A brief history of women’s suffrage in Canada

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 A century of hard work stands behind something we now consider to be a basic human right

Victoria Women’s March, 2019. Photo from file.

In Canada, women did not automatically have equal voting rights. They were gained slowly, after years of hard work. Gradually, women moved from voting in municipal elections, to provincial, and finally to federal. 

For some women, this process was faster than for others. Women of European descent gained the vote for federal elections in 1918, while Asian women and Indigenous women weren’t able to vote until 1948 and 1960, respectively. 

In 1982, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, all Canadian citizens were declared to have the right to vote. Currently, you need to meet three criteria: be a Canadian citizen, be at least 18 years old on election day, and be able to prove your identity and address. 

Women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were not just fighting to tick a box on a ballot — they were fighting for better education, fair wages, healthcare, and the chance to improve their lives and society as a whole. From 1851 — when they were first excluded from elections by official legislation — to 1960, these women did so much work for what we now consider a basic human right. They held mock parliaments, organized petitions, supported suffrage bills, formed suffrage organizations, wrote newsletters and magazines, met with premiers, marched in parades, and spoke in front of the Legislative Assembly. They also fought to be included in the legal definition of “persons.” The Famous Five, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney, Nellie McClung, Henrietta Muir Edwards, and Irene Parlby, challenged a Supreme Court ruling that women were not eligible to become Senators because they were not included in the legal definition of “persons” under the British North America Act. The Famous Five brought their fight to the Privy Council of England, who overturned the Supreme Court’s decision, changing the definition of the word “persons” to include women. Ultimately, after 109 years, all women gained the right to vote in Canada. 

It was a very difficult struggle for women to get the vote. They fought long and hard just for all women to have the choice to elect MPs to represent them. Despite this, voting is still something many women in Canada choose not to do. 

Two simple steps to voting: 

1. Research the candidates in your riding and decide who you like best. Weigh the pros and cons. If you don’t like a candidate in your riding, vote for whichever political party you like best, or whichever potential Prime Minister you like best. 

2. Make time to vote. Go to advanced polls, take time on election day, mail in a ballot, or vote at any Elections Canada office. 

Roughly 100 years ago, women did not have the choice whether or not to vote in an election. Now, women have that opportunity. You matter, and your voice matters. So please, on October 21, female citizens of Canada: VOTE!