Women and the vote in Canada

“Our worthy opponents will emphasize the fact that women are the weaker vessel. Well I should think that a woman who cooks for men, washes and bakes and scrubs and sews for her family could stand the extra strain of marking a ballot every four years.”
-Nellie McClung

Although property owners prior to Confederation had the right to vote, after 1867 women were denied the right to vote. It would take three-quarters of a century before women in every province would be granted the right to vote – and in some cases the battle would be marred by dirty politics. At other times it would be waged with creativity and humour.

Incredibly enough, even after women were granted the right to vote in Federal elections they were not defined as “persons” under the law. It would take much more work, lead by the “Famous Five” to ensure that Senate appointments would be available to women.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, here is a timeline of the suffragette movement in Canada.

1849 – All Canadian women, regardless of race, religion or property rights, are banned from voting in all elections.

1876 – A British commn law ruling states that “women are persons in matters of pains and penalties, but are not persons in matters of rights and privileges.”

1885 – Unmarried women property owners are granted the right to vote and hold office in school matters in Alberta.

1914 – In Manitoba, after an unsuccessful protest by men and women demanding the vote for women, members of the Political Equality League stage a satirical play (A Women’s Parliament) at Winnipeg’s Walker Theatre. Playing to a sold-out audience, the drama reverses the roles of men and women.

1916 – Manitoba becomes the first province to give women the right to vote and hold provincial office.

1916 – Women achieve the right to vote and run for office in Saskatchewan provincial elections.

1916 – The Alberta Equal Suffrage Act gives women ‘absolute equality’ with men in provincial, municipal, and school affairs. Women are then able to vote and run for office in all Alberta elections.

1917 – Women receive the right to vote and run for office in provincial elections in British Columbia.

1917 – Women gain the right to vote and run for office in Ontario provincial elections.

1917 – Louise McKinney and Roberta MacAdams become the first women elected to a provincial legislature, in Alberta.

1917 – The “Bluebirds” – women in the armed forces or with military relatives – are given the right to vote in Federal elections under the Wartime Elections Act. Unfortunately this act also bars many other people from voting, including conscientious objectors, perhaps in a bid for the government to maintain power while passing a conscription bill.

1918 – Women gain the right to vote and run for office in Nova Scotia provincial elections.

1918 – The Canada Elections Act gives all women over 21 the federal vote.

1919 – Women gain the right to vote and run for office in New Brunswick provincial elections.

1921 – Agnes McPhail of Ontario becomes the first woman elected to the House of Commons.

1925 – Women achieve the right to vote and run for office in Newfoundland elections.

1927 – The “Famous Five” – Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby and Nellie McClung meet at Emily Murphy’s and create a petition to allow women to be appointed to the Senate.

1928 – The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously decides that women are not persons and therefore cannot hold office as Senators in Canada.

1929 – The British Privy Council reverses the Supreme Court’s ‘Persons’ Case decision.

1940 – Women gain the right to vote and run for office in Quebec provincial elections.

1982 – The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is adopted, including Section15, the Equality Clause.

1989 – Audrey McLaughlin, Member of Parliament from the Yukon, is elected as the leader of the federal New Democratic Party, making her the first woman ever to lead a national political party in Canada.

1991 – Rita Johnston of British Columbia becomes Canada’s first female premier, although not elected.

1993 – Catherine Callbeck becomes the first woman elected Premier of Prince Edward Island.

1993 – Kim Campbell becomes the first female Canadian Prime Minister through a leadership campaign.