100th Anniversary of Women’s First Right to Vote in Canada

We are often unaware of how fortunate we are to live in a democratic country like Canada. Although the majority of Canadians now have the right to vote, this has not always been the case. For women, the right to vote came as the result of a tireless fight for an egalitarian, representative and fair democracy. 

Western provinces — Paving the way

Residents of Antikokan, Ontario, casting their ballot in a polling station.
Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta were the first Canadian provinces to grant women this fundamental right. This was the first step toward equality and rights for women. The year 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s first right to vote in Canada. Discover the fascinating history of women's suffrage in Canada.

The Constitutional Act— Rights given, then taken away

Contrary to what we might believe, some women had the right to vote well before 1916. The Constitutional Act of 1791 gave men and women who owned land the right to vote. Therefore, some women, because they were landowners, were allowed to vote for representatives in the House of Assembly. However, the Parliament of United Canada removed this right from them on May 30, 1849. Although women in a few Canadian provinces regained the right to vote in provincial elections in 1916, it was not until two years later that women aged 21 and above were authorized to vote in federal elections. Learn more about the Constitutional Act of 1791 and its repercussions.

First World War — Nurses exercise their right to vote

Canadian nursing sisters voting during the Dominion elections at a Canadian Hospital in France.
Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

During the First World War, women’s support was critical for the government, as the vast majority of men were serving in the Canadian Forces. Over 2,000 military nurses, better known as the “Bluebirds,” had the right to vote, as did women with a close relative in the military. Learn more about the women’s suffrage movement in Canada.

Profile picture of Agnes Macphail holding a newspaper.
Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

Suffragettes

In 1919, the suffrage movement was in full swing, and the suffragettes emerged triumphant from the fight for equality of the sexes in public institutions. Women became eligible to hold seats in the House of Commons and Agnes Macphail was the first woman elected in 1921. Learn more about the evolution of federal voting rights in Canada.

The Famous Five — Passionate petitioners

Five women, better known as the “Famous Five,” won the Persons Case. This 1929 judgment recognized women as persons under the British North America Act and made them eligible for appointment to the Senate of Canada. Led by judge Emily Murphy, the group included Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney and Irene Parlby. Learn more about the remarkable work of these five women’s rights petitioners.

Outdoor sculpture representing five statues of women. Two women are having tea at a table and three others are standing, including a woman holding a document in her hand.
Source: A model of the “Women are Persons!” statue, honouring the contributions of the Famous 5: Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Emily Murphy. The final sculpture was unveiled on Parliament Hill in 2000 (sculpted by Barbara Paterson; photo by Marc Mennie; courtesy of the Famous 5 Foundation). See more images of this sculpture.

Provincial elections — Dates on which women were granted the right to vote

Other relevant links

Visit the following websites to learn more about the evolution of women’s suffrage in Canada:

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