Women's History Month: Her Story, Our Story - Celebrating Canadian Women

October is Women's History Month. This photomontage highlights the outstanding achievements of women who have shaped the nation in which we live: as pioneers taking the first bold steps into the unknown, as innovators accelerating progress, and as activists at the vanguard of social change.

Transcript - Women's History Month: Her Story, Our Story – Celebrating Canadian Women

The title "Her Story, Our Story: Celebrating Canadian Women" and the subtitle "Women's History Month" appear on screen.

A photo appears of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, who in 1823 became the first Black woman publisher in North America.

This is followed by a picture of Emily Howard Stowe, who in 1868 became the first Canadian woman to practise medicine in Canada.

The next photo is of Kate Carmack (Shaaw Tlaa), who discovered the first gold nugget that led to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896.

A picture appears of Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables collection, published in the 1910s appears.

Next is a picture of Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture, who in 1914 became Canada's first Aboriginal nurse.

This is followed by a picture montage of the "Famous Five" (Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby and Henrietta Muir Edwards). These women challenged the Canadian Supreme Court definition of a "person" in Canada, which at the time excluded women. The Privy Council of England overturned the Supreme Court of Canada decision, denying "persons" status to women in 1929.

Next is a picture of Emily Murphy, who became the first female judge of the Women's Court in 1916.

A picture appears of Louise McKinney, who in 1917 became the first woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.

This is followed by a picture of Nellie McClung, who was a suffragist and member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta in the 1920s.

A picture appears of Irene Parlby, who in 1921 became the first female Cabinet minister in Alberta.

Next is a picture of Henrietta Muir Edwards, who in the 1890s was a founding member of the National Council of Women of Canada and the Victorian Order of Nurses.

This is followed by a picture of Thérèse Casgrain, a senator, women's rights activist and politician, whose career spanned from 1920 to 1970.

A picture appears of Lea Roback, a unionist and social activist beginning in the 1930s.

Next is a picture Martha Louise Black, who in 1935 was the first woman elected Yukon's member of Parliament.

A picture appears of Gabrielle Roy, the author of The Tin Flute, published in 1945.

This is followed by a picture of Doreen Reitsma, who in 1951 became the first woman to enlist in the Women's Division of the Royal Canadian Navy.

Next is a picture of Kenojuak Ashevak, an Inuk artist, in 1958.

This is followed by a picture of Mathilda Blanchard, who was a social activist and unionist beginning in the 1960s.

Pictures appear of Mary Two-Axe Earley and Senator Sandra Lovelace, both Aboriginal rights activists, who in 1979 succeeded in having gender-based discrimination against First Nations women removed.

Next is a picture of Antonine Maillet, who in 1979 became the first non-European recipient of the Prix Goncourt.

This is followed by a picture of Jeanne Mathilde Sauvé, the first woman to become Canada's Speaker of the House of Commons in 1980 and Canada's Governor General in 1984.

A picture appears of Daurene Lewis, who in 1984 became the first Black woman in North America to become a mayor.

Next is a picture of Angela Sydney, who in 1986 became the first Yukon Native woman to receive the Order of Canada.

This is followed by a picture of Ethel Blondin-Andrew, the first Native woman elected to Canada's Parliament in 1988 and who later became a member of Cabinet.

The final picture is of Helen Maksagak, who in 1999 became the first Commissioner of Nunavut.

Photo Credits

Angela Sydney, Tagish, 1951
Canadian Museum of History, S71-909

Commissioner of Nunavut

House of Commons Collection, Ottawa

Photo of the Right Honourable Jeanne Sauvé by Barbara Woodley

Photo of Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture by John Moses and Canada's History Society

Photo: Antonine Maillet, 1984
© Library and Archives / Harry Palmer/Fonds Harry Palmer/PA-182393

Photo of Kenojuak Ashevak 2007, by Linda Morita courtesy of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection Archives

Lea Roback Fonds
Jewish Public Library Archives Montréal

Library and Archives Canada

"L.M. Montgomery" is a trademark of Heirs of L.M. Montgomery Inc.
Library and Archives Canada

Photo of Daurene Lewis courtesy of Nova Scotia Community College

Provincial Archives of Alberta

Photo of Doreen Reitsma courtesy of Raymond Reitsma

Special thanks to Sally Simpson

The Canada wordmark appears on the screen.

For more information on these exceptional women

Mary Ann Shadd Cary was the first Black woman publisher in North America – 1823. She was a teacher, anti-slavery activist and editor. Her newspaper, The Provincial Freemen, was published in Windsor, Ontario, where she also created an integrated school open to all. She was an advocate for full racial integration through education and self-reliance.

Emily Howard Stowe was the first Canadian woman to practise medicine in Canada in 1868. When she was denied education in medicine in Ontario, she pursued her degree in the United States and returned to Toronto to practise. Due to the opposition of the medical community, she worked illegally until 1880, when she finally received her licence. Her daughter, Augusta Stowe-Gullen, was the first woman to earn a medical degree in Canada. 

Kate Carmack (Shaaw Tlaa) discovered the first gold nugget that led to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896. She was a Tagish from Yukon. Her husband and brother were officially credited for the discovery.

Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, is an internationally recognized author born in Prince Edward Island. During her lifetime, she published the 20 novels, over 500 short stories, an autobiography and a book of poetry. She was the first female in Canada to be named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in England and was invested in the Order of the British Empire in 1935.

Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture is Canada's first Aboriginal nurse. She was an Iroquois. She graduated from nursing school in New York in 1914 because higher education was denied to Aboriginals in Canada. She was one of two Native women who served as members of the American Army Nurse Corps during World War I overseas in Vittel, France. After the war, she came back to Canada and worked as a nurse in Ohsweken Six Nations Reserve, Brantford, Ontario, until her death in 1996.

The Famous Five challenged the Canadian Supreme Court definition of a "person" in Canada that excluded women; therefore, they could not be appointed to the Senate. The Privy Council of England overturned the Supreme Court of Canada, denying the "persons" status to women. When announcing its decision Lord Sankey from the Privy Council of England said: "The exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours."

Emily Murphy is the first female judge of the Women's Court in 1916. She was a social activist.

Louise McKinney was the first woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Albert and in the British Empire in 1917.

Nellie McClung was a teacher, suffragist and member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta – 1910s -20s. In 1918, she was the only female Canadian representative of the League of Nations (predecessor of the current United Nations). In 1921, she was the first and only woman to sit on the Board of Governors of the CBC.

Irene Parlby was the first female Cabinet minister in Alberta. She was elected in 1916 as the first president of the United Farm Women of Alberta, and in 1921 was elected to the Alberta Legislature and received a Cabinet post in the United Farmers of Alberta government.

Henrietta Muir Edwards was a social activist. She founded the Working Girls' Association in Montréal that would later become one the first YMCAs. She worked with the wife of the Governor General, Lady Aberdeen, to establish the National Council of Women of Canada in 1893 and the Victorian Order of Nurses in 1897.

Thérèse Casgrain was a senator, a women rights activist and a politician. Thérèse Casgrain started fighting for women's right to vote in Quebec in 1922, a right finally won in 1940. In 1951, she became the first woman to lead a political party, heading the Quebec wing of the NDP. Thérèse Casgrain also founded the Fédération des femmes du Québec. She was appointed to the Senate in 1970.

Lea Roback was a women's rights activist. In the 1930s, she became a trade union activist in the garment industry in Montréal, Quebec.

Martha Louise Black was the first woman elected in Parliament as Yukon's member in 1935. She was an American. In 1898, she ventured onto the Klondike Gold Rush path. She ran a sawmill and a gold ore–crushing plant to support herself and her three sons before marrying George Black, Commissioner of the Yukon. In 1935, she was elected for the riding of Yukon.

Gabrielle Roy was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In 1939, she settled in Montreal where she published her first novel, Bonheur d'occasion [The Tin Flute], in 1945. This work won her several awards, including the Prix Femina and the Governor General's Literary Award.

Doreen Reistma was a British Columbia native. She was inspired by a brief encounter with Eleanor Roosevelt, who encouraged her to follow her dream of a career in Canada's military, became the first woman to enlist in the postwar Navy. On , Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent created a permanent and fully integrated regular force for women in the Royal Canadian Navy, paving the way for thousands of Canadian women to follow in Doreen's footsteps.

Kenojuak Ashevak is an Inuit from Baffin Island. In 1951, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to Quebec City for treatment. During a three-year recovery she started making Inuit arts and craft. Her first print, Rabbit Eating Seaweed, released in 1958, was an instant success. She and other Cape Dorset Inuit had formed the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative as a senlavik (workshop) for aspiring Inuit artists in 1959.

Mathilda Blanchard was a well-known Acadian union leader from New Brunswick. For more the 50 years, she represented and defended fishing industry workers in Acadie.

Mary Two-Axe Earley, a Kahnawake Mohawk from Quebec, and Sandra Lovelace, a Maliseet from New Brunswick, campaigned and succeeded to remove gender-based discrimination endured by First Nations women who had married non-Indians, by restoring their Indian status for themselves and their children.

Antonine Maillet was the first non-European recipient of the Prix Goncourt in 1979. She is an Acadian from Bouctouche, New Brunswick. She is an acclaimed novelist, playwright, translator and scholar.

Jeanne Mathilde Sauvé was the first woman to become Speaker to the House of Commons in 1980 and Governor General in 1984. Jeanne was born in a Fransaskois community in Saskatchewan. A journalist and broadcaster with Radio-Canada, she became one of the first women commentators and political journalists, presenting her own television show, Opinions, which covered taboo subjects in 1956. She was the first woman from Quebec to become a minister of the Crown in Trudeau's Cabinet. As the Speaker of the House of Commons, she challenged the establishment and implemented changes that saved $18 million out of the annual expenses. In 1984, she became the first woman to serve as Canada's Governor General.

Daureen Lewis was a politician and an educator. She was a direct descendant of freed Loyalist African Americans who settled in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, in 1783. In 1984, she was elected mayor of the city of Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia.

Angela Sydney is the first Yukon native woman to receive the Order of Canada in 1986 for her contribution to the preservation of Native cultural heritage. She was Tagish a teacher and linguist. She co-authored two narratives of traditional Tagish legends and a historical document of Tagish place names for southern Yukon.

Ethel Blondin-Andrew was the first Native woman elected to the Canadian Parliament in 1988 and later became a member of Cabinet. She represented the Northwest Territories for 18 years.

Helen Maksagak was a Copper Inuk appointed as Deputy Commissioner of the Northwest Territories in 1992. In 1995, she was appointed as Commissioner of Nunavut effective 1999.

Date modified: