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These Canadian Heroines All Deserve A Spot On Our Currency

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By Craig and Marc Kielburger

Merna Forster was stunned as she watched Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announce on International Women's Day that women will be represented on one of Canada's banknotes again.

"After fighting for this for years, it was hard to believe the victory," the historian and author of 100 Canadian Heroines (Dundurn, 2004) and 100 More Canadian Heroines (Dundurn, 2011) tells us.

Forster has been campaigning since a picture of the Famous Five (who led the charge in the 1800s to get women legally recognized as "persons" with rights) was removed from the $50 bill in 2011, replaced with the arctic icebreaker CCGS Amundsen, a ship named after a white male explorer. A petition Forster launched on Change.org in 2013 garnered more than 73,000 signatures to bring women back to Canadian currency. (The Queen doesn't count.)

The lack of diversity on our money is hardly fitting for a country that likes to think of itself as a leader on progressive issues. Even the U.S. is getting ahead, announcing last year its upcoming redesigned $10 bill will feature an iconic American woman, to be chosen by the public.

Now that this oversight is finally being rectified, our question is: why just one? It smacks of tokenism. How can one woman represent all Canadian women?

Australia achieved gender parity on its currency featuring both a man and a woman, one on each side, on every monetary denomination except one. (The Australian $5 note features the Queen and their parliament buildings.)

There are some obvious great choices to represent women on our bucks, like a personal favorite 1812 heroine Laura Secord. Here are also seven lesser-known Canadian heroes we also think would be ideal on Canadian currency.

How better to encourage young women to look at non-traditional careers than by honouring Elsie MacGill -- Canada's "Queen of Hurricanes." As the world's first female aeronautical engineer, MacGill oversaw Canada's production of Hurricane fighter planes during World War II. She also helped devise the first international safety regulations for commercial aircraft.

And certainly we'd put forward Canada's first female member of parliament, Agnes MacPhail. She was also the founder of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada, advocating for better prison conditions for women.

One name we've written about before is Viola Desmond, who fought segregation in Canada. Almost a decade before Rosa Parks' famous bus boycott in the U.S., Desmond refused to sit in the balcony of a Nova Scotia movie theatre after being told the main floor seating was for "whites" only.

Mary Two-Axe Earley is another little-known but powerful activist deserving of recognition. In the 1960s, she stood up for indigenous women who were stripped of their rights by discriminatory laws under Canada's Indian Act.

On Forster's suggestion, we'd nominate Madeleine Parent, the Quebec trade union activist who fought for workers' rights in the early 20th Century and helped found the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.

We can't overlook the contributions of Canadian immigrants and minorities, like the incredible entrepreneur, philanthropist and activist Jean Lumb, a.k.a. Wong Toy Jin. At age 18, she started her own grocery business in Toronto, and went on to support diverse causes, from education, to health care, to the arts. In the 1950s, Lumb advocated for change to discriminatory laws that kept immigrants from bringing their families to Canada. She went on to become the first female Chinese-Canadian member of the Order of Canada.

And of course we expect Canadian youth representation. When we open our wallets, we'd love to see faces like Shannen Koostachin.

Koostachin, from Ontario's Attawapiskat First Nation, was a tireless activist for aboriginal education. When the 15-year-old was tragically killed in a car accident in 2010, her cousin Chelsea Jane Edwards founded the Shannen's Dream campaign to advocate for equal funding for aboriginal schools.

Come on, Canada, let's make a real investment in diversity!

Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day. Visit we.org for more information.

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