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.
Julie Payette, CC, CMM, COM, CQ, CD, 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 became Governor General on 2 October 2017.
The Honourable Pauline Vanier, PC, CC (born 28 March 1898 in Montreal, Quebec; died 23 March 1991 in l’Arche, France), vice regal consort of Canada from 1959 to 1967 and chancellor of the University of Ottawa from 1966 to 1973. Vanier was the first woman outside party politics to be appointed to the Queen’s Privy Council. She cofounded the Vanier Institute of the Family in 1965 with her husband, Georges Vanier, and became one of the first companions of the Order of Canada in 1967 for her humanitarian work.
Hilda Ramacière (née Hildegard Weiland), community worker and volunteer (born 7 November 1927 in Zizenhausen, Germany; died 6 January 2010 in Montreal, Quebec). Mrs. Ramacière left her mark through her social commitment in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood. A strong-minded and determined woman, she exemplified the pride of Montreal's immigrant community.
Beverly Sainte-Marie, OC, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, educator, social activist, philanthropist, visual artist (born 20 February 1941 on Piapot Reserve, SK). A pioneering and influential singer-songwriter, Buffy Sainte-Marie specializes in love songs and music with a political and social-activist focus. She was an important figure in the Greenwich Village and Toronto folk music revivals in the 1960s, and is perhaps best known for her 1964 anti-war anthem “Universal Soldier,” which was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. She won a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and an Academy Award for co-writing the hit song “Up Where We Belong.” An Officer of the Order of Canada, she has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame and Canada’s Walk of Fame. She has received the Polaris Music Prize and the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, as well as multiple Juno Awards, Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, lifetime achievement awards and honorary degrees.
Denise Anne Donlon, CM, music company executive, broadcast program director, producer, host, (born 22 February 1956 in Toronto, ON). Denise Donlon is one of Canada’s most innovative broadcasters and respected corporate leaders. She is renowned for incorporating music, journalism, social issues, and human rights advocacy in her work. Named Broadcast Executive of the Year three times at the Canadian Music Week Industry Awards, Donlon was inducted into the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame and received the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award at the 2018 Juno Awards in recognition of her contributions to the Canadian music industry. She is a Fellow of both the Royal Conservatory of Music and the Canadian Geographical Society, and a Member of the Order of Canada.
Sara Riel, (also known as Sister Marguerite Marie), sister of Louis Riel, Métis Grey Nun and missionary, cultural liaison, teacher, founder of female Catholic lay organization (born 11 October 1848 in St. Boniface, Red River Colony [now Manitoba]; died 27 December 1883 in Île-à-la-Crosse, SK). Sara Riel strove to empower Métis people and women through English-language and Catholic studies. Her education and multilingual abilities made her a valuable mediator between conflicting cultures in the early Red River Colony. Today, a charitable organization established by the Grey Nuns of Manitoba bears her name.
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.
Emily Pauline Johnson (also known as Tekahionwake, “double wampum”), poet, writer, artist and performer (born 10 March 1861 on the Six Nations Reserve, Canada West; died 7 March 1913 in Vancouver, BC) was one of North America’s most notable entertainers of the late 19th century.
Mary Sandra Lovelace Nicholas, CM, Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet), Tobique Nation, Liberal Senator for New Brunswick, Indigenous rights advocate (born 15 April 1948 on Tobique reserve near Perth-Andover, NB). Sandra Lovelace Nicholas is the first woman of Indigenous background appointed to the Senate from Atlantic Canada. She championed changes to the Indian Act that seek to restore the legal rights of many Status Indian women and children.
Founded in 1974, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) is an organization that supports the socio-economic, political and cultural well-being of Indigenous women in Canada. Dedicated to the principles of humanitarianism, NWAC challenges the inequalities and discrimination that Indigenous women face by remaining politically engaged in causes such as education, housing, child welfare and more.
Katherena Vermette, Métis poet, short-story writer, novelist, filmmaker, teacher (born 29 January 1977 in Winnipeg, MB). Métis writer Katherena Vermette is a rising star of Canadian literature. In her poetry, prose and film, she explores some of the most vital issues facing Canada today: the search for identity and the ongoing effects of historical and institutional prejudice. She won the Governor General’s Award in 2013 for her first collection of poems, North End Love Songs, and is the author of the acclaimed 2016 novel The Break.
Thanadelthur (Chipewyan for “marten shake”), peace negotiator, guide, teacher, interpreter (born c. 1697 likely in present-day northern MB; died 5 February 1717 at York Factory, MB). Known as the Ambassadress of Peace, Thanadelthur negotiated peace between the Chipewyan (Denesuline) and Cree peoples during the early fur trade. She was also instrumental in creating ties between the Chipewyan people and the Hudson’s Bay Company, as well as expanding the fur trade in today’s Churchill, Manitoba region.
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 2018.1
Marie-Joseph Angélique (born circa 1705 in Madeira, Portugal; died 21 June 1734 in Montréal, QC). Angélique was an enslaved Black woman owned by Thérèse de Couagne de Francheville in Montréal. In 1734, she was charged with arson after a fire leveled Montréal’s merchants' quarter. It was alleged that Angélique committed the act while attempting to flee her bondage. She was convicted, tortured and hanged. While it remains unknown whether or not she set the fire, Angélique’s story has come to symbolize Black resistance and freedom.
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.
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.
Agnes Campbell Macphail, politician, reformer (born 24 March 1890 in Proton Township, Grey County, ON; died 13 February 1954 in Toronto, ON). Agnes Macphail was the first woman elected to the House of Commons (1921–40) and was one of the first two women elected to the Ontario legislature (1943–45, 1948–51).
Lucy Maud Montgomery, OBE, writer (born 30 November 1874 in Clifton (now New London), PEI; died 24 April 1942 in Toronto, ON). Lucy Maud Montgomery is arguably Canada’s most widely read author. Her first novel, Anne of Green Gables (1908), became an instant bestseller and has remained in print for more than a century, making the character of Anne Shirley a mythic icon of Canadian culture. Montgomery’s body of work — more than 500 short stories, 20 novels, two poetry collections and numerous journal and essay anthologies — has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide. Anne of Green Gables alone has been translated into at least 36 languages as well as braille, and been adapted dozens of times in various mediums. Montgomery was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and the Literary and Artistic Institute of France, and declared a Person of National Historic Significance in Canada.
Françoise David, CQ, community organizer, politician and feminist activist (born 13 January 1948 in Montréal, Québec). Chair of the Fédération des femmes du Québec from 1994 to 2001, David has been a member of the National Assembly of Québec since 2012 and is a spokesperson for Québec solidaire.