A Guide to Women in Canadian History

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Hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser, Reuters Photo.
.Latest News
News Archives 2004

Upcoming in 2004
  • Ontario Conference re Native Women in Canadian History
    Ojibwa woman
    Ojibwa woman with a child in the Red River Settlement, Manitoba, 1858
    (Humphrey Lloyd Hime/Library and Archives Canada/C-000728)
    The Ontario Women's History Network will be holding their fall conference at Trent University in Peterborough October 22-23, 2004. The theme will be "Repositioning Native Women in Canadian History: Enhancing Curriculum". The conference is being presented with the support of The Department of Native Studies & The School of Education and Professional Learning at Trent University.

    The keynote speaker will be Paula Sherman, an Algonquin faculty member at Trent, who will talk about "The Pocahontas Syndrome: Perceptions of Aboriginal Women in North American History". For more information about the upcoming conference you can contact: lorjohnston@trentu.ca.

  • BC Women's History Network Conference in October
    The Women's History Network of British Columbia will be holding a conference in Sydney, B.C. October 15-16, 2004. The theme this year will be "Exploring ideas about women, home and place in British Columbia". Special guests include the "Raging Grannies" and Jennifer Horn speaking about Aunties in Action in Queensland, Australia.
    More info

  • Women to be Among War Heroes in Memorial
    Secord bust
    A bust of Laura Secord at Lundy's Lane
    (C.J. Humber Collection)
    Two Canadian women are to commemorated in a war memorial in Ottawa. On September 3, 2004 it was announced that the federal government approved plans for the Valiants Memorial, which will include five life-size bronze statues of historic figures deemed to be some of our country's greatest war heroes. The statues will portray the famous army nurse Georgina Pope, along with Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, Joseph Brant, Sir Arthur Currie and Charles-Michel de Salaberry.

    The memorial will also feature bronze busts of nine other war heroes - including Laura Secord. The statues and busts will be erected in Ottawa's Confederation Square, with an unveiling ceremony scheduled for November 2005.

  • Canadian Women to Finally Appear on Bank Notes
    Senior Analayst John Mackenzie of the Bank of Canada has advised heroines.ca that some Canadian women will soon be appearing on bank notes. The Bank of Canada will be issuing a new $50 note which will feature the images of the Famous Five and Thérèse Casgrain. Bank officials expect the new note to be ready for release in late 2004 or early 2005.

    The Famous Five were all Albertans: Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Emily Murphy and Irene Parlby. A Bank of Canada statement notes that "These women overcame tremendous obstacles and exemplify the spirit necessary to build a better Canada. While most often recognized for their role in the famous Persons' case, they were all very politically and socially active particularly for women's rights."

    Thérèse Casgrain was a prominent leader in the battle for women's suffrage in Quebec, and contributed to a multitude of causes during her lifetime. For 14 years the dedicated feminist served as president of the Women's Right League. Casgrain also hosted a popular radio program called "Femina".

  • Myra Bennette play
    Tempting Providence
    Story of Newfoundland Nurse On Stage
    The story of a legendary Newfoundland nurse will come to the stage at various locations across Canada in the summer and fall of 2004, in Theatre Newfoundland Labrador's production of Tempting Providence by Robert Chafe. Myra Grimsely, a nurse and midwife from England, arrived in Newfoundland in 1921. As an outport nurse in an isolated area, she soon found herself performing a wide variety of medical tasks. Myra, who married an ex-merchant marine called Angus Bennett, delivered about 5,000 babies and pulled at least 3,000 teeth. The remarkable Myra Bennett came to be known as the "Florence Nightingale of the North".
    For a schedule of the theatre productions contact Theatre Newfoundland Labrador.

  • 100 Years of Daring: Canadian Women's Press Club Centennial
    The Media Club of Ottawa is organizing celebrations in Ottawa for the centennial of the Canadian Women's Press Club. Events will be held June 25-27, 2004 and incude a re-enactment of the birth of the organization.
    More info

  • The Greatest Canadian
    Will a woman be selected as the greatest Canadian of all time? CBC has obtained the rights for a Canadian version of a hit BBC program called Great Britons - which resulted in the selection of Sir Winston Churchill as the greatest person in the land. More than 1.6 people in Great Britain voted in the contest. CBC invited Canadians to nominate their favourite citizen until May 16, and will now produce documentaries on the Top Ten Great Canadians for the fall of 2004. Who would you pick as the greatest Canadian?
    More info

