Women’s History Month: Celebrating Canadian and immigrant women who have helped shape our country

Julia Hornstein
Published: October 13, 2023

In honour of Women’s History Month, this piece celebrates both the Canadian and immigrant women who have played pivotal roles in Canada’s evolution.

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From early advocates for women’s rights to contemporary trailblazers in various fields, their stories exemplify strength, perseverance, and transformative impact.

Historical Trailblazers

Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Not only was she North America's first Black woman publisher, but she also stood as Canada's pioneering female publisher, ardently advocating for slavery abolition and the right for women to vote.

Agnes Macphail

The first woman to be elected to the Canadian House of Commons, Agnes Macphail was also an unwavering advocate for prison reform and the rights of women.

Anna May Wong

An audacious Chinese-Canadian actress, Wong defied racial barriers in early Hollywood, portraying nuanced characters at a time of stereotyping.

Viola Desmond

A trailblazing Black businesswoman who courageously took a stand against racial segregation in Nova Scotia, long before the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.

Rosemary Brown

A beacon of hope, she was the first Black Canadian woman elected to a provincial legislature, always championing women's rights and racial equality.

Nellie McClung

An unwavering suffragette, McClung played a decisive role in securing the right to vote for Canadian women and ensuring their legal recognition as "persons."

Modern Pioneers

Adrienne Clarkson

Her journey from being a WWII refugee from Hong Kong to becoming the 26th Governor General of Canada epitomizes resilience.

Michaëlle Jean

Escaping the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti, Jean's ascent to become the first Black woman Governor General of Canada is truly inspirational.

Dr. Najma Ahmed

As one of Toronto's foremost trauma surgeons, originally from East Africa, she pairs her medical expertise with activism, fervently advocating for gun control.

Bertha Wilson

Immigrating from Scotland at the age of 26, Wilson shattered glass ceilings by becoming the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Doris Anderson

As the long-time editor of Chatelaine magazine and an avid women's rights activist, Anderson was instrumental in pioneering developments such as the Royal Commission on the Status of Women.

Phyllis Webstad

A Northern Secwpemc, her heart-wrenching narrative as a residential school survivor catalyzed the Orange Shirt Day movement, illuminating a dark chapter of Canadian history.

Louise Arbour

Arbour's global influence is undeniable, having served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and playing a crucial role in international criminal justice.

Shahrzad Rafati

Rafati is an Iranian-born Canadian and founder and CEO of BroadbandTV Corp, one of the largest media tech companies in the world. She's an advocate for technology as a force for good and for fostering diversity in business.

Young Inspirations

Malala Yousafzai

Nobel Peace laureate and a staunch advocate for girls' education, Malala became the youngest honorary citizen of Canada. Surviving a life-threatening attack by the Taliban at age 15, her resilience and advocacy have inspired the world. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau honoured her as "an inspiration to us all."

Rupi Kaur

Kaur, an immigrant from Punjab, India, has captivated readers globally with her evocative poetry and illustrations, especially her acclaimed "Milk and Honey."

Nemahsis

Through her music, this Palestinian-Canadian amplifies the challenges and aspirations of Muslim women, especially in sectors like fashion and beauty.

Autumn Peltier

A young Anishinaabe activist, Peltier's advocacy for clean water and Indigenous rights has taken her to global platforms like the United Nations.

Zainab Azim

As a staunch advocate for girls in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Azim's vision of space exploration has earned her recognition from networks like the UN Space4Women.

Bianca Andreescu

Born in Romania and raised in Canada, Andreescu's prowess on the tennis court crowned her as the first Canadian Grand Slam Singles winner at Wimbledon.

Women’s History Month in Canada

On October 1st, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement on Women’s History Month, which included the following:

“Canada’s history has been shaped by trailblazing women who stood up to make real, positive changes to our communities, our society, and our country. Throughout Women’s History Month, we pay tribute to these inspiring women, past and present, as we continue to work toward a fairer, more equitable world. This year’s theme – ‘Through Her Lens: Celebrating the Diversity of Women’ – recognizes and celebrates the achievements and contributions of women from diverse backgrounds, from driving change in politics to making ground-breaking discoveries in science."

Visit the government of Canada’s Women History Month page to see how you can get involved.

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