From early trailblazers to today’s powerful agents of change, from the long journey for women’s suffrage towards equality of rights and opportunities for all, women have and continue to blaze a trail to create a better, more equal world for everyone.
Take a look at this timeline to discover notable events in Canadian women’s history and learn more about the powerful women who created change.
1645: Jeanne Mance, founder of Canada’s first hospital
Jeanne Mance, a French nurse and settler of New France, opened Hôtel-Dieu in Montreal which was one of the first hospitals in Canada.
1813: Laura Secord, Canadian heroine of the War of 1812
Laura Secord walked 32 kilometres to warn Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon of impending danger of attack by the Americans during the War of 1812.
1853: Mary Ann Shadd Cary, first Black newspaperwoman in North America
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.
1867: Dr. Emily Stowe, first Canadian woman physician to practice in Canada
Dr. Emily Stowe became the first Canadian woman physician to practice in Canada, although she was not licensed until 1880.
1875: Grace Annie Lockhart, pioneer of women's university education
Title: Grace Annie Lockhart
Source/credit: Mount Allison University
Grace Annie Lockhart received a bachelor’s degree in Science and English Literature from Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. It was the first degree awarded to a woman in Canada.
1897: Clara Brett Martin, Canada’s first woman lawyer
Clara Brett Martin was admitted to the bar as Canada’s first woman lawyer.
1903: Emma Baker, first woman to receive a Ph.D. from a Canadian university
Title: Emma Baker
Source/credit: University of Toronto Archives, 2007-47-1MS
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.
1914-1918: First female officers served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps
During the First World War, more than 2,800 women served with the 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.
1918: Some women were granted the right to vote in federal elections
Title: Votes for women
Description: Image of a violet circle with the text “Votes for women” in the middle of the circle.
White women over the age of 21 who were Canadian citizens were granted the right to vote. It took another 40 years before all women in Canada were granted the same right.
1921: Agnes Macphail, first woman elected to the House of Commons
Agnes Macphail, activist and founder of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada, became the first woman elected to the House of Commons.
1924: Cecile Eustace Smith, first Canadian woman to represent Canada in an Olympic Games
Cecile Eustace Smith, a 15-year-old figure skater, became the first Canadian woman to represent Canada in the Olympic Games. She competed in the first official winter Olympics in Chamonix, France.
1927: The Famous Five, petitioners in the groundbreaking Persons Case
5 women who have since become known as the Famous Five launched a legal challenge that would mark a turning point for equality rights in Canada. Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby and Henrietta Muir Edwards were journalists, politicians, reformers and activists from Alberta who asked the Supreme Court of Canada to answer the following question: does the word “person” in Section 24 of the British North America Act include female persons? After 5 weeks of debate, the Supreme Court decided that the word “person” did not include women.
1929: Women were declared as “persons”
The British Privy Council declared that women are “persons” and could therefore be appointed to the Senate of Canada.
1941: Women’s Divisions are established in the Army Corps and the Royal Canadian Navy
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.
1954: Elsie Knott, first woman elected chief of a First Nation community
Elsie 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.
1960: All Canadian women were given the right to vote
All women in Canada were granted the right to vote in federal elections. Until the Canada Elections Act was enacted in 1960, Indigenous people living on reserves could not vote unless they gave up their treaty rights and Indian status.
1967: The Royal Commission on the Status of Women was established
The Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada was established and was the first Commission to be chaired by a woman, Florence Bird. The Commission’s mandate was to “inquire into and report upon the status of women in Canada, and to recommend what steps might be taken by the federal government to ensure for women equal opportunities with men in all aspects of Canadian society.”
1969: Réjane Laberge-Colas, first woman appointed as a judge to a superior court
Réjane Laberge-Colas was a judge of the Quebec Superior Court and the first woman in Canada to be appointed as a judge to a superior court.
1970: Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women was tabled in Parliament
The report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada was tabled in Parliament. It included recommendations on updating the legislative system and addressing such critical issues for women as poverty, family law, the Indian Act and the need for a federal representative for women.
1971: The Canadian Labour Code was amended
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.
1977: The Canadian Human Rights Act was created
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.
1979: Nellie J. Cournoyea, first woman to serve as premier of a territory
Nellie J. Cournoyea, an Inuvialuit woman, was elected to the Legislature of the Northwest Territories, becoming the first Indigenous woman to lead a provincial or territorial government in Canada.
1981: Women’s rights were enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Women’s rights, ensuring equality before and under the law, were enshrined in the new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
1983: Jeanne Sauvé, first woman to serve as Governor General of Canada
Jeanne Sauvé was appointed Governor General of Canada, the first woman to hold this post.
1987: Combat roles in the Royal Canadian Air Force are opened to women
Combat roles in the Royal Canadian Air Force, such as flying fighter aircraft, were opened to women for the first time.
1992: Dr. Roberta Bondar, first Canadian woman astronaut sent into space
Dr. Roberta Bondar became the first neurologist in space and Canada’s first woman in space.
1993: Jean Augustine, first Black Canadian woman elected to the House of Commons
Jean Augustine became the first Black Canadian woman elected to the House of Commons.
1993: Kim Campbell, first woman Prime Minister of Canada
Kim Campbell became the first woman Prime Minister of Canada.
1995: Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action was adopted
Canada adopted the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action where we committed to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women and girls.
Visit our Gender Equality Week 2020 webpage on Beijing +25 for more details.
1996: Sexual orientation was added to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
The Canadian Human Rights Act was amended to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
2001: Canadian Human Rights Commission recommends a pay equity system
The Canadian Human Rights Commission recommends to Parliament that a proactive pay equity system be established so that employees proactively get equal pay, without needing to file a complaint to receive it.
2001: A task force to address pay equity was appointed
The Government of Canada appointed the Bilson Task Force to improve the federal pay equity approach. In total, 113 recommendations were made for a new proactive pay equity system.
Visit our Gender Equality Week 2020 webpage about milestones on women’s economic participation and prosperity for more details.
2004: The Standing Committee on the Status of Women was established
The Standing Committee on the Status of Women was established in the House of Commons for keeping Parliament informed on issues pertaining to women's participation in society and promoting government action on equality for women.
2005: Same-sex marriage became legal nationwide
Same-sex marriage was legalized across Canada.
Visit our Gender Equality Week 2020 webpage on LGBTQ2 rights for more details.
2009: Josée Kurtz, first woman to command a major Canadian warship
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.
2012: Canada leads a successful international campaign at the United Nations to establish the International Day of the Girl
The United Nations formally adopted a resolution designating the International Day of the Girl under Canada’s leadership.
2015: First gender-balanced Cabinet in Canadian history was announced
The Prime Minister of Canada announced the first gender-balanced Cabinet in history.
2015: National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was launched
The Government of Canada launched the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
2017: Gender expression and gender identity were added to the Canadian Human Rights Act
The Canadian Human Rights Act was amended to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender identity or expression
2017: Canada took action against gender-based violence
Itʼs Time: Canadaʼs Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence (GBV), the first ever federal strategy on GBV, was launched.
2019: Karen Jensen, first-ever Canada’s Pay Equity Commissioner
Karen Jensen was appointed as Canada’s first Pay Equity Commissioner.
2019: Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released
Reclaiming Power and Place, the two-volume Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, was released on June 3, 2019. It called for transformative legal and social changes to resolve the crisis that has devastated Indigenous communities across the country.
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