  • 75th Anniversary of the Person's Case
    Women's History Month 2004 (October) will be a notable one as it marks the 75th Anniversary of the Person's Case, when Canadian women won the right to be appointed to the Senate of Canada. The Status of Women Canada coordinates activities for women's History Month in Canada so will presumably be announcing special events to celebrate the 75th Anniversary.
    More info

  • Plays About Canadian Heroines
    Playwright Leslie McCurdy is now accepting bookings of her one-woman plays for the 2004 season. The acclaimed actor, dancer, choreographer and singer has given hundreds of performances in Canada and the United States of "The Spirit of Harriet Tubman" and "Things My Fore-Sisters Saw". The plays celebrate some incredible women in Canadian history.
    More info
Latest News in 2004
  • Portrait of First Female PM Unveiled
    Kim Campbell
    Kim Campbell (copyright Merna Forster)
    The official portrait of the 19th Prime Minister of Canada, and the first and only woman to hold the post, was unveiled on November 30, 2004. The painting of The Right Honourable Kim Campbell was revealed to guests at a ceremony held on Parliament Hill. Guests and politicians from all parties, including Prime Minister Paul Martin, praised Ms. Campbell and her continuing contributions to society.

  • Ellen Fairclough
    National Archives of Canada/PA-129254
    Ellen Fairclough Dies at 99
    Canada's first female federal cabinet minister died on November 14, 2004. Ellen Fairclough passed away in a nursing home in Hamilton, Ontario after a remarkable life. More information

  • Self-Portrait of Emily Carr?
    Carr self-portrait?
    Portrait on reverse side of painting (with permission of David K.J. Heffel)
    On October 21, 2004 it was reported that a new Emily Carr self-portrait may have been discovered on the reverse side of a painting known as Arbutus Tree. Emily Carr, a famous Canadian artist, is believed to have painted the landscape featuring the arbutus circa 1913 to 1920.

    When the owners of the painting recently contacted David Heffel, of Heffel Fine Art Auction House in Vancouver, he suspected there was another painting hidden on the back. A careful restoration revealed a striking portrait. Experts soon began to wonder if this was actually a painting of Emily Carr as a young woman. The painting of the mystery woman will be auctioned in Toronto on November 25, 2004.

  • Awards to Mark 75th Anniversary of the Persons Case
    On October 20, 2004 Minister Liza Frulla (Canadian Heritage and Minister Responsible for Status of Women) announced the names of seven women who would receive the Governor General's Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case for this year. The Canadian women selected for "their outstanding contributions to the quality of life for women in Canada" were:

    -Allison Brewer of Iqaluit, Nunavut (lesbian and gay rights activist involved in journalism, labour movement)
    Allison is the first woman to receive the Person's Case Award for work in the lesbian and gay rights movement. She talked about her work in a message to heroines.ca:
    "Lesbians and our contributions to society have been overlooked by history for a very long time. In most places we are virtually invisible and because of social constraints have been forced to keep our identities secret. That isn't so for me. Much of my work has been about educating the public about lesbian and gay issues, why we need to be recognized for who we are and dispelling the myths that surround sexual orientation."

    -Léa Cousineau of Montreal, Quebec (helps women enter non-traditional professions)

    -Huberte Gautreau of Moncton, New Brunswick (champions disadvantaged women and families)

    Bonnie Sherr Klein
    Bonnie Sherr Klein (with permission of Bonnie)
    -Bonnie Sherr Klein of Vancouver, British Columbia (filmmaker interested in social justice issues)

    -Rosemary Speirs of Toronto, Ontario (activist who encourages greater involvement of women in politics)

    -Frances Wright of Calgary, Alberta (established the Famous Five Foundation)

    -Chi Nguyen of Ottawa, Ontario (develops community programs for young women)

  • album cover
    Shania Twain album cover
    Are There No Great Canadian Women?
    Canadians across the country selected ten men as the top contenders in the quest for "The Greatest Canadian", sponsored by the CBC. On October 17 the most popular nominees were revealed on television in a two-hour program which launched a special series on CBC. Broadcaster Wendy Mesley introduced the 50 people chosen by popular vote, then announced the Top Ten. One hour documentaries are being broadcast about each of the finalists, after which the so-called "Greatest Canadian" will be picked by Canadians participating in this contest. On November 29 the "The Greatest Canadian of Them All" will be identified in the final show of the series.

