Public Works Lists 29 Historic Canadian Women Who Deserve Buildings Named For Them

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OTTAWA — The federal government has a list of 29 prominent Canadian women it thinks deserve to have buildings named in their honour, but very little has been done with it.

Status of Women prepared the list of historic female figures more than four years ago for Rona Ambrose, who at that time was the public works minister for the previous Conservative government.

The list includes women's rights activist Nellie McClung, former Supreme Court justice Bertha Wilson, former governor general Jeanne Sauve and novelist Gabrielle Roy.

nellie mcclung

Nellie McClung is shown in an undated photo. (Photo: National Archives of Canada via CP)

Nicolas Boucher, a spokesman for Public Services and Procurement Canada, said the government is still thinking about what to do with it.

"This list remains available for possible future use," Boucher wrote in an emailed statement.

One of the names on the list — nurse Jeanne Mance — had already been used for a Health Canada building in Ottawa, but Status of Women included her anyway.

Not as easy as picking from a list

The statement also noted that selecting a name is not as simple as seeing who is available from a pre-approved list.

"The Government of Canada names its structures to commemorate Canada's history. The names chosen also often have a link to the building or structure, or the work performed there," Boucher wrote.

Boucher confirmed the Conservative government named 13 federal buildings between the time the list was provided in March 2012 and the federal election last year.

Two of those buildings were named after women — the Laura Secord Building in St. Catherines, Ont., one of seven buildings nationwide named for War of 1812 heroes, and the Dr. Alfreda Berkeley Needler Laboratory in St. Andrew's, N.B., named for the first female scientist who worked at the complex there.

Liberals to name building after Romeo LeBlanc

Neither of those names were on the list prepared for Ambrose.

Most of the other buildings christened during that time gave the honour to men, including the James Michael Flaherty Building in downtown Ottawa, after the late federal finance minister.

The Valour Building, also in Ottawa, was renamed to commemorate the Canadian mission in Afghanistan and not for any particular person.

The new Liberal government is expected to unveil its first federal building name on Thursday, but the women are going to have to wait a little longer.

That's because the international airport in Moncton, N.B., is being renamed in honour of former governor general Romeo LeBlanc, who was born and raised in that province.

"I really feel we need these historic, strong women who changed the country to be recalled to current memory, so that we can inspire the young women and girls growing up now, to reinforce for them that they can have a big impact on the country."
— NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson

New Democrat MP Sheila Malcolmson, the critic for status of women, said she is discouraged by the lack of action.

"Canadians really want to see their public institutions reflect the diversity of the country and of its history," said Malcolmson.

"I really feel we need these historic, strong women who changed the country to be recalled to current memory, so that we can inspire the young women and girls growing up now, to reinforce for them that they can have a big impact on the country," she said.

jim flaherty
Former finance minister Jim Flaherty, seen here in 2012, has a building named after him in Ottawa. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

She said that message was reinforced earlier this year when Canadians weighed in on which female figures they would like to see featured on currency.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced March 8, on International Women's Day, that an iconic Canadian woman would be on the next series of bank notes issued in 2018.

Here is the 2012 list of prominent women from Canadian history that Status of Women says deserve to have buildings named in their honour:

MILITARY

— Marie-Madeleine Jarret de Vercheres, who was 14 years old when she defended her family's fort from attack in 1692;

— Elizabeth Lawrie Smelli, a nurse who served in both the First and Second world wars and in 1944 was the first woman to become a colonel in the Canadian army;

— Jean Flatt Davey, the first Canadian female doctor who entered the Canadian military, serving as a squadron leader in the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1941 to 1945;

PUBLIC SERVICE

— Agnes Campbell Macphail, elected as the first female member of Parliament in 1921, which is also the first federal election in which women were allowed to vote;

— Emily Murphy, a member of the Famous Five, the women behind the Persons Case that recognized women as ``persons'', she was the first woman in the British Empire to become a magistrate;

— Nellie Letitia McClung, another one of the Famous Five, she was also the first woman to sit on the board of the CBC;

— Louise Crummy McKinney, also in the Famous Five, the first woman elected to the Alberta legislature;

— Mary Irene Parlby, an Alberta minister without a portfolio for issues involving women and children, and also one of the Famous Five;

— Therese Casgrain, the final member of the Famous Five, a suffragette and the first female leader of a provincial political party, the Quebec CCF Party;

— Ellen Louks Fairclough, first female cabinet minister in 1957;

— Charlotte Whitton, former mayor of Ottawa and the first woman to hold that role in a major Canadian city when elected in 1951;

— Louise-Marguerite-Renaude Lapointe, the first female editorial writer in Canada in 1965 and the first francophone woman to be Speaker of the Senate;

— Jeanne Mathilde Sauve, the first woman to be Speaker of the House of Commons and the first female governor general, from 1984 to 1990;

— Bertha Wilson, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, in 1982;

— Pauline Emily McGibbon, a former chancellor at the University of Toronto, she was the first woman to serve as a lieutenant governor in Canada;

— Muriel McQueen Fergusson, the first woman named as Speaker in the Senate, she is credited with pushing the government to revise the Criminal Code so that women could be jurors at criminal trials;

SCIENCES

— Harriet Brooks, the first female nuclear physicist in Canada, she was forced to give up her work when she married in 1907;

— Elizabeth Muriel Gregory MacGill, the first woman in Canada to hold a degree in electrical engineering, she is also considered to be the first female airplane designer;

WRITERS

— Kathleen "Kit" Coleman, a journalist who became the first female war correspondent in the world in 1898 when she covered the Spanish American War;

— Josephine Dandurand, a feminist writer who went by the pen name Josette, she was the first Canadian woman to be named an officer of the French Academy in France in 1898;

— Emily Pauline Johnson, a renowned indigenous poet, writer, artist and entertainer born on the Six Nations Indian Reserve in 1861, who also went by the name Tekahionwake;

— Gabrielle Roy, a teacher and author best known for her 1945 novel Bonheur d'occasion, translated into English as The Tin Flute;

LAWYERS

— Clara Brett Martin, the first female lawyer in the British Empire in 1897;

— Helen Alice Kinnear, the first female lawyer to appear before the Supreme Court in 1935, she later became the first woman in the Commonwealth to sit as a county-court judge.

MEDICINE

— Jeanne Mance, the founder of Hotel-Dieu Hospital in Montreal, she was the first lay nurse in New France and already has a Health Canada building to her name in Ottawa;

— James Miranda Stuart Barry, who spent her entire career as a famous surgeon — including in Canada as the inspector general of military hospitals — disguised as a man; her true identity was not revealed until her 1865 death;

— Emily Howard Stowe, the first Canadian woman to practise medicine in Canada in 1868;

— Jenny (Jennie) Kidd Trout, the first Canadian woman licensed to practise medicine in the country in 1875;

— C.L. Josephine Wells, the first woman to graduate from and be certified by the Royal College of Dental Surgeons, in 1893.

Source: Public Services and Procurement Canada

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