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.
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.
Katherena Vermette, Métis poet, short-story writer, novelist, filmmaker, teacher, activist (born 29 January 1977 in Winnipeg, MB). 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Founded in 1974, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWCA) is an organization that supports the socio-economic, political and cultural well-being of Indigenous women in Canada. Dedicated to the principles of humanitarianism, NWCA challenges the inequalities and discrimination that Indigenous women face by remaining politically engaged in causes such as education, housing, child welfare and more.
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.
Jeannette Vivian Corbiere Lavell (called Keewednanung, “North Star” in the Anishinaabe language), activist, educator and community worker (born 21 June 1942 in Wikwemikong, ON). Corbiere Lavell, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) woman, was one of several Indigenous women who brought increased public awareness to the gendered discrimination that First Nations women faced because of status law, namely section 12(1)(b) of the Indian Act. Her efforts were central to revising patriarchal (male-dominated) aspects of Canadian legal code.
Gloria Mary Maureen George, Indigenous politician, activist and public servant (born 24 July 1942 in Hubert, BC). A tireless advocate for non-status Indians, George was elected president of the Native Council of Canada in 1975, becoming the first and only woman to lead a major Indigenous political organization.
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.
Up until the second half of the 19th century, most rural teachers in Canada were young, female, poorly paid, and held the most limited professional qualifications. These teachers delivered a rudimentary education to thousands of Canada’s rural children, often amidst difficult conditions. Indeed, until the 1960s, rural teachers frequently taught students of various ages and wide-ranging academic abilities together in one-room schoolhouses while also shouldering the burden of maintaining the schools themselves.
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.
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.