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Milestones in Canadian Women’s History*
*Please note that the following milestones represent just a small sample of the many important moments in Canadian women’s history. This list is not comprehensive.
In 1645, Canada’s first lay nurse, Jeanne Mance, opened Hôtel-Dieu in Montreal, one of the first hospitals in Canada.
In 1813, Laura Secord walked 32 kilometres to warn Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon of impending danger of attack by the Americans during the War of 1812.
In 1853, Mary Ann Shadd Cary became the first Black newspaperwoman in North America, editing The Provincial Freeman, a Toronto-based newspaper that gave a voice to Black people in Canada.
In 1867, Dr. Emily Stowe became the first Canadian woman physician to practice in Canada, although she was not licensed until 1880.
In 1875, Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, awarded Grace Annie Lockhart a bachelor’s degree in Science and English Literature, the first degree awarded to a woman in Canada.
In 1875, Dr. Jennie Trout became Canada’s first woman licensed as a medical doctor.
In 1894, after a 5,000-mile journey, Émilie Tremblay arrived in the Yukon, thus becoming a pioneer of the Chilkoot Pass. She went on to found the Ladies of the Golden North, became President of the Yukon Women Pioneers and was a life member of the Daughters of the Empire.
In 1897, Clara Brett Martin was admitted to the bar as Canada’s first woman lawyer.
In 1898, Kit Coleman, the first Canadian woman to hold a regular job at a newspaper and the first syndicated columnist in Canada, became the world’s first woman war correspondent when she was accredited by the American government to cover the Spanish-American War.
In 1903, Emma Baker became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from a Canadian university. She earned the degree in psychology at the University of Toronto.
In 1908, Lucy Maud Montgomery of Prince Edward Island published Anne of Green Gables. It became an instant bestseller, selling more than 19,000 copies in the first five months. It remains one of the bestselling and most beloved books of all time.
In 1911, Alice Wilson, who had been hired in 1909 as a temporary clerk in the invertebrate paleontology section of the Geological Survey of Canada, was promoted to Museum Assistant, becoming the first woman to hold a professional position at the Survey, and therefore in the Public Service of Canada.
During the First World War (1914–1918), more than 2,800 women served with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, with the majority serving overseas in hospitals, on board hospital ships, in several theatres of war and in combat zones with field ambulance units.
In 1916, Manitoba women were the first in Canada to gain the right to vote in provincial elections, thanks to the efforts of Nellie McClung and the Political Equality League.
In 1917, Louise McKinney and Roberta MacAdams Price of Alberta became the first two women in the British Empire to be elected to a provincial legislature.
In 1918, with the exception of Aboriginal women, who did not gain the right to vote until 1960, women over the age of 21 who were Canadian citizens were granted the right to vote in federal elections.
In 1921, Agnes Macphail, activist and founder of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada, became the first woman elected to the House of Commons.
In 1924, Cecile Eustace Smith, a 15-year-old figure skater, became the first Canadian woman to represent Canada in an Olympic Games, competing in the first official winter Olympics in Chamonix, France.
In 1929, the British Privy Council declared that women are “persons” and could therefore be appointed to the Senate of Canada.
In 1941, the Canadian Women's Army Corps and the Royal Canadian Navy, Women's Division, were formed and over 45,000 women volunteers were recruited for full-time military service other than nursing.
In 1954, Elisie Knott, an Ojibwa woman and member of the Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario, became the first woman elected chief of a First Nation community in Canada.
In 1961, Aboriginal poet Emily Pauline Johnson, also known under her Mohawk name “Tekahionwake”, was the first Canadian author and first Canadian Native person to appear on a Canadian stamp.
In 1967, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women was established.
In 1969, Réjane Laberge-Colas became the first woman in Canada to be appointed as a judge to a superior court.
In 1971, amendments were made to the Canadian Labour Code to include the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sex and marital status, the strong reinforcement of the principle of equal pay for equal work and the provision of 17 weeks of maternity leave.
In 1977, the Canadian Human Rights Act was passed, forbidding discrimination on the basis of sex and ensuring equal pay for work of equal value for women.
In 1979, an Inuvialuit woman named Nellie J. Cournoyea, was elected to the Legislature of the Northwest Territories, becoming the first Aboriginal woman to lead a provincial or territorial government in Canada.
In 1981, women’s rights, ensuring equality before and under the law, were enshrined in the new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In 1983, Jeanne Sauvé was appointed Governor General of Canada, the first woman to hold this post.
In 1987, combat roles in the Canadian Air Force, such as flying fighter aircraft, were opened to women for the first time.
In 1992, Dr. Roberta Bondar became the first neurologist in space and Canada’s first woman in space.
In 1993, Kim Campbell became the first woman Prime Minister of Canada.
In 2009, Commander Josée Kurtz became the first woman in Canadian history to assume command of a major warship when she took control of the frigate HMCS Halifax.
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