April, a Significant Month for Women’s Right to Vote
Provincial governments often enacted legislation in spring. Across Canada, women gradually gained provincial voting rights; Quebec was last in 1940. However, Indigenous women still had to wait.
The battle for the voting franchise was long and occasionally harsh for Canadian women. The hard-earned voting rights were gained at different intervals over the era, particularly the provincial voting rights. In varying years, spring legislation enacted in the month of April gave those dedicated women their due place in society – the right to a voice and a vote in provincial elections.
With qualifications of age, property ownership and citizenship, Canadian women gained the right to vote in the Federal elections in 1918. The provinces were not united in their standards for the franchise. Manitoba was the first province to enact voting and political seat rights for women in January 1916, and Saskatchewan women were close on their heels in the same year. Quebec was the last province to enact voting rights for women in the spring of 1940.
“The Famous Five” from Alberta
April 19, 1916: Alberta women were permitted the provincial vote on the enactment of the Alberta
Equal Suffrage Act. The province was the home of several women devoted to participation of women in politics, dubbed “The Famous Five.” “In 1929, Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby, and Nellie McClung fought for the recognition of women as persons under the British North America Act,” according to the Alberta Online Encyclopedia in “Famous 5: Heroes for Today.” Through their tireless efforts, Canadian women were declared “persons” under the law, equal with men. The ruling gave women the ability to participate in society and in politics, including the Canadian Senate.
April 5, 1917: Women in the Province of British Columbia received the right to vote. The women were also the first in Canada to receive equal parental rights with fathers over their children.
The Power to Vote, But Not To Run… Yet
April 12, 1917: “Women in the Province of Ontario gained the right to Vote,” noted “A Guide to Women in Canadian History” on Heroines.ca. However, women could not run as a candidates in Ontario until 1919.
April 26, 1918: Nova Scotia women were given the power of the vote.
April 17, 1919: The Province of New Brunswick bestowed the right to vote on women.
April 13, 1925: Six years after New Brunswick, the women of Newfoundland were able to participate at the provincial polls, and could run for office… if they were age 25 or over.
Quebec Women Delayed Their Franchise to Vote
April 25, 1940: Women in Quebec wielded the vote in federal elections in 1918 but they were not permitted to take part in provincial government elections for twenty-two more years. The delay was due in large part to the women themselves. “They were well-informed women,” said activist Thérèse Casgrain in a CBC Television interview in 1972, “and had a great deal of influence on their husbands’ decisions. But because of ‘formalities and old customs,’ many Quebec women opted to remain in the political background.” With Idola St. Jean, Casgrain lead the suffragist charge to gain the provincial franchise. On April 25, 1940, the women of Quebec finally joined the majority of Canadians exercising their provincial vote.
Aboriginal men and women living on reserves were permitted to vote without strings in 1960. Before that time, native Canadians wanting to vote were required to give up any treaty rights and their status as Indians.
In Canadian history, April is significant as a productive month for women’s right to vote. It is essential to exercise the vote at every opportunity, any month of the year, so that hard-earned right does not disappear from the grasp of women.
- “Famous 5: Heroes for Today,” Alberta Online Encyclopedia Accessed April 15, 2011
- “A Guide to Women in Canadian History,” This Month in Canadian Herstory: April, Heroines.ca Accessed April 15, 2011
- “Quebec Women Finally Get the Vote,” Interview – October 23, 1972, CBC Digital Archives Accessed April 15, 2011
This article first appeared on Suite101.com in April 2011. Copyright Susanna McLeod