5 great Canadians in history (part 2)

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Here we have men and women who have gone against popular opinion and norms in their day to push revolutionary ideas. Their lives and work have moved the nation forward to the great country that it is now.

Here are five more great Canadians in history you should know about:

  1. Nelly McClung (1873-1951)

    She was a suffragist, legislator and author. McClung is best known for her work in advancing the feminist cause, specifically women’s right to vote, run for public office, and have economic independence. She was instrumental in women’s recognition as “persons” under the law. Because of her work, Manitoba became the first province to recognize women’s right to vote (in January 1916) and to hold political office.

  2. Sir Clifford Sifton (1861-1929)

    Sifton was the Minister of the Interior from 1896 to 1905. He was a lawyer and a skilled politician. He was born in Ontario but moved to Manitoba in 1875 and practiced law in Brandon. Sifton is best known for his aggressive promotion of immigration to the Prairie West. He sought settlers in the US, Britain, and East Central Europe who were familiar with rural life and were sturdy enough to withstand the extreme temperatures. As a result, some of the most difficult areas of the west were developed into productive farms which further stimulated economic growth during the period.

  3. Emily Murphy (1868-1933)

    Emily Murphy was the first woman magistrate in the British Empire. Aside from being appointed as Police magistrate for Edmonton in 1916, she was a writer, social activist, self-taught legal expert, a wife and a mother. However, her most significant contribution was working towards the recognition of women as “persons” under the British North America Act of 1867. Together with Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Henrietta Edwards, and Irene Parlby (also known as the Famous Five), they raised the Persons Case to the Supreme Court, then to the Privy Council in Britain which ruled that women were indeed legal “persons” on October 18, 1929. Because of their pioneering work, women also became eligible for appointment to the Senate of Canada.

  4. Viola Desmond (1914-1965)

    Before the United States knew Rosa Parks, Canada already had Viola Desmond. Viola was a businesswoman. She owned a beauty parlour in Halifax, Nova Scotia and mentored young Black women through her Desmond School of Beauty Culture. She earned her place in history when she refused to give in and fought against racial discrimination which she experienced at a movie theatre in New Glasgow. You can watch a depiction of the incident here (video from Historica Canada):

    This evident display of racial discrimination and miscarriage of justice placed a spotlight on racism and segregation in Nova Scotia, and later on, the whole of Canada. This led to awareness and important changes regarding the plight of Black Canadians. Sixty-three years later, Viola’s conviction was overturned. She was granted free pardon (posthumously) by Nova Scotia Lieutenant-Governor Mayann Francis and earned a public declaration and apology from Premier Darrell Dexter in 2010. Viola Desmond is featured in the $10 bill, the first Canadian woman to appear prominently on a Canadian banknote (not counting the Queen).

  5. Tommy Douglas (1904-1986)

    Thomas Clement Douglas is known as the “Father of Medicare.” He was the premier of Saskatchewan, the first leader of the New Democratic Party, and a Baptist minister. Born from an immigrant family, he came from Falkirk, Scotland to Winnipeg in 1914. He led the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and won Saskatchewan to form North America’s first socialist government. The movement changed the tone of the Canadian government, especially during the Great Depression. During his term, Douglas went on to pass more than 100 bills, eliminated tax on food and meals, reduced provincial debt, paved roads, and brought electricity to the farms of Saskatchewan. Most importantly, he introduced pre-paid, publicly-administered, high quality health care, which many decried as dictatorial. But by the mid-1960s, Douglas’ health plan was such a success that Canada adopted it nationwide.

Sources: The Canadian Encyclopedia; Historica Canada; Canadian Museum of History; Tommy Douglas Research Institute

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5 Great Canadians in history (part 2)

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