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Gloria George

Gloria Mary Maureen George, Indigenous politician, activist and public servant (born 24 July 1942 in Hubert, BC). A tireless advocate for non-status Indians, George was elected president of the Native Council of Canada in 1975, becoming the first and only woman to lead a major Indigenous political organization.

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Mary Simon

Mary Jeannie May Simon (Ningiukudluk); diplomat, civil servant, (born 21 August 1947 in Kangirsualujjuaq, Nunavik, QC). Simon is an advocate for international cooperation in the Arctic and Indigenous education and rights. She has held multiple roles in the civil service, including secretary and co-director of policy of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, secretary to the board of directors of the Northern Quebec Inuit Association, and member of the Nunavut Implementation Commission. She was also the first vice president of the Makivik Corporation and the first Inuk in Canada to hold the rank of ambassador. Simon has served as the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and of what is now the Inuit Circumpolar Council. On 26 July 2021, Simon became Canada’s 30th Governor General and the first Indigenous person to serve in that role.

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Nellie J. Cournoyea

Nellie J. Cournoyea, OC, politician, premier of the Northwest Territories 1991–95 (born on 4 March 1940 in Aklavik, NT). Cournoyea is the first Indigenous woman to lead a provincial or territorial government in Canada.

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Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada

Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada (MMIWG) refers to a human rights crisis that has only recently become a topic of discussion within national media. Indigenous women and communities, women’s groups and international organizations have long called for action into the high and disproportionate rates of violence and the appalling numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Prior to the launch of the national public inquiry on 8 December 2015, these calls were continually ignored by the federal government. Described by some as a hidden crisis, Dawn Lavell-Harvard, former president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, refers to MMIWG as a national tragedy and a national shame. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada supported the call for a national public inquiry into the disproportionate victimization of Indigenous women and girls. The National Inquiry’s Final Report was completed and presented to the public on 3 June 2019.

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Clara Brett Martin

Martin finally achieved her goal on 2 February 1897, becoming the first woman lawyer in the British Empire. She went on to earn Bachelor of Civil Law (1897) and LLB (1899) degrees and to establish a successful Toronto practice.

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Palbinder Kaur Shergill

Palbinder Kaur Shergill, QC, judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in New Westminster (born in Rurka Kalan, Punjab, India). Shergill spent 26 years practising law before she was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. She was the first turbaned Sikh woman to be appointed as a judge in Canada.

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Hilary M. Weston

Hilary M. Weston, philanthropist, businesswoman, lieutenant-governor of ONTARIO from 1997 to 2002 (b in Dublin, Ireland, 12 Jan 1942). Born Hilary Frayne, she grew up in Dublin, Ireland and is the eldest of five children. In 1966, she married Galen Weston and had two children, Alannah and Galen.

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Tilly Rolston

Tilly Jean Rolston, Canadian politician (born 23 February 1887 in Vancouver, BC; died 12 October 1953 in Vancouver, BC). Rolston was best known for her service as education minister for the province of British Columbia in the Social Credit government of W.A.C. Bennett in the early 1950s. She has the distinction of being the second woman cabinet minister elected in that province, but the first with a portfolio in all of Canada. Rolston was instrumental in developing a new financing formula for the funding of BC’s public schools, and also instituted the province’s first sex education curriculum. She is noted for being the first woman in British Columbia to receive a state funeral upon her death.

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Agnes Macphail

Agnes Campbell Macphail, politician, reformer (born 24 March 1890 in Proton Township, Grey County, ON; died 13 February 1954 in Toronto, ON). Agnes Macphail was the first woman elected to the House of Commons (1921–40) and was one of the first two women elected to the Ontario legislature (1943–45, 1948–51). She was also the first female member of a Canadian delegation to the League of Nations. Macphail was a founding member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the forerunner of the New Democratic Party). She was a noted pacifist and an advocate for prison reform. As a member of the Ontario legislature, she championed Ontario’s first equal pay legislation (1951).

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Lady Monck

Lady Elizabeth Louise Mary Monck, Viscountess Monck of Ballytrammon, viceregal consort of British North America from 1861 to 1867 and viceregal consort of the Dominion of Canada from 1867 to 1868 (born 1 March 1814; died 16 June 1892 in Charleville, Enniskerry, County Wicklow, Ireland). Lady Monck was the first viceregal consort of the Dominion of Canada and the first to live at Rideau Hall.

