A Guide to Women in Canadian History

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Canadian Heroines

What is a heroine? Who is your favourite Canadian heroine? To share your opinion on what a heroine is, or to tell us your number one Canadian heroine, just send along an email.

Here are a few examples of Canadian heroines (featured in the book 100 Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces):
  • Ann Harvey - a courageous teenager who saved immigrants shipwrecked off the coast of Newfoundland in 1828
  • Fanny 'Bobbie' Rosenfeld - Olympian reputed to be the world's greatest woman athlete
  • Leonora King
    Leonora King
    Dr. Leonora Howard King - the first Canadian doctor to practice medicine in China
  • Thérèse Casgrain - feminist reformer who was the first woman in Quebec to lead a provincial political party
  • Elsie MacGill - the first woman in the world to design an airplane
  • Anna Mae Aquash - a native rights activist from Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, who became the most prominent woman in the American Indian Movement
  • Agnes Macphail - an impressive politician who was the first woman elected to the House of Commons
  • Mary Ann Shadd - leader of Black Refugee Movement and the first woman to publish a Canadian newspaper
  • Dr. Margaret Newton - a brilliant scientist who made important discoveries that led to the development of rust-resistant grains
  • Violet Clara McNaughton - organizer of the Women Grain Growers and proponent of a public medical care system
  • Major Margaret C. Macdonald - the Matron-in-Chief of the Canadian Nursing Service during World War I
  • Helen Harrison - a pioneer pilot who ferried bombers across the Atlantic during World War II
Discover more about Canadian heroines:
Your Views
  • Anne of Green Gables
    "I live in Kansas now, but I grew up in Saskatchewan. My favourite Canadian heroine is L.M. Montgomery. Mark Twain said she created the most delightful character in children's literature (Anne, from "Anne of Green Gables"). Actually, she's been compared to Mr. Twain by critics more than once - I think it's safe to say she's the Canadian Mark Twain. I admire her, because she was a fantastic writer, as well as an interesting, complex personality.

    Another favourite heroine is Joni Mitchell, because she dreamed of freedom and travel like I do, and of course was a genius in both her art and music. Her legacy will leave a lasting impact both here in the states and in Canada. She was beautiful, intelligent and poetic. Can't get much better than that. "

  • "Heroines are women who risk their lives in the name of convictions and beliefs and who never lose their determination in spite of adversity...in Canada or anywhere else in the world, for that matter."
    Suzanne Camu

  • "My favourite Canadian heroine is Emily Carr. I read about her life when I was younger and was very inspired by her artwork and her ability to do what she wanted to do with her life at that time in history."
    Maureen Anderson
    Amherstburg, Ontario

  • Mary Pickford
    Mary Pickford in Victoria, B.C., ca. 1921-1925.
    (F.G. Goodenough/Library and Archives Canada/C-052029)
    "Mary Pickford - she was more than an actress."
    Chico Dedick
    Delta, British Columbia

  • "My favourite Canadian heroines are all the nameless, faceless, immigrant women who do all the backbreaking, low-wage, exploitative work that other more "established" Canadians wont do or take for granted. The notion and creation of "heroines" is therefore somewhat problematic because, by and large, it is these women who are overlooked. My grandmother, Despina, was one of these women who toiled for over 20 years in the pink-collar ghetto in the mid 1990s, she was only making about $12 an hour. Despina, and all the other immigrant women who face challenges above and beyond those of more privileged groups deserve our attention. It is time we began acknowledging their collective and individual accomplishments and not just their struggles. "
    Kiriaki Iossifidis

  • "Laura Secord because she showed spunk."
    Heidi Kraemer
    Vancouver, British Columbia

  • "Interesting forgotten heroine is Sally Ainse."
    Audrey Lawrence
    Ottawa, Ontario

  • "Nellie McClung, the writer, because she was instrumental in making Manitoba the first province to grant women the right to vote."
    Janice Cournoyer
    Lorette, Manitoba

  • "One Canadian Heroine that I missed was Joy Kogawa - an author and witness to a tragic situation who speaks with clarity, honesty and a gentleness that can't hlep but envelope into her "conversation" even those most resistent to listening to her. That truly makes her a gentle giant of a heroine."
    Siobhan Laskey
    New Brunswick

Dictionary Definitions
  • A woman admired for her bravery, great deeds, or noble qualities
  • The most important female character in a story, play, poem, etc.
  • In Greek legend, a woman of more than human qualities, favored by the gods
    (Dictionary of Canadian English, W.J. Gage Limited, Toronto)
Nursing Sisters in France, 
Nursing Sisters H.O'Donnell, T.M.
Woolsey and J. MacKenzie in France,
July 1944.(NAC/PA-132851)

Other Publications
  • Heroines of Canadian History: The Unrecorded Heroines
    History records the deeds of very few of the genuine heroines who lived during the formative period of our country. Those who have been singled out owe the distinction to their having been associated with some event attracting public attention at the time, and their brave and noble acts became a matter of record, and were thus preserved.

    But what about the countless hundreds who braved the dangers of the frontier, who lived noble lives and died heroic deaths? Concering this vast multitude history is silent, save as they have been commemorated in the general narrative of the struggle that our forefathers endured in paving the way for the generations that were to follow. It was no trifling matter to battle with the impediments that nature placed in the way of the early settlers. The rigors of a severe winter brought sore trials that we, with the comforts and luxuries of the twentieth century, can scarcely appreciate...

    From the time the first settlers landed upon these shores to the present day, the Canadian women have shown an heroic zeal in upholding the honor and good name of Canada. While we point with pride to the noble records of our generals and statesmen, let us not forget the heroic women who have suffered and died for Canada. While we exalt the brave soldier in the ranks, let us not forget the braver wife at home...
    (An excerpt from a chapter by Walter S. Herrington in the book Heroines of Canadian History.Toronto: W. Briggs, 1909.)
home in Manitoba NAC/C-011030
A settler's home in Manitoba. (NAC/C-011030)


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