Browse "Women"

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Adelaide Sinclair

Adelaide Sinclair, OC, OBE, naval officer and public servant (born 16 January 1900 in Toronto, ON; died 19 November 1982 in Ottawa, ON). Adelaide Sinclair was the first Canadian director of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (1943–46). Following the Second World War, she became Canada’s delegate to UNICEF. She was UNICEF’s deputy executive director of programs from 1957 to 1967.

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Bertha Clark-Jones

Bertha Clark-Jones (née Houle), OC, Cree-Métis advocate for the rights of Indigenous women and children (born 6 November 1922 in Clear Hills, AB; died 21 October 2014 in Bonnyville, AB). A veteran of the Second World War, Clark-Jones joined the Aboriginal Veterans Society and advocated for the fair treatment of Indigenous ex-service people. She was co-founder and first president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. Clark-Jones devoted her life to seeking equality and greater power for women in Canada.

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Bonnie Henry

Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer of British Columbia (2018 to present), epidemiologist, physician (born 1965 in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island). Dr. Bonnie Henry is best known for leading British Columbia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She has also worked to eradicate polio and to contain Ebola and SARS. Henry is a family care physician and a specialist in preventative medicine. She is the first woman to serve as BC’s provincial health officer. Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Canadian Army Medical Corps Nursing Sisters

More than 2,800 trained civilian nurses enlisted with the Canadian army during the First World War, becoming the first women in the modern world to hold military commissions as officers. As members of the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC), the nursing sisters treated and cared for wounded soldiers overseas and at home. At least 58 died from disease or enemy action during the war.

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Canadian Women in the Cold War Navy

Women served in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) throughout the Cold War. Known for much of this period as “Wrens,” they played an important role in RCN missions and operations, including antisubmarine warfare. In 1951, the Canadian Naval Reserve began recruiting women into the service. Women could join the regular navy beginning in 1955; the RCN was the first Commonwealth navy to integrate women into the permanent force. For many years, Wrens served in shore-based branches and trades, including stores, communications, intelligence, submarine detection and in the medical services. By the end of the Cold War, all naval trades and occupations, except submarine service, were open to women. (See also Canada and the Cold War; Women in the Military.)

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Canadian Women's Army Corps

During the Second World War, Canadian women, for the first time, were mobilized for service in the Canadian Armed Forces. Of the roughly 50,000 women who enlisted, more than half served in the Canadian Army. Most were assigned jobs involving traditional female work such as cooking, laundry and clerical duties, but women also pioneered roles in the mechanized and technical fields. The Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) performed essential services, both at home and overseas, that helped bring about Allied victory.

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Edith Monture

Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture (often known simply as Edith Monture), Mohawk First World War veteran, registered nurse, (born 10 April 1890 on Six Nations reserve near Brantford, ON; died 3 April 1996 in Ohsweken, ON). Edith was the first Indigenous woman to become a registered nurse in Canada and to gain the right to vote in a Canadian federal election. She was also the first Indigenous woman from Canada to serve in the United States military. Edith broke barriers for Indigenous women in the armed forces and with regards to federal voting rights. A street (Edith Monture Avenue) and park (Edith Monture Park) are named after her in Brantford, Ontario.

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Isabel Macneill

Isabel Janet Macneill, OC, OBE, naval officer and correctional system supervisor (born 4 June 1908 in Halifax, NS; died 18 August 1990 in Mill Village, NS). Isabel Macneill was a pioneering woman in nontraditional leadership positions. She was the first female commanding officer of a navy ship in the British Commonwealth and the first female prison superintendent in Canada.

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James Barry

James Miranda Steuart Barry, FRS (probably born Margaret Anne Bulkley), military surgeon, physician (born c. 1789–99; died 25 July 1865 in London, England). Posted across the British Empire, Barry reformed medical standards in the British army. His final and highest-ranking position was as inspector-general of military hospitals in the Province of Canada in the 1850s. After his death, it was reported that Barry’s assigned sex at birth was female. This has sparked significant debate about his identity. Note on pronouns: This article refers to James Barry with masculine pronouns, as this was how Barry referred to himself throughout his life. Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Jean Flatt Davey

Jean Flatt Davey, OC, OBE, physician, air force officer (born 16 March 1909 in Hamilton, ON; died 13 March 1980). Davey was the first woman medical doctor to become a commissioned officer in the Canadian armed forces. From 1950 to 1965, she was chief physician in the department of medicine at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, Ontario.

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Lillian Freiman

Lillian Freiman (née Bilsky), OBE, benefactor, community activist, organizer, civic leader and Zionist (born 6 June 1885 in Mattawa, ON; died 2 November 1940 in Montreal, QC). Lillian Freiman used her high social status and wealth to help those less fortunate, both within and beyond the Jewish community. For her work assisting First World War soldiers and leading the Poppy Campaign, the Canadian Legion made her an honorary life member in 1933. Freiman was the first woman to receive this honour.

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Margaret Brooke

Margaret Martha Brooke, MBE, dietician, naval officer, war hero, paleontologist (born 10 April 1915 in Ardath, SK; died 9 January 2016 in Victoria, BC). Brooke was a nursing sister during the Second World War and survived the torpedoing of the SS Caribou. For her heroism immediately after the sinking, she was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), the first Canadian nursing sister so recognized.

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Mary Greyeyes Reid

Mary Greyeyes Reid, Cree veteran of the Second World War (born 14 November 1920 on the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation reserve, Marcelin, SK; died 31 March 2011 in Vancouver, BC). The first Indigenous woman to join Canada’s armed forces, Mary became a member of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps during the Second World War. The military tried to boost Indigenous recruitment and demonstrate Canada’s military might by posing her in a staged photo that has since been widely circulated in Canada.

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Michelle Douglas

Michelle Douglas, LGBTQ activist and advocate, humanitarian, civil servant (born 30 December 1963 in Ottawa,ON). Michelle Douglas began a promising career in the Canadian Armed Forces in 1986 but was honourably discharged for being a lesbian. She launched a successful lawsuit against the military that resulted in the end of its discriminatory policy against gays and lesbians. Douglas has gone on to work with numerous charitable organizations and was director of international relations at the Department of Justice. In September 2019, she became executive director of the LGBT Purge Fund.

Memory Project Archive

Agnes Elizabeth Ward (Primary Source)

Agnes Elizabeth Ward served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.