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Ellen Louks Cook Fairclough (1905-2004)

Ellen Fairclough
Ellen Fairclough, 1957
Duncan Cameron/Library and Archives Canada/PA-129254

A pioneering politician, Ellen Louks Fairclough became Canada's first female federal cabinet minister in 1957. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker named her secretary of state in his first minority government.

Ellen grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, where she started working part-time in a department store at the age of 12. At 16, Ellen was working full-time to help support her family. By the time the industrious young woman married her husband Gordon Fairclough in 1931, she had managed to establish herself as a businesswoman. Following the birth of her son Howard, Ellen Fairclough took correspondence courses to became an accountant. She also became involved with the Conservative Party, and was elected to the House of Commons in 1950. Despite the absence of female role models in the political sphere, the extraordinary Ellen forged ahead to develop a successful career in politics. Ellen Fairclough served as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Minister responsible for Indian Affairs and Postmaster General. She was defeated in the 1963 election.

A trailblazer in a world of politics dominated by men, she gave about 150 speeches a year in the House of Commons and fought for equal pay for work of equal value. Ellen Fairclough also worked with the Girl Guides, the Consumers' Association of Canada, and many charities. The amazing Ellen Fairclough died on November 13, 2004 at the age of 99.

Discover more

  • Fairclough, Ellen Louks. Saturday's Child: Memoirs of Canada's First Female Cabinet Minister. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995.


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