Ten Canadian Heroines You May Not Know About

In celebration of Canada Day we are highlighting some awesome Canadian heroines – women you may not have heard of but should get to know. This list was pulled from heroines.ca, Canadian author Merna Forster’s online guide to women in Canadian history.
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100 Canadian Heroines. By Merna Forster

100 Canadian Heroines. By Merna Forster


  1. Elsie MacGill became the first woman in the world to design an airplane and supervised production of the Hawker Hurricane fighter plane – but was never able to fly herself because she’d been crippled by polio.
  2. Dr. Leonora Howard King started working as a doctor in Imperial China more than 60 years before the famous Dr. Norman Bethune. She served 47 years and was made an honourary Mandarin.
  3. Annie Gale was a gutsy lady who became the first alderman in the British Empire when she won a seat in the 1917 Calgary civic election. The following year she was elected Acting Mayor by her fellow members on the city council, and for the first time in the British Empire a woman performed the duties of a mayor.
  4. In 1993, Canadian politician Jean Augustine became the first black woman elected to the Canadian Parliament. An energetic advocate of social justice, she worked as the principal of an elementary school before entering federal politics. Among her accomplishments as an MP was the introduction of a motion, passed unanimously, to have February proclaimed as Black History Month in Canada.
  5. Major (retired) Deanna Brasseur holds the distinction of being one of the first two female CF-18 fighter pilots in the world, along with Jane Foster. She flew these planes, the most powerful in the Canadian Air Force, in both Canada and Europe and later became Canada’s first female Aircraft Accident Investigator.
  6. Shushma Datt is a pioneer in the broadcasting industry in Canada, credited with being the first Indo-Canadian broadcaster in the country. At a time when ethnic programming was minimal in the 1970s, she became a radio and television host and producer in Vancouver.  She is also believed to be the first Canadian women to be granted a radio license from the CRTC.
  7. Artist Barbara Paterson is the first woman to have her sculptures on parliament Hill. She created the first permanent monument to commemorate Canadian women, the bronze statues known as the Woman are Persons! Monument (Famous 5 Monument). The memorial was commissioned to honour the Persons Case and the Alberta women who launched the legal challenge to gain recognition of Canadian women as “persons” eligible to sit in the Senate.
  8. Canadian athlete Chantal Petitclerc is a seasoned competitor in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Commonwealth Games, the World Championships and many major marathons, setting numerous records. At the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Greece, Chantal earned five gold medals and broke three world records. In 2005, Chantal was selected as Canadian Female Athlete of the Year for the Canadian Sports Awards.
  9. Cairine Reay Mackay Wilson had the honour of being appointed Canada’s first woman Senator. She was named to the position by her friend Prime Minister Mackenzie King four months after a ruling in the Person’s Case determined that Canadian women were persons and therefore eligible to sit in the Senate. None of the Famous Five women who initiated the case were appointed to the Senate.
  10. Sharon Wood holds the distinction of being the first North American woman to conquer Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Born in Halifax, Sharon grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia and moved to the Canadian Rockies at seventeen. In 1977 she climbed Canada’s highest mountain, the Yukon’s Mount Logan.

 Merna Forster is an author, historian, naturalist and photographer with a particular interest in women’s history, natural and cultural heritage, travel and the outdoors.  Her bestselling books  100 Canadian Heroines and 100 More Canadian Heroines will be part of GGC’s 2012/2013 Book Club selections.

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3 Responses to Ten Canadian Heroines You May Not Know About

  1. 9. I felt very blessed, as my husband took me to Ottawa for the Canada Day festivities. So, I actually go to see the statue that was dedicated to the “Person’s Case”, featuring the Famous Five. I even sat on the chair. It made me so thankful for all of their hard work. Not to mention, I was in the middle of reading The Help, so I was feeling especially thankful!

  2. Kate Mahoney says:

    Hi, regarding item 7, your information is slightly incorrect. Barbara Patterson’s wonderful and evocative monument is the first one specifically located on Parliament Hill to commemorate the acts of a group of women in Canada. The first monument erected in honour of a female in all of Canada is believed to be that erected by the Nova Scotia government in 1870 in memory of Mary Elizabeth Crowley. She died at the age of 12 in 1869, rescuing two of her siblings from a house fire (unfortunately, I believe they also died). Her monument can been seen in Pugwash, Nova Scotia–it’s even viewable on Google’s street view. You can also read a brief description on the monument on page 65 of the book “Types of Canadian women and of women who are or have been connected with Canada (1903)”, viewable online at http://archive.org/details/typesofcanadianw01morguoft.

    Sincerely,

    Kate Mahoney
    Great-grand-niece of Mary Elizabeth

  3. Thank you Kate for the correction! It’s definitely important for us to recognize the first monument erected in honour of a female in all of Canada: Mary Elizabeth Crowley.

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