The fight for equal rights has been an uphill battle – but many persist! Despite making up for half of the population, women all over the world have had to break barriers for a place at the table – and make no mistake, even here in Canada, it’s been a gruelling task worth acknowledging. From those who walked so others could run to those who started conversations and challenged ideals – we’ve put together a list of trailblazers who you should know about ahead of International Women’s Day 2023.
While this could have been a mile long – here are 8 incredible women who made Canadian history.
A businesswoman and mentor, Viola Desmond was arrested and charged with no legal representation in 1946 after refusing to leave the all-white section of the Roseland Theatre in Nova Scotia. With poise, grace and the overwhelming support of the black community, Desmond’s case is credited as the catalyst for a larger conversation about racial discrimination in Canada. She’s now on our $10 dollar bill!
Despite growing up during a time when women were rejected from entering the medical field, Elizabeth Bagshaw went to school to be a doctor anyway. After graduating from the Toronto Women’s Medical College, she moved to Hamilton where she was actively involved in Canada’s first illegal birth control clinic. In addition to offering women the right to choose what happens to their bodies, Bagshaw also founded the Canadian Federation of Medical Women, inspiring and supporting the many who followed in her footsteps.
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Dr. Roberta Bondar
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A woman of many titles, Dr. Roberta Bondar was Canada’s first female and also the world’s first neurologist to go to space. Since blasting off in 1992, she has dedicated her life to educating people about the environment through art and photography – publishing books and starting a not-for-profit organization.
Mary Two–Axe Earley
An indigenous pioneer who fought like hell during the Women’s rights movement, Mary Two-Axe Early accomplished some incredible things throughout her career. Most notably though – she got the government to prohibit any law that discriminates against indigenous women, won the Governor General’s Persons Case Award for her contributions which advanced equality and rights of women in Canada AND received an honorary doctorate from York University in Toronto.
Feminist icon, social warrior, and radio host, Therese Casgrain was actually the very first woman to be elected the leader of a political party in Canada. Credited for leading the campaign for women’s suffrage in Québec, Casgrain played a major part in winning women the right to vote at the provincial level.
Mary Shadd Cary
The first Black female newspaper publisher in Canada, Mary Shadd Cary was born in Delaware, but later moved to Western Canada to pursue a career in teaching. After settling in (what is now known as) Windsor, Ontario, Cary set up a racially integrated school that was open to all, fought for racial equity within the education system and started a newspaper to promote emigration to Canada.
Canada’s first and only female Prime Minister (1993), The Right Honourable Kim Campbell has spent her entire political carrier breaking barriers. While she resigned only 123 days into her term, she fought (and continues to fight) for a number of issues – most notably, women’s rights.
Justice Bertha Wilson
After emigrating to Canada in 1954, Bertha Wilson was the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Known for her humane stance on everything from discrimination, matrimonial property, child custody and public access, Wilson championed the rights of everyone, no matter their sex, ethnicity, or status.
And there you have it! 8 women who made history. As we said, we could’ve made this list a mile long – so do yourself a favour and continue to learn about and celebrate Canada’s trailblazers. Happy International Women’s Day 2023!
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