A Guide to Women in Canadian History

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Statues and Monuments

Cairine Wilson Bust
Ottawa, Ontario

Wilson Bust
The portrait bust of Cairine Wilson. (Permission for use from
Valerie Knowles.)

Cairine Wilson became the first female Senator in Canadian history after she was appointed in 1930. The Cairine Wilson bust is located in the Senate ante chamber of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, Ontario.

The white marble portrait bust was sculpted in 1939 by Felix de Weldon, who created the famous National Marine Memorial in Washington D.C. near Arlington Cemetery. The Wilson family agreed to donate the bust after several of Cairine's friends decided it was important to commemorate Canada's first woman senator. Kathleen Ryan and Isabel Percival came up with the idea, and Isabel contacted her friend Ellen Fairclough, Canada's first female federal cabinet minister. Ellen supported the plan and was able to obtain the necessary approvals from Prime Minister Diefenbaker and the Speaker of the Senate to have the bust installed in the Parliament Buildings.

At the age of seventy-five, Cairine Wilson attended the unveiling of her likeness at a ceremony on June 10, 1960 in the Red Chamber. Guests included many politicians, friends and family - including Cairine's eight children - and the sculptor Felix de Weldon. Ellen Fairclough spoke at the event, then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker unveiled the portrait bust and paid tribute to Cairine Wilson. In acknowledging the honour she was being given by the commemoration, Cairine Wilson noted:

"It has been a great joy and satisfaction to me to know, and to be assured by my colleagues of my own sex that I made the way more easy for them. My husband lived in constant dread that I should do something which would bring the family and my sex into disrepute."

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