Sir John Alexander Macdonald was the dominant creative mind which produced the British North America Act and the union of provinces which became Canada. As the first prime minister of Canada, he oversaw the expansion of the Dominion from sea to sea. His government dominated politics for a half century and set policy goals for future generations of political leaders.
Frank Arthur Calder, OC, Nisga’a politician, chief, businessman (born 3 August 1915, Nass Harbour, BC; died 4 November 2006 in Victoria, BC). Frank Calder was the first Indigenous member of a Canadian legislature, elected in 1949 during the BC general election. Calder is best known for his role in the Nisga’a Tribal Council’s Supreme Court case against the province of British Columbia (commonly known as the Calder case), which demonstrated that Aboriginal title (i.e., ownership) to traditional lands exists in modern Canadian law.
Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear), Plains Cree chief (born near Fort Carlton, SK; died 17 January 1888 on the Little Pine Reserve, SK). Mistahimaskwa is best known for his refusal to sign Treaty 6 in 1876 and for his band’s involvement in violent conflicts associated with the 1885 North-West Rebellion.
Lincoln MacCauley Alexander, CC, QC, OOnt, lawyer, parliamentarian, public servant, lieutenant-governor of Ontario (born 21 January 1922 in Toronto, ON; died 19 October 2012 in Hamilton, ON). Alexander was the first Black Canadian Member of Parliament, cabinet minister and lieutenant-governor (Ontario).
The history of Black Canadian voting rights is marked by contrasting shifts. Enslaved during the period 1600–1834, Black persons could not vote. Emancipated, they were entitled to the rights, freedoms and privileges enjoyed by British subjects, including the franchise; however, racial discrimination did at times impede Black Canadians’ right to vote. The rights and freedoms of Black women were further restricted by virtue of their sex.
Francis “Peggy” Pegahmagabow, Anishnaabe (Ojibwa) chief, Aboriginal rights advocate, war hero (born on 9 March 1889 on the Parry Island reserve, ON; died 5 August 1952 at Parry Island, ON). One of the most highly decorated Indigenous people in Canada during the First World War, Pegahmagabow became a vocal advocate for Indigenous rights and self-determination.2
Agnes Campbell Macphail, politician, reformer (born 24 March 1890 in Proton Township, Grey County, ON; died 13 February 1954 in Toronto, ON). Agnes Macphail was the first woman elected to the House of Commons (1921–40) and was one of the first two women elected to the Ontario legislature (1943–45, 1948–51).
John Frederick Hamm, premier of Nova Scotia 1999-2006, physician, politician, (born 8 April 1938 in New Glasgow, NS). After a career as a family physician, Hamm moved into provincial politics in 1993 and became premier in 1999 — the first premier in 40 years to balance the province’s budget.
Madeleine Meilleur, politician (born 22 November 1948 in Kiamika, Quebec). 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.
Thomas Joseph “Tom” Mulcair, Leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) 2012–17, Leader of the Opposition 2012-15, provincial Cabinet minister, lawyer, university professor (born 24 October 1954 in Ottawa, ON). Appointed to the Privy Council of Canada in 2012. Mulcair played a key role in building support for the NDP in Québec during the 2011 federal election, after which the party, under leader Jack Layton, became the official opposition. Four years later, Mulcair led the party to a disappointing third-place finish.
Denis Coderre, politician, federal cabinet minister, mayor of Montréal 2013–2017 (born 25 July 1963 in Joliette, QC). A federal politician for 16 years, Coderre moved into municipal politics and was elected mayor of Montréal in November 2013. Although credited with cleaning up the city’s administration, Coderre lost the November 2017 election to Valérie Plante, becoming the first Montréal mayor in 57 years to lose after only one term.
Patrick George Binns, premier of Prince Edward Island 1996-2007, provincial bureaucrat, federal MP, farmer, diplomat (born 8 October 1948 in Weyburn, SK). Binns governed PEI for 11 years as premier, with a focus on strengthening rural communities and developing the Island's renewable energy resources.
Julia Verlyn (Judy) LaMarsh, OC, lawyer, politician, broadcaster, author (born 20 December 1924 in Chatham, ON; died 27 October 1980 in Toronto). Judy LaMarsh was a force in politics at a time when Canadian women were fighting for equal treatment in the country’s political system. She became the second female federal Cabinet minister in Canadian history when Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson named her Minister of National Health and Welfare in 1963. She was instrumental in the development of several groundbreaking federal programs, including Medicare and the Canada Pension Plan. As Canada’s Secretary of State (1965–68), she pushed for the establishment of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada and coordinated Canada’s Centennial year festivities. Fiercely outspoken, LaMarsh remained active in public life after her retirement from politics, as an author, a broadcaster and a lawyer.
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.
Wabanakwut Kinew, hip hop artist, broadcaster, university administrator, author, politician (born 31 December 1981 in Kenora, ON). An Ojibwa activist and public intellectual, Wab Kinew began his career as a musician and rapper with the hip hop group Dead Indians. He gained national attention through his radio and television journalism for the CBC, including 8th Fire, a television series on Indigenous issues. Kinew’s 2015 memoir, The Reason You Walk, was a national bestseller and finalist for the RBC Taylor Prize. Kinew was elected to the Manitoba legislature in 2016, despite controversial tweets and rap lyrics that dogged his campaign. Similarly, revelations of stayed domestic assault charges from 2003 threatened to derail his bid to become leader of the Manitoba New Democratic Party, though he was named leader in September 2017.