Home > About OWD > Leaders From The Start

Leaders From The Start

1845 - Mother Elisabeth Bruyère of the Sisters of Charity dedicated her life to looking after the destitute people of Bytown (Ottawa) where she started the first hospital and the first bilingual school in 1845.

1853 - An early advocate for women's rights and the abolition of slavery, Mary Ann Shadd was the first black woman to publish a Canadian weekly newspaper, The Provincial Freeman.

1867 - While Emily Stowe was trained in the United States because no Canadian school was willing to accept female medical students, she became the first woman to practise medicine in Canada in 1867.

1883 - Following in her mother's footsteps, Augusta Stowe-Gullen became the first woman to take her entire training and earn a medical degree in Canada in 1883.

1915 - Béatrice Desloges, a Franco-Ontarian teacher and her sister Diane ¬were the first to successfully oppose Ontario's Regulation 17. This law restricted the use of French language instruction after the first year of school and banned the teaching of French after the fourth year of school.

1924 - Champion golfer Ada Mackenzie built the first women's golf club in the world in 1924, allowing women to play seriously.

1928 - 1928 was the first year Canada sent a team including women to the Olympics. Competing in track and field, "Bobbie" Rosenfeld represented Canada, winning a gold medal in the 400-metre relay.

1929 - Receiving the Best Actress Award of 1929, Mary Pickford was the first Canadian to win an Academy Award.

1929 - On October 18 1929, Ontario Judge Emily Murphy, one of Canada's Famous Five Women, won to have the word "person" in the BNA Act refer to both men and women.

1940 - A nurse who served in both world wars, Elizabeth Smellie was the first woman to become a colonel in the Canadian Army.

1944On February 23, 1944, Agnes MacPhail was sworn in to the Ontario Legislature, making her the first woman Member of Provincial Parliament.

1947 - Barbara Ann Scott became the first North American to win the European and World Figure Skating Championships, making her a national Canadian hero. She went on to capture the figure skating gold medal in the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the first Canadian ever to do so.

1951 - One of Ontario's cleverest and funniest politicians was Charlotte Whitton, the first Canadian woman mayor.

1952 - When the Indian Act was amended in 1952, allowing native women to run for office and to vote, Ojibwa Elsie Knott became the first woman elected as chief.

1954 - On September 8, 1954, 17-year old Marilyn Bell of Toronto became the first swimmer to ever cross Lake Ontario. The following year she became the youngest person ever to cross the English Channel.

1956Abigail Hoffman caused a sensation in 1956 when it was discovered that "Ab", a peewee hockey player was a girl! She later won many track and field medals in international competitions before becoming the first woman to be elected to the Canadian Olympic Association in 1991.

1957 - Long an advocate of women's rights, Ellen Fairclough became Canada's first woman to get a federal cabinet post in 1957.

1961 - Judy LaMarsh was the cabinet minister largely responsible for developing our country's medicare system (1961) and later the Canada Pension Plan (1966).

1966 - In 1966, Jean Sutherland Boggs became Director General of Canada's National Gallery in Ottawa; making her the first woman in the world to head a national art gallery.

1971 - Ojibwa Jeannette Corbière Lavell challenged part of the Indian Act that said native women who married non-native men would lose their Indian status – as would their children. It wasn't until 1985 that this statute was removed.

1974 - April 10, Pauline McGibbon of Ontario became the first female Lieutenant-Governor in the British Commonwealth.

1981 - In 1981, Justine Blainey won a spot on a Metro Toronto Hockey League Team (MTHL) called the Toronto Olympics. Despite making the team, she was denied the chance to play. She eventually won her case after enduring five different court cases before the Supreme Court of Canada deemed the exception for sports teams violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and struck down the provision in 1987.

1982 - Ontario lawyer Bertha Wilson became the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

1989Catherine Frazee was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. She is a disability and equality rights activist and educator.

1990Judy Rebick was elected president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. In the 1980s, Judy helped to lead the movement to legalize abortion in Canada and has contributed to employment equity, constitutional reform, and anti-racism.

1992 - In 1992, Roberta Bondar became Canada's first female astronaut and the first neurologist in space.

1993 - Sheila Copps became the first woman Deputy Prime Minister of Canada.

1998 - Born in Toronto to Indian immigrant parents, Dr. Sheela Basrur, became the first Medical Officer of Health of the newly-amalgamated city of Toronto. Years later, she was hailed as the voice of calm reassurance during the terrifying SARS outbreak that gripped Toronto in 2003.

1999 - In 1999, Barbara Stymiest became the first woman in North America at the helm of the Toronto Stock Exchange.

2001 - Roberta L. Jamieson was the first woman elected Chief of Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, Ontario. She is currently President and CEO of Indspire.

2011 - On May 31, 2011, Rear Admiral Jennifer Bennett was appointed first woman in Canada as Chief of Reserves and Cadets.

2012 - On August 19, 2012, Annaleise Carr became the youngest person to successfully swim across Lake Ontario, raising thousands of dollars to send kids with cancer to camp.

2012 - At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, 24 – year old "Rosie" MacLennan put on her best performance with a finals routine of 57.305, which was the gold medal winning score for Canada. This was the first and only gold medal for Canada at these games and the first Canadian trampoline gold medal ever.