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history you can touch July 1 vacationing with Canada’s history

by Beth Atcheson | June 23, 2003


  • Emily Carr and Helen Gregory MacGill | British Columbia
  • Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby | Alberta
  • Violet Clara McNaughton, Mademoiselle Onesime Dorval | Saskatchewan
  • E. Cora Hind, Margaret Newton, Thanadelthur | Manitoba
  • Molly Brant, Dr. Helen MacMurchy, Nellie Mooney McClung, Mary Ann Shadd, Dr. Emily Stowe, Dr. Jenny Trout | Ontario
  • Maude E. Abbott, Marie Lacoste Gerin-Lajoie, Idola Saint-Jean, Jeanne Mance, Saint-Marie-Marguerite d’Youville | Quebec
  • Julia Catherine Beckwith Hart,Grace Annie Lockhart | New Brunswick
  • Edith Jessie Archibald, Major Margaret C. Macdonald, Margaret Marshall Saunders, Portia White | Nova Scotia
  • Lucy Maude Montgomery, Georgina Fane Pope | Prince Edward Island
  • Margaret Iris Duley, Mary Meager Southcott | Newfoundland
  • Martha Louise Black | Yukon Territory
  • Iprivik and Taqulittuq | Nunavut

You might have noted that they are all women. (Close – one of them is a man).

You might have said that they are all dead. (Unfortunately you would be right.)

Check off the ones that you have heard of before, the ones you know something about – how many are left?

Did anyone say that each one of these people has been designated as a National Historic Person of Canada?

These designations are done by the Minister of Canadian Heritage, on the recommendation of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. The system is administered by Parks Canada. Over 850 sites, 550 people and 320 events of national significance are designated. The process is ongoing.

Most of them are marked by plaques or other means from coast to coast to coast, which you can visit.

The name of our country, Canada, is derived from a Huron-Iroquois word – kanata – meaning a village, a settlement. Explorers and colonizers adapted this name. Each of us knows some of the history of our huge country. Often, we know the history of our family in this country. Or we know something relating to where we live. One easy way to expand our knowledge is to connect with Canada’s national historic sites, people and events. Travel and have a look!

National historic sites relating to women’s history in Canada are slowly being added.

  • There are three in Victoria, British Columbia: Begbie Hall (a nurses’ residence); Emily Carr House and St. Ann’s Academy (a 19th century private girls’ school).
  • The St. Boniface Hospital Nurses’ Residence in Winnipeg, Manitoba is included, as well as the Walker Theatre where key suffrage events were held.
  • In Ontario there are several: the Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead in St. George (an advocate for domestic science in schools); the Leaksdale Manse where Lucy Maud Montgomery did much of her writing, the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, and the Ann Bailllie Building, another nurses’ residence in Kingston.
  • In Quebec, there are the Hersey Pavilion and the Pavillon Mailloux, both nurses’ residences, as well as the Grey Nuns Hospital which was rebuilt in 1765 by Mere d’Youville.
  • Finally there is the Ladies Seminary in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

Most of the women’s events that have been chosen commemorate the founding of the large national women’s organizations that occurred early in the 20th century. This is sometimes called the first wave of the women’s movement. These include the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the National Council of Women in Canada, the Women’s Institute, the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire and the Young Women’s Christian Association. Others relate to significant events such as the Persons Case, winning of the vote by women, entry of women into World War Two, war brides, the Victorian Order of Nurses, the Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Organization and religious orders.

Women are the focus of only about 5% of our national historic people, sites and events. This is not the only significant gap, as aboriginal peoples and ethno-cultural communities are also underrepresented.

Early in the 20th century, the system of national historic sites of Canada reflected our understanding of what “history” is: the fur trade, military history and “great men and events.” Then, by mid-century, the interests were political and economic history. At the turn of this millennium, social history has been given prominence. There are different kinds of history.

Commemorating women’s history presents some challenges.

Women’s participation has often been manifested through collective action not individual action. This has focused attention on women’s organizations, social reform, community life and the family. Often, women’s interests were integrated into other movements, communities, ethnic groups and classes where women played a key, but not always a public leading role.

— System Plan, National Historic Sites of Canada | 2000

So now is the time for women to step forward to make their nominations and to make certain that the designations happen. Think about this. Don’t use the “great men and events” approach to deciding whether a person, event or site is worthy of designation. Instead, think about what a woman or women did that has had meaning for you. Someone/thing that has had a positive effect on you and your community. Think about individual or collective actions that were intended to improve the lives of women, to sustain and advance them economically, socially, culturally, legally.

For more ideas on places to visit in Canada for women’s history, search for national historic sites, persons and events through:

  • Parks Canada Search
  • Canada’s Historic Places
  • National Historic Sites of Canada

Here’s to an historical summer! Have fun. Make herstory happen!

more to consider

Even if you don’t have an idea about who or what to nominate for women’s history, get some brochures and take them to meetings of groups you belong to and put the subject on the agenda – often the best ideas come up just brainstorming around a circle of women with different backgrounds and perspectives.


YWCAs across Canada

  • YWCAs provide clean and safe accommodation for women travelers, often with access to fitness facilities. In some cities, travelers stay in venerable buildings that speak to the achievements of the women of our cities.

Victoria, British Columbia

  • Emily Carr’s home/museum on Government Street, one of Canada’s finest pioneering woman artists/writers.

