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.
Bonnie Brooks, CM, retailer, department store executive (born 19 May 1953 in Windsor, ON). Brooks earned her MBA from the Ivey Business School at Western University and also holds two honorary doctoral degrees. She is best known for her work modernizing retail department stores, including Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford, Canada’s Holt Renfrew and Hudson’s Bay, where she was the first woman to be appointed president and CEO. Brooks was later appointed as the first woman vice-chairman of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier (née Watt), OC, human rights and Indigenous rights activist, cultural preservation advocate, politician, writer and educator (born 2 December 1953 in Old Fort Chimo, QC). Watt-Cloutier is a respected Inuit leader who has received international recognition and acclaim in the areas of rights activism, environmental and climate change awareness and social justice.
Domestic work refers to all tasks performed within a household, specifically those related to housekeeping, child care and personal services for adults. This traditionally unpaid work may be assigned to a paid housekeeper (the term caregiver is preferred today). From the early days of New France, domestic work was also considered as a means for men and women to immigrate to the colony. In the 19th century, however, domestic service became a distinctly female occupation. From the second half of that century until the Second World War, in response to the growing need for labour in Canadian households, British emigration societies helped thousands of girls and women immigrate to Canada. In 1955, the Canadian government launched a domestic-worker recruitment program aimed at West Indian women. It wasn’t until recently, in 2014, that the government lifted the requirement that immigrant caregivers live with their employer in order to qualify for permanent residence — a requirement that put domestic workers in a vulnerable position.
Marie Arzélie Éva Circé-Côté, journalist, writer and librarian (born 31 January 1871 in Montréal, QC; died 4 May 1949 in Montréal, QC). A poet and playwright, Éva Circé-Côté was the city of Montréal’s first librarian as well as the curator of the prestigious Philéas Gagnon collection. Throughout her career as a journalist, she wrote over 1,800 pieces for about a dozen newspapers under several pseudonyms. A progressive, secular free thinker, she fought for compulsory education and the status of women.
Justine Lacoste-Beaubien, C.B.E., founder and administrator of the Hôpital Sainte-Justine (born 1 October 1877 in Montréal, Québec; died 17 January 1967 in Montréal). A seasoned businesswoman, she chaired the board of directors of the Hôpital Sainte-Justine from 1907 to 1966 and made her dream come true by making the hospital a university research and study centre affiliated with the Université Laval in Montréal (now the Université de Montréal). From 1950 to 1957, she had a state-of-the-art hospital built for sick children on chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine. More than 100 years after it was established, the Centre hospitalier universitaire (university-affiliated hospital) (CHU) Sainte-Justine is the largest mother-child centre in the country and the only institution in Québec dedicated exclusively to pediatrics and obstetrics.
Uuliniq Susan Aglukark, OC, singer, songwriter (born 27 January 1967 in Churchill, MB). Susan Aglukark is a Juno Award-winning Inuk singer and songwriter. Her blend of country, world music and easy-listening pop is distinguished by her gentle voice, upbeat melodies and inspirational lyrics sung in English and Inuktitut. Her album This Child (1995) sold more than 300,000 copies in Canada and the lead single, “O Siem,” became the first Top 10 hit by an Inuk performer. She was made an Officer of the Order of Canada for her “powerful songs that relate the stories of Canada’s Inuit” and for her advocacy for the people and communities of Canada’s North. She has also mentored Indigenous artists and students, and received a Governor General’s Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2016.
Ann Meekitjuk Hanson, CM, journalist, broadcaster, philanthropist, commissioner of Nunavut (born 22 May 1946 in Qakutut, Northwest Territories). Hanson has spent much of her professional life in the public sector service, furthering the development of Nunavut and its people through her media and philanthropic work.
The National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) is a feminist, activist organization that was founded in 1971 to pressure the Canadian government to implement the recommendations of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada. The NAC ceased active operations in the late 2000s.
Florence Bayard Bird (née Rhein, pseudonym Anne Francis), CC, senator, journalist, broadcaster and author (born 15 January 1908 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; died 18 July 1998 in Ottawa, Ontario). Chair of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada from 1967 to 1970, Florence Bird made her name as a broadcast journalist for CBC/Radio-Canada, reporting news and producing documentaries on women’s working conditions and on conditions for women in Canada’s prisons.
The Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada, also known as the Bird Commission in honour of its chair, Florence Bird, was established on 3 February 1967. More than 900 people appeared at its public hearings over a period of six months. In addition to providing an overview of the status of women, the report tabled on 7 December 1970 included 167 recommendations for reducing gender inequality across the various spheres of Canadian society.
Hayley Wickenheiser, hockey player, softball player (born 12 August 1978 in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan). A four-time Olympic gold medallist, Wickenheiser is the all-time leader in goals (18), assists (33), and points (51) for women’s ice hockey at the Olympic Winter Games and all-time leader in assists (49) and points (86) at the Women’s World Hockey Championship. She was also the first woman to score a goal in a men’s professional league. Wickenheiser retired from competitive hockey on 13 January 2017, finishing with 379 points (168 goals and 211 assists) in 276 games with Team Canada.
Rachel Anne McAdams, actor (born 17 November 1978 in London,ON). Perhaps best known as a leading lady in such Hollywood romances as The Notebook (2004), The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009) and The Vow (2012), Rachel McAdams has developed a reputation for what the New York Times calls “her winsome manner, her serious acting chops and a no-diva approach to her work.” After graduating with a BFA from York University in 2001, McAdams made a meteoric rise to stardom, going from a Gemini Award-winning role in the Canadian TV series Slings & Arrows (2003) to her breakthrough Hollywood performance in the hit high school comedy Mean Girls (2004). She was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2014, and received Screen Actors Guild and Oscar nominations for her supporting performance in the Oscar-winning Spotlight (2015).