Before Canada became an independent nation, it was made up of several colonies known as British North America. The right to vote was considered a sign of wealth and power. Those who were eligible had to own property of a stated value or pay a certain amount of taxes or rent. Many ethnic and religious groups were not granted the right to vote. Women were also not granted the right to vote. This law was in place for a while, but soon rulings were changed and more citizens were allowed to vote. This took place in a very inconsistent and haphazard fashion. The right to vote was given, and then taken away several times for some citizens. For example, certain citizens found themselves granted with the right to vote, but later were deprived of it. [Elections Canada]
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The reason why these laws were changed so often is because many citizens thought that the laws were unfair. They started to form groups and protest. A group of women led by Dr. Emily Howard Stowe was one of the first, founded in 1878. Dr. Howard Stowe along with various other women’s suffrage organizations worked with Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald to introduce a new bill, one that allowed women to vote. It was rejected, but all was not lost. The rejected bill gained a lot of popularity, and soon women’s suffrage was a provincial issue. [Belanger, Claude]
Women’s suffrage was partially granted in Ontario in year of 1884. Only widows or the unmarried could vote. The situation was very different in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba, where the women’s equal rights movement was much more prominent. Married women all across Canada had one thing in common; they weren’t considered “persons” in the eyes of the law. A woman in Manitoba was out to change that, her name was Nellie McClung. (See biography) McClung had organized a group of women’s suffrage movement activists to protest, in the form of a play. She and her supporters staged a play called “The Women’s Parliament”. The play made fun of anti-women’s suffrage supporters and swayed the Conservative party, leading McClung and the Liberals to power in 1915. In 1916, Manitoba officially became the first province to grant women the right to vote. By 1919, all women in Canada had the right to vote, except in Quebec, where women’s suffrage wasn’t granted until 1940. [The Nellie McClung Foundation] The reason for this is that both male legislators and Catholic Church leaders in Quebec were against women’s suffrage. Canada’s suffrage campaign was humorous with reason, while suffrage campaigns in Great Britain, France and the USA were violent and ostentatious. [Jackel, Susan]
Apart from Quebec, women all across Canada rejoiced, they had been granted freedom. Women started being elected into the House of Commons and Senate. The first and only woman to be elected into the House of Commons in 1921 was Agnes Macphail. Even though Macphail joined in 1921, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that women started accepting idea of being a MP or MPP as a potential career. [Jackel, Susan]
- Elections Canada. Elections Canada Online May 06/14.Thurs Oct 8/15 <http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=his&document=chap1&lang=e>
- Belanger, Claude. Quebec History Jan/05 Marianopolis College. Thurs Oct 8/15 <http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/QuebecHistory/encyclopedia/Canada-WomensVote-WomenSuffrage.htm>
- The Nellie McClung Foundation. The Nellie McClung Foundation Fri Oct 09/15 <http://www.ournellie.com/womens-suffrage/>
- Jackel, Susan Women’s Suffrage Apr 03/15 The Canadian Encyclopedia Fri Oct 09/15 <http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/womens-suffrage/>