Vancouver, B.C.

  • The Women’s Monument is a monument to the women whose lives were taken in the Montreal Massacre. It is on Main Street at Terminal Street in front of the railway station.
  • There is also a small park on Alexander at Main Street in the downtown east side of Vancouver that was recently built and dedicated to an Aboriginal woman who lived and then lost her life in the neighbourhood.
  • A plaque honouring the location of the first Vancouver Women’s Building – established by a Vancouver suffragette – is located on the original site on Alberni Street.

Toronto, Ontario

  • There is a 22,000 pound rock from Rainy River at the entrance to Chorley Park (the ground of the home of past Lieutenant Governors) just west of 184 Roxborough Drive. The rock was put up by the Toronto Historical Board celebrating the solidity of women. The plaque on it celebrates the activism of women for their equality rights in the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the founding of LEAF, The Canadian Women’s Foundation, The Linden School, and Mary Eberts’ and the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s fight against the Charlottetown Accord. It also celebrates other Toronto-based activities in the 1980s and 1990s, and some leading Toronto women like Grace Hartman, Kay Macpherson, Rosalie Bertell, Beth Atcheson and many more.
  • The lawyer for the Famous 5, Newton Wesley Rowell, is buried in Toronto on the west side of Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
  • Emanuel College on the campus of the University of Toronto has a statue of The Crucified Woman by sculptor Almuth Lutkenhaus-Lackey. It sits at the back of the college (moved from the front because of protests) surrounded by a lovely grove of trees.

Ottawa, Ontario

  • Statues of The Famous Five on Parliament Hill.
  • The Women’s Monument at Minto Park is a sculpture to honour women who have been killed by men in relationship violence.
  • The House on Range Road that was the home of the judge who ruled that women were not persons.
  • Senate Chambers with the memories of the women Senators – a long list – some very illustrious.
  • The firsts in the House of Commons where women began to make their mark in elected office in all parties.
  • The home of Charlotte Whitton, one of the first women mayors in Canada.
  • City hall where Charlotte Whitton served as mayor.
  • Portraits in the Houses of Parliament of distinguished members.
  • The Supreme Court Bbuilding, with its distinguished list of women who have served as Supreme Court Justices (Mme Justice Dubé and Mme Justice Louise Arbour, for example).
  • Carol Shields lived in Ottawa.
  • Doris Anderson brought her supporters to Parliament Hill in 1982.
  • Laura Sabia called on the government of the day (1970s) to have a Royal Commission on the Status of Women, leading to the establishment of the Secretariate of State for the Status of Women and the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
  • The Women’s March on Poverty for Bread and Roses, Jobs and Justice ended at Lebreton Flats.
  • The Women’s World March spilled out onto the streets around Parliament Hill.
  • University of Ottawa and Carlton University.

Montreal, Quebec

  • La Maison Parent-Roback, a renovated building in old Montreal which houses the offices of a dozen or so Québec feminist coalitions and federations. Named after Madeleine Parent, feminist, union-organizer and human rights and peace activist, as well as the late Lea Roback, also a feminist, union organizer and human rights and peace activist, the Maison is our feminist home away from home.
  • The December 6 park, located in Côte-des-Neiges, which commemorates the 1989 L’École Polytechnique massacre of women.
  • The commemorative plaque of the massacre, located at the main entrance to L’École Polytechnique.

Fredericton, New Brunswick

  • By the river, on “the Green,” there is a small monument marking a millennium time capsule which contains material honouring New Brunswick women “pioneers” of various kinds from the 20th century.

St. Andrews, N.B.

  • A woman just launched a tour boat named the “Molly Kool,” after the first North American woman to receive her Master Mariner certificate. There is an National Film Board video on Captain Molly Kool. After five years of captaining her own barque, she got married and settled down.

Bouctouche, N.B.

  • Antonine Maillet’s “Pays de la Sagouine” theme park.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

  • Visit ongoing exhibits by local women artists, such as the permanent collection of the work of Maud Lewis, the irrepressible Nova Scotian folk artist, at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

Parks Canada website has a wealth of material relating to the national historic sites of Canada and the national parks system. It has an interesting feature, on the National Historic Sites page, called This Week in History, which you might wish to bookmark. There is an area for teachers’ resources and information on how to order Our Roots, Our Future: Experiencing Canada’s National Historic Sites in the Classroom, a teachers’ guide designed to accompany the film Places in Time.

The National Historic Sites of Canada System Plan is an excellent overview of the programme and a listing of all the sites, plus it has pull-out posters on women’s history, aboriginal history and ethno-cultural communities’ history. There are also specific brochures for those interested in nominating persons, events or sites – particularly relating to women and Aboriginal and ethno-cultural communities – called Recognizing OUR History.

Remember that provinces and municipalities also have commemorative programmes.

This feature was first published on’s predecessor site CoolWomen.


  • Seasonal Feature

  • April 1994: the night raid at Kingston’s Prison for Women

    by Sierra Bacquie

    There was supposed to be a new approach to the Correctional Service of Canada’s relationship to female offenders, who were promised responsible choices, respect, dignity, supportive environments, and shared responsibility. But on the night of April 26, eight women experienced humiliation, degradation, raw fear and trauma at the hands of an all-male emergency team. How did this happen? What has changed since?  read more