The game is six degrees of Canadian history. Take two seemingly unrelated pieces of Canadian culture and connect the dots through various people, places and events to discover how they’re distantly — or maybe not-so-distantly — related. Along the way, we visit the quizzical and curious, the tragic and comic, and everything in between.
Women’s suffrage (or franchise) is the right of women to vote in political elections; campaigns for this right generally included demand for the right to run for public office. The women’s suffrage movement was a decades-long struggle intended to address fundamental issues of equity and justice and to improve the lives of Canadians.
Elsie May Gibbons (née Thacker), first woman elected as mayor of a municipality in Québec (born 23 May 1903 in Ottawa, Ontario; died 28 January 2003 in Shawville, Québec). In 2015 the pioneering role of Gibbons in municipal politics was recognized by the Québec government, and in 2017 the Elsie-Gibbons award was created by the Fédération Québécoise des Municipalités.
Idola Saint-Jean, feminist and pioneer in the fight for women’s suffrage (born 19 May 1880 in Montréal, QC; died 6 April 1945 in Montréal). The first woman from Québec 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.1
Robertine Barry (pen name: Françoise), journalist, publisher, author and feminist (born 26 February 1863 in L’Isle-Verte, Canada East; died 7 January 1910 in Montréal, Québec). The first French-Canadian woman journalist, she was also a founding member of the Fédération nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste and the first vice-president of the Canadian Women’s Press Club.
Margret Benedictsson (née Jonsdottir), journalist, social activist, suffragist (born 16 March 1866 in Hrappsstadir, Iceland; died 13 December 1956 in Anacortes, Washington). Benedictsson brought her deeply held beliefs and interest in social change to Manitoba. Through her service to the Icelandic communities in Selkirk, Gimli, and Winnipeg, she championed women’s suffrage, education, improved working conditions, and human rights.
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). Parlby served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of Alberta for 14 years and 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. Her career in activism and legislation was especially dedicated to improving the lives of rural women and children. She was the first woman awarded an honorary degree from the University of Alberta.
Jane Vance Rule, CM, OBC, writer, teacher and activist (born 28 March 1931 in Plainfield, NJ; died 27 November 2007 in Galiano Island, BC). Rule was a ground-breaking novelist and essayist whose work explored the lives of lesbians, beginning at a time when homosexuality was still a crime in Canada (see LGBT Rights in Canada). Her first novel, Desert of the Heart, is perhaps her best known. It was adapted into the film Desert Hearts in 1986. Rule is the author of seven novels and several collections of essays and short stories. She was awarded the Order of British Columbia in 1998 and the Order of Canada in 2007.
Ishbel Marie Marjoribanks Hamilton-Gordon, Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair, vice-regal consort, author, philanthropist and women’s rights advocate (born 14 March 1857 in London, United Kingdom; died 18 April 1939 in Aberdeen, United Kingdom). As Vice-Regal Consort to Governor General John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon, Earl of Aberdeen, from 1893 until 1898, Lady Aberdeen organized the National Council of Women in Canada, became first sponsor of the Women’s Art Association of Canada and helped found the Victorian Order of Nurses. Lady Aberdeen was the first woman to address the House of Commons and the first woman to receive an honorary degree in Canada.
Nell (née Helen Barham) Shipman, screenwriter, actor, director, producer, author (born in Victoria, British Columbia on 25 Oct 1892; died in Cabazon, California on 23 Jan 1970). Nell Shipman's first starring role in a major film was in the silent movie God's Country and the Woman (1916), which was an overnight success. Starring roles in 10 other films, mostly for Vitagraph, were followed by a seven-year contract offer from Samuel Goldwyn in 1917.