International Women’s Forum Hall of Fame.
Ethel Blondin, in 1988, was the first Native woman to sit in the Canadian House of Commons.
Heather Erxleben, in 1989, became the first Canadian woman to be a combat soldier. She graduated from Canadian Forces Base, in Wainwright, Alberta.
Louise Frechette, in 1991, was appointed the first Canadian woman ambassador to the United Nations.
Hon. Kim Campbell, in 1993, became the first woman Prime Minister of Canada and served until November 4, 1993.
Dr. Jean Augustine, in 1993, was the first African Canadian woman elected to the Parliament of Canada.
Carol Shields, in 1994, won the Pulitzer Prize for The Stone Diaries.
Anna Paquin, in 1994, at the age of 11, was awarded the “Best Supporting Actress” Oscar for her role in the film The Piano. She is the second youngest Oscar winner to date.
Carol Lees, in 1996, as a Saskatchewan housewife and mother, convinced Statistics Canada to start collecting data about the hours Canadians spend on such unpaid tasks as housework, yard work, childcare and elder care.
Vivienne Poy, in 1998, was the first Canadian of Chinese descent to be appointed to the Senate of Canada.
Thanadelthur (1717), in 1999, as an Aboriginal woman who played a major role in establishing the fur trade in the 18th century Canadian North, was designated a National Historical Person by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board.


The 2000’s

Maryse Carmichael, in 2000, became a captain with the Canadian Air Force. She was the first female pilot to fly with the Canadian Forces’ national aerobatic team, the Snowbirds.
Beverly McLachlin, in 2000, was the first woman to become Chief Justice of Canada.
Shanawdithit (ca. 1801), in 2000, the last recorded surviving member of the Beothuk people of Newfoundland, was designated a National Historic Person by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
Carrie Serwetnyk, in 2001, as an international soccer star, was inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame.
Canadian Women’s Hockey Team, in 2002, won the Olympic Gold.
Master Seaman Colleen Beattie, in 2003, was the first woman to qualify as a sub Mariner in the Canadian Navy.
Bonnie Sherr Klein, in 2004, was awarded the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case recognizing outstanding contributions to quality of life for women in Canada.
Alice Munro, in 2005, as an author, was selected by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Vicki Keith Munro, in 2005, the “Queen of the Great Lakes”, came out of retirement to swim again to raise the awareness and funding for children with disabilities.
Bev Busson, in 2006, was appointed as the first woman Commander of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Noëlle Richardson, in 2008, was named the first Chief Diversity Officer appointed by the Secretary of the Cabinet, and joined the Ontario Public Service.
k.d. lang, in 2010, brought the nation to tears and to their feet at the Vancouver Olympics with her vocal rendition of fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.
Joannie Rochette, in 2010, during the Vancouver Olympics, passionately continued through the competition to achieve fourth place in Figure Skating, after having been notified of her mother’s passing.

“… we women to whom has been committed the trust of mothering the world must rid ourselves of fear – and unite together in all countries to protect and save the human race.” ~ Ishbel, Countess of Aberdeen, wife of the Governor General of Canada, in her President’s address to the International Council of Women, Dunbroonik, 1936.

about the author - Elaine

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