TORONTO – Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz will announce Thursday which Canadian woman will be the first to grace the front of a banknote. Here’s a look at the five women in contention:
Viola Desmond, 1914-1965:
Nine years before Rosa Parks refused to give her bus seat to a white passenger in Alabama, Viola Desmond exhibited a similar act of defiance for the sake of human rights.
On Nov. 8, 1946, Desmond sat in a downstairs white-only section of a Nova Scotia movie theatre, rather than the designated area for blacks upstairs. A police officer forcibly removed her, she spent the night in jail and faced a criminal charge for not paying a tax of three cents for a downstairs ticket — one penny more than she had paid for her upstairs ticket.
Desmond was convicted, paid a $20 fine and $6 in other costs.
On April 15, 2010, the Nova Scotia lieutenant-governor granted her a posthumous pardon.
Emily Pauline Johnson/Tekahionwake, 1861-1913:
Born on the Six Nations Reserve in southern Ontario to a Mohawk chief and an Englishwoman, Emily Pauline Johnson/Tekahionwake was an aboriginal poet whose work was influenced by her indigenous upbringing.
She adopted her great-grandfather’s name Tekahionwake as she started to publish her writing and perform her works as a way to underscore her Mohawk roots.
For more than a decade, she travelled around Canada, the U.S. and England to perform her poetry. During an age of institutional racism and sexism, her work and life helped fight prevalent stereotypes of race and gender. She is considered one of the most distinguished entertainers of the late 19th century.
Elizabeth (Elsie) MacGill, 1905-1980:
Elizabeth MacGill claimed a number of firsts. In 1927, she became the first woman in Canada to earn an electrical engineering bachelor’s degree, and two years later was the first woman to graduate with an aeronautical engineering master’s degree. That education led her to become the first working female engineer in the country.
During her career, MacGill was in charge of producing Hawker Hurricane fighter planes for use in the Second World War while working at Canadian Car & Foundry in what is now Thunder Bay, Ont. She earned the nickname “Queen of the Hurricanes.”
MacGill was also a staunch feminist, becoming a commissioner on the 1967-1970 Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada.
Fanny (Bobbie)Rosenfeld, 1904-1969:
Fanny Rosenfeld was an athlete, best known for her achievements in track and field, and a sports writer.
Rosenfeld started her running career while living in Toronto after beating Canada’s top sprinter at the time, Rosa Grosse, in a 100-yard race. She entered it on a whim at a sporting carnival where her softball team was playing an exhibition game.
At the 1928 Summer Olympics — the first where track and field events were open to women and the first that Canada sent a women’s team to participate in the Games — she won a gold and a silver medal.
Arthritis later sidelined Rosenfeld. She resurrected a career in softball and hockey but eventually shifted gears to work as a sports journalist, where she defended women’s participation in sports.
Idola Saint-Jean, 1880-1945:
Idola Saint-Jean was a key figure in the fight for women’s right to vote in Quebec.
Saint-Jean founded the Canadian Alliance for the Women’s Vote in Quebec in 1927 and travelled to the provincial capital annually to bring women’s suffrage bills before government.
Three years later, she became the first woman in the province to run for MP. She focused her campaign on creating awareness around the women’s suffrage movement. She lost.
About five years before she died, Quebec women were given the right to vote in provincial elections, which Saint-Jean did for the first time in 1944.