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Hazel McCallion

​Hazel McCallion, businesswoman, athlete, politician, mayor of Mississauga from 1978 to 2014 (born 14 February 1921 in Port Daniel, QC). One of Canada's longest-serving mayors, McCallion led her city for 12 consecutive terms, only retiring at age 93. Nicknamed “Hurricane Hazel” for her brash political style, she oversaw the development of Mississauga from a semi-rural bedroom community into the sixth-largest city in Canada. McCallion is considered a trailblazer for women in politics.

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Irene Parlby

Mary Irene Parlby (née Marryat), Alberta MLA (1921–35), women’s rights advocate, activist (born 9 January 1868 in London, UK; died 12 July 1965 in Red Deer, AB). Irene Parlby served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Alberta for 14 years. She was the first woman in Alberta, and the second in the British Empire, to be appointed to a cabinet position. One of the Famous Five appellants in the Persons Case, Parlby was a compelling advocate for women’s rights. Known as the “Women’s Minister,” her career in activism and legislation was dedicated to improving the lives of rural women and children, such as with Alberta’s Dower Act in 1917. She was also a delegate to the League of Nations in 1930. However, she has also been criticized for her views on eugenics and for her support of Alberta’s Sexual Sterilization Act. She was named a Person of National Historic Significance in 1966 and an honorary senator in 2009.

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Helen Gregory MacGill

Helen Gregory MacGill, judge, journalist, musician (born 7 January 1864 in Hamilton, Canada West; died 27 February 1947 in Chicago, Illinois). Helen Gregory MacGill was a pioneering journalist, feminist and judge. She was the first woman to graduate from Trinity College (now the University of Toronto), as well as the first woman judge in British Columbia, where she served on the juvenile court for 23 years. Her daughter, Elsie MacGill, became the world’s first female aeronautical engineer and aircraft designer.

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Thelma Chalifoux

Thelma Julia Chalifoux, Métis, senator, entrepreneur, activist (born 8 February 1929 in Calgary, AB; died 22 September 2017 in St. Albert, AB). Chalifoux was the first Métis woman appointed to the Senate of Canada. As a senator, she was concerned with a range of issues, including Métis housing, drug company relations with the federal government, and environmental legislation. An ardent advocate for women’s and Indigenous rights, Chalifoux was involved in organizations such as the Aboriginal Women’s Business Development Corporation and the Métis Women’s Council. She was also known for her work in the protection of Métis culture, having served in the Alberta Métis Senate and Michif Cultural and Métis Resource Institute (now Michif Cultural Connections).

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Barbara Hanley

Barbara McCallum Hanley (née Smith), teacher, politician, Canada’s first female mayor (born 2 March 1882 in Magnetawan, ON; died 26 January 1959 in Sudbury, ON). Hanley was elected mayor of Webbwood on 6 January 1936, becoming the country’s first female mayor. Trained as a teacher, she decided to enter municipal politics in an attempt to improve conditions for the town, which had been hard hit by the Great Depression. Hanley won annual re-election campaigns from 1936 to 1943, and retired as mayor in 1944. A true servant of the public, she sat on many boards and committees throughout her life, including the town ration board during the Second World War.

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Idola Saint-Jean

Idola Saint-Jean, feminist and pioneer in the fight for women’s suffrage (born 19 May 1880 in Montreal, QC; died 6 April 1945 in Montreal). The first woman from Quebec to run as a candidate in a federal election, she devoted over 20 years of her life to active efforts to improve women’s legal rights.

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Viola Desmond

Viola Irene Desmond (née Davis), businesswoman, civil rights activist (born 6 July 1914 in Halifax, NS; died 7 February 1965 in New York, NY). Viola Desmond built a career and business as a beautician and was a mentor to young Black women in Nova Scotia through her Desmond School of Beauty Culture. In 1946, Viola Desmond challenged racial discrimination when she refused to leave the segregated Whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Viola Desmond was arrested, jailed overnight and convicted without legal representation for an obscure tax offence as a result. Despite the efforts of the Nova Scotian Black community to assist her appeal, Viola Desmond was unable to remove the charges against her and went unpardoned in her lifetime. Desmond’s courageous refusal to accept an act of racial discrimination provided inspiration to later generations of Black persons in Nova Scotia and in the rest of Canada. In 2010, Lieutenant-GovernorMayann Francis issued Desmond a free pardon. In December 2016, the Bank of Canada announced that Viola Desmond would be the first Canadian woman to be featured by herself on the face of a banknote — the $10 note released on 19 November 2018. Viola Desmond was named a National Historic Person by the Canadian government in 2018.