The game is six degrees of Canadian history. Take two seemingly unrelated pieces of Canadian culture and connect the dots through various people, places and events to discover how they’re distantly — or maybe not-so-distantly — related. Along the way, we visit the quizzical and curious, the tragic and comic, and everything in between.
Women’s suffrage (or franchise) is the right of women to vote in political elections; campaigns for this right generally included demand for the right to run for public office. The women’s suffrage movement was a decades-long struggle intended to address fundamental issues of equity and justice and to improve the lives of Canadians.
Kaetlyn Osmond, figure skater (born 5 December 1995 in Marystown, NL). Figure skater Kaetlyn Osmond has been Canadian champion (2013, 2014, 2017), an Olympic silver medallist in the team event (2014) and a silver medallist at the World Figure Skating Championships (2017). She has won gold medals at five other international events since 2012.
Catharine Sutton (née Sonego or Sunegoo) (sometimes spelled Catherine, also known as Nahnee, Nahneebahwequa and Upright Woman), Anishinaabe (Mississauga) writer, Methodist missionary and political advocate (born 1824 in the Credit River flats, Upper Canada; died 26 September 1865 in Sarawak Township, Grey County, Canada West). Catharine Sutton was as an advocate for her people during a time when the cultural, political and economic rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada were formally eroded by assimilationist policies.
Cypra Cecilia Krieger, mathematician, professor (born 9 April 1894 in Jasło, Galicia [Poland]; died 17 August 1974 in Toronto, ON). Krieger was the first woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics from a Canadian university (the University of Toronto) and only the third person to be awarded a mathematics doctorate in Canada. She taught mathematics and physics at the University of Toronto for over 30 years. Krieger is best known for her English translation of noted mathematical texts Introduction to General Typology and General Typology.
Veena Rawat, OC, electrical engineer, civil servant, telecommunications pioneer (born in 1945 in India). Veena Rawat spent nearly 40 years in public service, serving in leadership positions in management and policy development with Industry Canada. A trailblazer in the telecommunications sector, Rawat was the first female to complete a doctorate in electrical engineering at Queen’s University and was the first female president of Industry Canada’s Communication Research Centre. Rawat has been a leading voice in the creation of global regulatory structures for radio spectrum management, championing efforts to make broadband service affordable to all and bring it to remote and rural regions. She is an advocate for gender equality in STEM sectors and increasing women’s presence in engineering fields.
Madeleine Meilleur, politician (born 22 November 1948 in Kiamika, Québec). Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) in Ontario from 2003 to 2016, she was Minister of Culture, Minister of Community and Social Services, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Attorney General of Ontario, and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs. On 9 June 2016, after 25 years in politics, Meilleur announced that she was resigning as MPP, Attorney General and minister.
Women’s movements (or, feminist movements) during the period 1985–present — sometimes referred to as third- or fourth-wave feminism — engaged in multiple campaigns, from employment equity and daycare, to anti-racism and ending poverty and violence against women.
Clara Cynthia Benson, professor of chemistry (born in 1875 in Port Hope, ON; died 24 March 1964 in Port Hope). In 1899, Benson became the first woman to graduate in chemistry from the University of Toronto. In 1903, she became one of the first two women awarded a PhD at U of T. After graduating with her doctorate, she worked at U of T’s Lillian Massey School of Domestic Science, becoming one of the university’s first female professors in 1920. A capable teacher who stimulated research and was a friend to her students, Benson taught at the school until her retirement in 1945. The Benson Building at U of T was named in recognition of her efforts to obtain better athletic facilities for women students.
Viola Irene Desmond (née Davis), businesswoman, civil libertarian (born 6 July 1914 in Halifax, NS; died 7 February 1965 in New York, NY). Viola Desmond built a career and business as a beautician and was a mentor to young Black women in Nova Scotia through her Desmond School of Beauty Culture. It is, however, the story of her courageous refusal to accept an act of racial discrimination that provided inspiration to a later generation of Black persons in Nova Scotia and in the rest of Canada. In December 2016, it was announced that Desmond would be the first Canadian woman depicted on the face of a Canadian banknote — the $10 note in a series of bills released in 2018.
