Canadian Woman on Banknotes


Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, on the Women’s Day –  08 March 2016 – announced that the image of an iconic Canadian woman will appear on the next issue of banknotes, on the very first of the next series of bills expected in 2018.

The Bank of Canada is taking the first step by launching public consultations to select an iconic Canadian woman to be featured on this new bill.  The government and the Bank of Canada did not indicate which denomination would showcase the iconic female Canadian.

Over the next several weeks, up to 15 April 2016, the public can nominate possible female candidates to be the newest face of a banknote, but there are a few stipulations: The individual must be a Canadian citizen who has demonstrated outstanding leadership, achievement in any field, benefiting the people of Canada, or in the service of Canada; the individual cannot be fictional; and the individual must have been deceased for at least 25 years, that is, prior to April 15, 1991.  An Advisory Council comprised of Canadian academic, cultural, and thought leaders will review the submissions and create a short list of qualified candidates for the Bank of Canada to choose from.

Banknotes are cultural touchstones, and are being used to celebrate and reflect the diversity of the Canadian society. With this proposed note, Canadians can honour the achievements of Canadian women and inspire future generations to learn more about the significant contributions women have made to Canada.

In 2011, the Bank of Canada began releasing a new series of polymer bills. In these banknotes, portraits of five former Prime Ministers are featured in the following denominations: $100 (Robert Borden), $50 (William Lyon Mackenzie King), $10 (John A. Macdonald), and $5 (Wilfred Laurier). Queen Elizabeth II appears on the $20 note.

When the new polymer notes were issued, the popular $50 bill featuring five women from Canadian history was replaced by a new polymer depicting a coast guard icebreaker. The old $50 bills were the only ones depicting women other than $20 bills Queen Elizabeth II.

On October 13, 2004, the Bank of Canada unveiled a new $50 banknote on the theme of nation building. For the first time in Canadian history, Canadian women were featured on the note. The bill featured images of the Alberta women known as the Famous 5, as well as the renowned activist Thérèse Casgrain.  The Famous 5 were petitioners in the groundbreaking Persons Case, a case brought before the Supreme Court of Canada in 1927 and later decided by the Judicial Council of Britain’s Privy Council (1929), Canada’s highest court at that time. Led by judge Emily Murphy, the group included Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney and Irene Parlby. Together, the five women had many years of active work in various campaigns for women’s rights dating back to the 1880s and 90s.

The Persons Case was a constitutional ruling that established the right of women to be appointed to the Senate.   In 1928, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that women were not ‘persons’ according to the British North America Act and therefore were ineligible for appointment to the Senate. However, the Famous 5 appealed to the Privy Council of England, which in 1929 reversed the Court’s decision. The Persons Case opened the Senate to women. Moreover, the legal recognition of women as ‘persons’ meant that women could no longer be denied rights based on a narrow interpretation of the law.

At the time of their victory, the media dubbed the group the ‘Alberta Five’ as they hailed from the Province of Alberta.  Over time, as the case took on a privileged position in Canadian women’s history, the group became popularly known as the ‘Famous 5.’ They have come to represent an entire generation’s political activism, including an earlier, nationwide campaign for women’s voting rights.

Canadian women, aged 21 and over, obtained the right to vote in the  Federal elections in 1918, more than two years after the women of Manitoba became the first to vote at the provincial level in 1916.  Other Provinces then followed suit.  Saskatchewan on 14 March and Alberta on 19 April 1916 gave voting rights to women. British Columbia approved women’s suffrage on 5 April 1917 and Ontario a week later on 12 April 1917.

The provincial franchise for Nova Scotian women came on 26 April 1918.  New Brunswick  approved women’s suffrage on 17 April 1919. Prince Edward Island (PEI) amended its Election Act to include women on 3 May 1922, and Newfoundland women gained the vote on 13 April 1925. In Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland, the right to stand for provincial office accompanied voting rights, but New Brunswick avoided that radical step until 9 March 1934. In Québec, under the courageous leadership of Thérèse Casgrain, the struggle continued until 25 April 1940, when women finally achieved the provincial counterpart to the federal vote they had been exercising for over 20 years.

Reactions to the Famous 5 have varied widely, but the significance of their contribution to the development of women’s rights in Canada was underscored in 2000 with the dedication of a bronze statue called “Women Are Persons!” by Edmonton artist Barbara Paterson in Ottawa and Calgary (1999). The Famous 5 Foundation was established in 1996.

As on the Women’s Day of 2016, as a testimony to women power in Canada, the country boasts of 26% of elected women members of the House of Commons – 88 women out of a 338 total members.  For the first time the greatest number (15 out of 30) of women have been appointed as Cabinet ministers, 50 per cent of Cabinet. On the very Women’s Day,  three provincial premiers are  women –  Kathleen Wynne of Ontario, Rachel Notley of Alberta and Christy Clark of British Columbia. 

In Canada’s nearly 150 year history, women, with the notable exception of the Queen, have largely been unrepresented on the banknotes.  2018 will usher in real change to a new generation of women who will carry with them constant reminders that they are not only Canada’s future, but a celebrated part of history.

One thought on “Canadian Woman on Banknotes

  1. Very informative article & a concept generally not addressed any one else.
    Women should get equal opportunities & Canada is much ahead compared to other countries.
    They should also get same remuneration for the same job. When this is going to happen. Let us hope for the best

    Liked by 1 person

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