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Banner: Canadian Women in Government
Acknowledgements   Biographies

Long before they had the right to vote or to stand in federal and provincial elections, Canadian women were participating in organizations devoted to developing education, particularly in rural areas, promoting stricter liquor laws, supporting their churches and fighting for women's rights, among other worthy causes. They were dedicated to improving social conditions and the quality of life for their fellow Canadians. So, when they became eligible to participate in the electoral process, it did not take long for them to have an impact.

On March 14, 1916, most women in Manitoba became eligible to vote in provincial elections, with women in other provinces soon following suit. Federally, women became able to vote on May 24, 1918, and in 1929 Canadian women were legally declared "persons" and were granted the right to become members of the Senate. Since then, hundreds of Canadian women have moved forward with perseverance and conviction to participate in affairs of state and some have become head of state.

Canada is a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. In practical terms this means that Canadians recognize The Queen as our head of state. As The Queen's representative, the Governor General carries out Her Majesty's duties in Canada on a daily basis and is Canada's de facto head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces. The first woman to hold this office was the Right Honourable Jeanne Sauvé in 1984.

At the provincial level, the Crown is represented by the Lieutenant Governor. In 1934, the Department of Justice decided that women could hold this position but the first such appointment did not come until 1974 when the Honourable Pauline McGibbon became Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. Since then, over a dozen women have held the office in all provinces except for Newfoundland and Labrador.

In all three territories, the Canadian federal government is represented by the Territorial Commissioner and several women have served in this office since Ione Christensen became the first woman Territorial Commissioner of the Yukon Territory in 1979.

The positions of Governor General, Lieutenant Governor and Territorial Commissioner, are, to a large extent, ceremonial in nature but there are real and symbolic powers attached to the offices and it is important that women have the opportunity to contribute to these positions.

In order to select representatives from this growing group, Library and Archives Canada has chosen to focus on "First Women" such as the first woman Governor General, the first women Lieutenant Governors, the first women Territorial Commissioners, the first woman member of Parliament, the first women elected to Provincial and Territorial Legislatures and selected provincial firsts.

A list of key reference sources on the topic of "Canadian Women in Government" is also included.


First Women Lieutenant Governors and Territorial Commissioners
First Women in Federal Government
First Women in Provincial and Territorial Government

First Women Lieutenant Governors and Territorial Commissioners

Alberta The Hon. W. Helen Hunley
British Columbia The Hon. Iona Campagnolo
Manitoba The Hon. Pearl McGonigal
New Brunswick The Hon. Margaret Norrie McCain
Northwest Territories Helen Mamayaok Maksagak
Nova Scotia The Hon. Myra A. Freeman
Nunavut (Territory) Helen Mamayaok Maksagak
Ontario The Hon. Pauline M. McGibbon
Prince Edward Island The Hon. Marion Reid
Québec The Hon. Lise Thibault
Saskatchewan The Hon. Sylvia Olga Fedoruk
Yukon (Territory) The Hon. Ione J. Christensen

First Women in Federal Government

First woman Governor General
First woman Speaker of the House of Commons
First woman Member of Parliament from Quebec to be a Cabinet
The Rt. Hon. Jeanne Sauvé
First woman Prime Minister
First woman Minister of Justice and Attorney General
First woman Minister of National Defence
First woman elected leader of Progressive Conservative Party
The Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell
First woman Speaker of the Senate The Hon. Muriel McQueen Fergusson
First woman Cabinet Minister The Rt. Hon. Ellen Louks Fairclough
First woman Senator
First woman appointed Chair of a Senate Standing Committee
Cairine Reay Mackay Wilson
First woman Member of Parliament
One of the first two women elected to Ontario Legislature
Agnes Campbell Macphail
First woman Deputy Prime Minister The Hon. Sheila Maureen Copps
First woman Deputy Speaker of the House The Hon. Andrée Champagne
First woman to serve as head of a federal political party in Canada The Hon. Audrey McLaughlin
First woman Leader of the Government in the Senate The Hon. Senator Joyce Fairbairn
First woman appointed Official Opposition House Leader Suzanne Tremblay

First Women in Provincial and Territorial Government

Alberta Louise Crummy McKinney
Roberta Catherine MacAdams Price

British Columbia Mary Ellen (Spear) Smith
Rita Margaret Johnston

Manitoba Edith MacTavish Rogers

New Brunswick The Hon. Senator Brenda May Robertson

Newfoundland and Labrador (formerly Newfoundland) Lady Helena E. (Strong) Squires
Northwest Territories Lena (Elizabeth Magdalena) Pedersen
Nellie J. Cournoyea

Nova Scotia Gladys Muriel Porter
Nunavut Manitok Catherine Thompson
Ontario Margarette Rae Morrison Luckock
Agnes Campbell Macphail

Prince Edward Island Catherine Callbeck
Ella Jean Canfield

Quebec Marie-Claire Kirkland-Casgrain
The Hon. Marie Thérèse (Forget) Casgrain

Saskatchewan Sarah Katherine (McEwen) Ramsland
Gladys Strum
Yukon G. Jean Gordon

Graphical element: Acknowledgements

Biographies for Canadian Women in Government were researched and written by the staff of the Reference and Genealogy Division, Library and Archives Canada.

The biographies for First Women Lieutenant Governors and Territorial Commissioners were written by Claire Banton, Sandra Bell, Kim Brittain, Don Carter, Gaya Déry, Norma Gauld, Sophie Grenier, Phanlert Panaram, Tom Tytor, Joan Waiser and Nicole Watier.

The biography for Nellie J. Cournoyea was written by Phanlert Panaram. The biography for Gladys Strum was written by Moreen Blader. The biography for Manitok Thompson was written by Martin Ruddy.