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.
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.
Penelope (Penny) Oleksiak, swimmer (born 13 June 2000 in Scarborough, Ontario). At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Oleksiak won four medals, setting the Canadian record for most medals won at a single Olympic Summer Games. Her four swimming medals came in the women’s 100 m freestyle (gold), women’s 100 m butterfly (silver), women’s 4 x 100 m freestyle relay (bronze) and women’s 4 x 200 m freestyle relay (bronze). In the 100 m freestyle, Oleksiak tied for gold with American Simone Manuel, with both swimmers setting an Olympic record of 52.70 seconds in the final. Oleksiak is tied with the late Victor Davis for the most Olympic career medals won by a Canadian swimmer (four) and holds the record as the youngest Canadian ever to win an Olympic gold medal (16 years and 59 days). In 2016, Oleksiak received the Lou Marsh Trophy (Canada’s athlete of the year) and the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award (Canadian Press female athlete of the year).
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.
Lynda Lemay, singer-songwriter (born 25 July 1966 in Portneuf-Station, Québec). A Knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the recipient of numerous Félix Awards as well as one Victoire de la musique award, Québec artist Lynda Lemay showcases French-language music across the French-speaking world.
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.
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.
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, 21 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.
Annette, Emilie, Yvonne, Cecile and Marie aroused worldwide attention after their birth at Corbeil, Ontario, to Oliva and Elzire Dionne on 28 May 1934. With only two previous cases on record, they were the only quintuplets to survive for more than a few days. This miracle, plus their baby cuteness, the poverty of their French Canadian parents, and the controversy over their guardianship, made them the sensation of the 1930s.
Although little is known about Chloe Cooley, an enslaved woman in Upper Canada, her struggles against her “owner,” Sergeant Adam Vrooman, precipitated the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada, 1793 — the first legislation in the British colonies to restrict the slave trade.
Marion Alice Orr (née Powell). Pioneer pilot. (b. Jun 25, 1916 [?], Toronto, ON; d. April 4, 1995, Peterborough, ON). Marion Orr's birth date has been given variously as 1916, 1918 and 1920. She obfuscated sometimes on documents related to flying for fear that she would be grounded by her age.
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).