OTD: Manitoba becomes first province to grant women voting rights

On today’s date in 1916, Manitoba became the first Canadian province to grant women the right to vote.

Saskatchewan and Alberta followed Manitoba’s lead in March and April of that year, and Ontario and British Columbia opened up their provincial elections to women voters in 1917.

A year later, An Act to confer the Electoral Franchise upon Women granted Canadian women the federal franchise to vote in Canada’s general elections.

“It would be another 10 years before the Famous Five won the Persons Case Victory, and it was not until 1940 that Quebec women won the right to vote in provincial elections, reads an article published by Status of Women Canada, a federal department. “In 1960 First Nations were allowed to vote without giving up treaty rights.”

Other provinces gave women provincial franchise in 1918 (Nova Scotia); 1919 (New Brunswick and Yukon); 1922 (Prince Edward Island); 1925 (Newfoundland and Labrador); 1940 (Quebec); and 1951 (Northwest Territories).


Two years before Manitoba granted women the right to vote, “a large group of women and men, many members of the Political Equality League of Manitoba, appeared before the Manitoba Legislative Assembly to make the case for women’s suffrage,” adds the Status of Women Canada article.

“They were led by well-known writer and suffragist Nellie McClung, who would later be known for her role in the groundbreaking Persons Case. McClung asked the members of the legislature: ‘Have we not the brains to think? Hands to work? Hearts to feel? And lives to live?’ She went on, ‘Do we not bear our part in citizenship? Do we not help build the Empire? Give us our due!'”

Arguments against McClung’s proposal abound—namely the belief it was “unladylike” to vote and that a woman’s vote would merely duplicate her husband’s vote. Using plays, petitions and mock parliaments to battle these misconceptions, several suffragists,  including McClung, Helena Gutteridge and Augusta Stowe-Gullen, continued campaigning tirelessly for women’s right to vote until the tide turned federally in 1918.


On Oct. 13, 2004, several Canadian women were featured on the $50 banknote from the Bank of Canada’s “Canadian Journey” series.

The note’s back featured a handful of Alberta women known as the “Famous Five,” which included McClung, Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards, plus renowned activist Thérèse Casgrain.

By 2011, however, the Bank of Canada began releasing its next banknote series, this made of polymer, and the popular “Journey” series note featuring iconic Canadian women was replaced by a new note depicting – of all things – an Arctic icebreaker.

The “Frontiers” series, which replaced the Famous Five with an icebreaker, remains in circulation but will be updated when the Bank of Canada completes the roll-out of its as-of-yet-unnamed eighth banknote series.

The eighth series’ first note, issued in November 2018, features Black rights activist Viola Desmond on the face.

In 2020, the Bank of Canada launched its public consultation to choose the face of the new series’ next note, a $5 bill.

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