Martha Eva Salcudean (née Abel), OC, OBC, professor of mechanical engineering (born 26 February 1934 in Cluj-Napoca, Romania). Salcudean is an internationally recognized authority on computational fluid dynamics and heat transfer. In 1985, she became the first female head of a Canadian university’s engineering department when she was named chair of the department of mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia. Salcudean has dedicated much of her academic career to forging research and development partnerships between universities, government agencies and industrial associates in sectors such as mining, forestry and aeronautics.
Norma Ford Walker (née Ford), human geneticist (born 3 September 1893 in St. Thomas, ON; died 9 August 1968 in Toronto, ON). Ford Walker completed a PhD in zoology in 1923 at the University of Toronto, and as a faculty member became interested in human genetics. She established her reputation as an authority on multiple births with her research on the Dionne quintuplets. Her publications in genetics contributed to knowledge of a number of childhood genetic conditions and to the application of dermatoglyphics to clinical diagnosis. Through her work and that of her graduate students, who included the first appointees in human genetics at several Canadian universities, Ford Walker had a lasting influence on the national development of human genetics in medicine and as an academic discipline.
Beatrice Helen Worsley, computer scientist, professor (born 18 October 1921 in Queretaro, Mexico; died 8 May 1972 in Waterloo, Ontario). Worsley was a pioneering researcher in the emerging field of computer science. She conducted research and taught at the University of Toronto and Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Worsley is considered to be the first female computer scientist in Canada and was honoured with a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Association of Computer Science in 2014.
The Canadian Women's Press Club (CWPC) was founded in June 1904 in a Canadian Pacific Railway Pullman car, aboard which 16 women (half anglophone, half francophone) travelled to the St. Louis World's Fair. All but one were working journalists who covered the event. The CWPC offered female journalists professional support and development in its mission to “maintain and improve the status of journalism as a profession for women.”
Canada has been involved in various wars from the beginning of its colonial history. Just as the nature of these wars has changed over time, so too has their effect on Canadian women. Women have actively participated in war, from nursing and munitions manufacturing during the First and Second World Wars to the increasing involvement of Canadian women in the military.
Mary Two-Axe Earley, Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) elder, advocate for women and children, human rights activist (born 4 October 1911 on the Kahnawà:ke reserve, QC; died 21 August 1996 in the same place). Mary Two-Axe Earley was a pioneer and architect of the Canadian women’s movement. Her political activism helped to forge a coalition of allies to challenge Canadian laws that discriminated against Indigenous women. The great bulk of her political advocacy spanned the last three decades of her life, and she was particularly active in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Evelyn Merle Roden Nelson, mathematician, professor (born 25 November 1943 in Hamilton, ON; died 1 August 1987 in Hamilton, ON). A brilliant mathematical mind, Evelyn Nelson fought gender barriers in a discipline long dominated by men to become a rising star in the field both in Canada and abroad. She contributed to the fields of universal algebra, equational compactness and formal language theory. Nelson was particularly interested in applying universal algebra to the then-burgeoning field of computer science. She was a devoted teacher, sought-after research partner and the author of over 40 publications during what was a tragically short career.
Julie Payette, OC, CQ, astronaut, engineer, jet pilot, musician (born 20 October 1963 in Montréal, QC). Payette participated in two space flights to the International Space Station, STS-96 (1999) and STS-127 (2009), and served as the chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency from 2000 to 2007. In 1999, she became the first Canadian to board the International Space Station. An accomplished scientific authority, musician and athlete, Payette is a board member of Own the Podium and a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s board of directors. In July 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Payette will become Canada’s 29th governor general, succeeding David Johnston. Payette will officially become Governor General on 2 October 2017.
Gertrude “Gertie” Guerin (née Ettershank, also known as “Old War Horse”), chief, politician, community advocate, elder (born 1917 in Mission, BC; died 1998). Guerin was a fierce protector of First Nations people and culture. She represented the Musqueam nation locally as an elected chief, and on the national stage in challenges to Canadian jurisdiction over traditional Musqueam territory.