    Not one woman made the Top Ten. The only six Canadian women among the Top 50 were Avril Lavigne, Celine Dion, Nellie McClung, Laura Secord, Mary Maxwell and singer Shania Twain - who at No. 18 was the top-rated female in this curious contest. Yet the controversial sportscaster Don Cherry was among the top ten! What's wrong with this picture?

    What do you think is the reason for these shameful results? Are we so ignorant of Canadian history that relatively few people are aware of the significant contributions of women? Historian Merna Forster (the creator of this website) released a new book about great Canadian women on October 15, 2004 during Women's History Month in Canada. She hopes that the publication of "100 Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces" will encourage more recognition of the amazing women in our history. If the results of the quest for "The Greatest Canadian" are any indication, the book is badly needed.

  • Women on New Bank Note
    On October 13, 2004 the Bank of Canada unveiled a new $50 bank note on the theme of national building. For the first time in Canadian history, Canadian women are featured on the note. The bill features images of the Alberta women known as the Famous Five as well as the renowned activist Thérèse Casgrain. The bank note was revealed to the public in a ceremony held in Calgary, Alberta. Senator Joyce Fairbairn and David Doge, Governor of the Bank of Canada, unveiled the $50 note.

  • Filumena
    Laura Whalen portraying Filumena
    ( Trudi Lee Photo)
    Remembering Filumena
    A new opera about the tragic story of a young Italian immigrant has been playing in various locations across the country. Filumena is a full-length opera that was commissioned by the Calgary Opera and the Banff Centre of the Arts. It was developed by composer John Estacio and librettist John Murrell. Upcoming performances include April 28 and April 30, 2005 at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

    The popular opera is based on the life of Florence (Filumena) Lassandro, who lived in the Crowsnest Pass (Alberta) with her older husband - thanks to an arranged marriage. The unhappy young woman started working for the notorious bootlegger Emilio Picariello, known as "Emperor Pic". After being involved in a shootout with a police constable, Florence and Picariello were charged with murder. Both were found guilty and hanged in May 1923. Florence was just 22.

  • A Statue for Emily Carr?
    Plans have been initiated in Victoria, British Columbia to create a commemorative statue of Emily Carr as a tribute to this remarkable artist. If sufficient funds can be raised, a 1.25 time-life-size bronze statue would be erected in Beacon Hill Park, just a few blocks from where Emily spent much of her life. A bronze maquette of the proposed statue was developed by Canadian sculptor Barbara Paterson, who developed the wonderful monuments of The Famous Five in Ottawa and Calgary. The bronze monument to Emily Carr would depict the artist at her sketchpad, along with her pet monkey Woo and some of her dogs.

    You can help make this project a reality by making a financial contribution. For further information contact Susan Henderson at the Greater Victoria Public Library (250) 413-0370.

  • Quebec City Unveils Historic Plaques
    On September 15, 2004 the City of Quebec unveiled a dozen new historic plaques commemorating the contributions of some notable residents, including two women. The plaques are mounted on the respective homes of the two women. Henriette Belley, who lived at 559, rue Saint-Gabriel (La Cité), was a fortune-teller and dressmaker who was famous for her extravagant clothing and theatrical appearances. Anna Diesbourg from 52, rue Couillard (La Cité), established the well-known Bardou grocery shop. Anna lived about the store with her husband Alexandre and their four children.

  • Star of King Kong Movie Dead at 96
    Actress Fay Wray died in New York on August 8, 2004. She became famous as the bride of an ape called Kong in the hit fantasy film King Kong, in which the terrifed girl was carried to the top of the Empire State Building. Vina Fay Wray was born in the Mormon community of Cardston, Alberta in 1907 and soon moved with her family to Salt Lake City, Utah. Though the actress was best known for her role in King Kong, she starred in many films with leading men such as Gary Cooper.

  • Married Couple Become MPs
    On July 15, 2004, Nina Grewal and her husband Gurmant made history - becoming the first married couple to be sworn in as MPs. Nina was elected as a Conservative MP for British Columbia in the riding of Fleetwood-Fort Kells. Having raised two children who are now in post-secondary education, Ms. Grewal feels she now has the opportunity to make a contribution to Canada by serving on Parliament Hill.

  • Frances Hyland
    Frances Hyland
    Saskatchewan Actress Dies
    On July 11, , 2004 actress Frances Hyland died in Toronto at 77. Born in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan in 1927, she was often called the first lady of Canadian theatre. For more than half a century Frances Hyland performed in and directed productions - in radio dramas, the Stratford and Shaw festivals, films, television shows and regional theatres.

