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.
Sara Riel, (also known as Sister Marguerite Marie), sister of Louis Riel, Métis Grey Nun and missionary, cultural liaison, teacher, founder of female Catholic lay organization (born 11 October 1848 in St. Boniface, Red River Colony [now Manitoba]; died 27 December 1883 in Île-à-la-Crosse, SK). Sara Riel strove to empower Métis people and women through English-language and Catholic studies. Her education and multilingual abilities made her a valuable mediator between conflicting cultures in the early Red River Colony. Today, a charitable organization established by the Grey Nuns of Manitoba bears her name.
Charlotte Edith Anderson Monture (often known simply as Edith Monture), Mohawk First World War veteran, registered nurse, (born 10 April 1890 on Six Nations reserve near Brantford, ON; died 3 April 1996 in Ohsweken, ON). Edith was the first Indigenous woman to become a registered nurse in Canada and to gain the right to vote in a Canadian federal election. She was also the first Indigenous woman from Canada to serve in the United States military. Edith broke barriers for Indigenous women in the armed forces and with regards to federal voting rights. A street (Edith Monture Avenue) and park (Edith Monture Park) are named after her in Brantford, Ontario.
Mary Greyeyes Reid, Cree veteran of the Second World War (born 14 November 1920 on the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation reserve, Marcelin, SK.; died 31 March 2011 in Vancouver, BC). The first Indigenous woman to join Canada’s armed forces, Mary became a member of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps during the Second World War. The military tried to boost Indigenous recruitment and demonstrate Canada’s military might by posing her in a staged photo that has since been widely circulated in Canada.
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.
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.
Valérie Plante, mayor of Montréal 2017–present, community organizer, city councillor (born 14 June 1974 in Rouyn-Noranda, QC). After running for mayor with an irreverent campaign that advertised her as “the right man for the job,” Plante won Montréal’s municipal election on 5 November 2017, becoming the first woman to be elected mayor in the city’s 375-year history.
Kaetlyn Osmond, figure skater (born 5 December 1995 in Marystown, NL). Figure skater Kaetlyn Osmond has been Canadian champion (2013, 2014, 2017), an Olympic silver medallist in the team event (2014) and a silver medallist at the World Figure Skating Championships (2017). She has won gold medals at five other international events since 2012.
Women’s movements (or, feminist movements) during the period 1985–present — sometimes referred to as third- or fourth-wave feminism — engaged in multiple campaigns, from employment equity and daycare, to anti-racism and ending poverty and violence against women.
Catharine Sutton (née Sonego or Sunegoo) (sometimes spelled Catherine, also known as Nahnee, Nahneebahwequa and Upright Woman), Anishinaabe (Mississauga) writer, Methodist missionary and political advocate (born 1824 in the Credit River flats, Upper Canada; died 26 September 1865 in Sarawak Township, Grey County, Canada West). Catharine Sutton was as an advocate for her people during a time when the cultural, political and economic rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada were formally eroded by assimilationist policies.
Cypra Cecilia Krieger, mathematician, professor (born 9 April 1894 in Jasło, Galicia [Poland]; died 17 August 1974 in Toronto, ON). Krieger was the first woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics from a Canadian university (the University of Toronto) and only the third person to be awarded a mathematics doctorate in Canada. She taught mathematics and physics at the University of Toronto for over 30 years. Krieger is best known for her English translation of noted mathematical texts Introduction to General Typology and General Typology.
Veena Rawat, OC, electrical engineer, civil servant, telecommunications pioneer (born in 1945 in India). Veena Rawat spent nearly 40 years in public service, serving in leadership positions in management and policy development with Industry Canada. A trailblazer in the telecommunications sector, Rawat was the first female to complete a doctorate in electrical engineering at Queen’s University and was the first female president of Industry Canada’s Communication Research Centre. Rawat has been a leading voice in the creation of global regulatory structures for radio spectrum management, championing efforts to make broadband service affordable to all and bring it to remote and rural regions. She is an advocate for gender equality in STEM sectors and increasing women’s presence in engineering fields.
Madeleine Meilleur, politician (born 22 November 1948 in Kiamika, Québec). Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) in Ontario from 2003 to 2016, she was Minister of Culture, Minister of Community and Social Services, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Attorney General of Ontario, and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs. On 9 June 2016, after 25 years in politics, Meilleur announced that she was resigning as MPP, Attorney General and minister.
Clara Cynthia Benson, professor of chemistry (born in 1875 in Port Hope, ON; died 24 March 1964 in Port Hope). In 1899, Benson became the first woman to graduate in chemistry from the University of Toronto. In 1903, she became one of the first two women awarded a PhD at U of T. After graduating with her doctorate, she worked at U of T’s Lillian Massey School of Domestic Science, becoming one of the university’s first female professors in 1920. A capable teacher who stimulated research and was a friend to her students, Benson taught at the school until her retirement in 1945. The Benson Building at U of T was named in recognition of her efforts to obtain better athletic facilities for women students.
Viola Irene Desmond (née Davis), businesswoman, civil libertarian (born 6 July 1914 in Halifax, NS; died 7 February 1965 in New York, NY). Viola Desmond built a career and business as a beautician and was a mentor to young Black women in Nova Scotia through her Desmond School of Beauty Culture. It is, however, the story of her courageous refusal to accept an act of racial discrimination that provided inspiration to a later generation of Black persons in Nova Scotia and in the rest of Canada. In December 2016, it was announced that Desmond would be the first Canadian woman depicted on the face of a Canadian banknote — the $10 note in a series of bills released in 2018.
Martha Eva Salcudean (née Abel), OC, OBC, professor of mechanical engineering (born 26 February 1934 in Cluj-Napoca, Romania). Salcudean is an internationally recognized authority on computational fluid dynamics and heat transfer. In 1985, she became the first female head of a Canadian university’s engineering department when she was named chair of the department of mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia. Salcudean has dedicated much of her academic career to forging research and development partnerships between universities, government agencies and industrial associates in sectors such as mining, forestry and aeronautics.