  • Death of Miss O
    Betty Oliphant, commonly known to her ballet students as Miss O, passed away on July 12, 2004 at the age of 85. A native of London, England, Betty Oliphant co-founded Canada's National Ballet School in Toronto in 1959 along with Celia Franca. Oliphant later held the position of artistic director and taught some of Canada's finest dancers - including Karen Kain and Rex Harrington.

  • Honouring Annie Mae
    On June 21, 2004 Anna Mae Pictou Aquash finally came home, 28 years after she was murdered on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The Canadian woman was a high-ranking member of the American Indian Movement and a leading advocate of the rights of indigenous peoples. She was killed in 1975 and buried as Jane Doe.

    Friends and family were finally able to arrange for Anna Mae Aquash to be buried in her homeland, on the Indian Brook Reserve near Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. About 300 people marched in her funeral procession and celebrated the life of Anna Mae. As her daughter Denise Maloney said after the moving ceremony, "We have not forgotten about her. We cried our tears 28 years ago, but this is for us part of the closure and part of continuing on with the fight for her justice."
    Anna Mae Justice Awareness Fund

  • Painting by Carr
    The painting 'Quiet'. (Heffel Fine Art Auction House)
    $1.1 M for Emily Carr Painting
    If Emily Carr was still alive, she would no doubt have been amazed to hear that her painting Quiet was sold for more than a million dollars. Back in 1942 her asking price for the canvas was $250. The painting was purchased by an anonymous Canadian buyer on May 27, 2004 at an auction in Vancouver, British Columbia. The sale marks a new record for a Carr painting and puts her work in the same price range as Canada's most renowed painters - such as Lawren Harris.
    More info on Emily Carr

  • Astronomer Helen Hogg Honoured
    On May 20, 2004 astronomer Helen Sawyer Hogg was inducted into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame, along with scientists Raymond Urgel Lemieux and Sir John William Dawson. Helen Hogg took thousands of pictures of variable stars during her research, and developed a method of measuring the distance of galaxies beyond the Milky Way. The first female president of the Royal Canadian Institute, Professor Hogg was also the founding president of the Canadian Astronomical Society. Eager to popularize astronomy, she wrote a column in the Toronto Star for more than thirty years. The accomplished astronomer died in 1993.
    Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame

  • New Historic Designations Commemorating Women
    On May 5, 2004 the Environment Minister David Anderson announced a variety of new designations of national historic significance, made on the recommendation of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Two of the designations focused on the commemoration of women in Canadian history. The La Corne Nursing Station in La Corne, Quebec was designated as a national historic site and Mary Electa Adams was declared a national historic person. Mary Electa Adams (1823-1898) was a leader in reforming the education available to women in Canada.

  • Mary Pickford
    Mary Pickford. (NAC/PA-185967)
    Canadian Walk of Fame to Honour Diana Krall, Shirley Douglas, Helen Shaver and Mary Pickford
    Peter Soumalias has announced the 2004 Walk of Fame inductees will honour a number of female celebrities. New additions to the famous Canadian Walk of Fame in Toronto include jazz musician Diana Krall, actress Shirley Douglas and actress Helen Shaver. The celebrities will be unvited to unveil their starts on the walkway at a gala to be held June 23, 2004. This year a number of deceased Canadians will also be honoured - including the legendary Mary Pickford. Pickford was one of the most famous actresses of her time as well as being a shrewd businesswoman who co-founded United Artists.
    More info

  • Campbell Named One of World's Greatest Leaders
    In April 2004 the National Georgraphic Society named former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell as one of the 50 most important political leaders in history. A new book, Almanac of World History, published by the society included Campbell on a list that included the likes of Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon Bonaparte, Nelson Mandela and Alexander the Great.

  • Shirley Westeinde
    Shirley Westeinde. (Courtesy S. Westeinde)
    First Woman to Chair Canadian Construction Association
    In March 2004 the Canadian Construction Association selected Shirley Westeinde as Chair of the Canadian Construction Association. Westeinde became the first woman to chair the organization. A developer and general contractor based in Ottawa, Westeinde joined the Board of Directors in 1994. A public health nurse who once worked for the Victorian Order of Nurses and stayed at home to raise a family, she later studied business administration and became involved in the construction industry.
    More info


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