Durham celebrates a historic day for Canadian women

Photo by Nicole O’Brien

Kathleen Smyth, professional storyteller, performs a story from the Famous Five’s journey to winning the right for women to be considered ‘persons.’

Eighty-seven years ago women in Canada were not considered ‘persons.’ But that changed on Oct. 18, 1929, when women officially became people under the British North American law in Canada. Women won the right to serve in the Senate, the right to own property and the right to vote. This year marked the 87th anniversary of what is now known as Persons Day in Canada.

Girls Inc. Durham, a Canadian charity that provides more than 1,600 girls across Durham Region with life-changing experiences and solutions to the challenges girls face, wanted to highlighted this historic day recently.  The organization wanted to showcased the five prominent Canadian women, now known as the Famous Five, and other historic female figures.

The Famous Five included Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby, and Henrietta Muir Edwards. After being turned down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1927 when they asked if the word “person” in Section 24 of the British North American Act include female persons, these five women went to London’s highest court of appeal.

Two years later in 1929, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of Great Britain announced that women would officially be considered “persons” under the law. The Famous Five not only achieved this but helped pave the way for women to participate and contribute in other aspects of life.

At the event at the McLean Community Centre in Ajax, Girls Inc. Durham hosted interactive activities such as writing a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie, as well as multiple prominent female speakers. Around 45 people attended the all-ages event.. The audience included many young girls, teenagers, mothers, grandmothers, as well as proud fathers, and little brothers.

Yvette Nechvatal-Drew, the executive director of Girls Inc. Durham, said the charity does everything it can to support women empowerment.

“We are the champions for girls,” she said. “We fight for a positive future.”

Many of the girls at the event also attend one of several Girls Inc. programs held across Durham. They have after-school sessions as well as summer camps where girls are able to interact with positive role models in a safe environment.

During the event, attendees participated in activities such as arts and crafts, and writing a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie, about personal challenges facing both women and girls.

Victoria Morrison, a Girls Inc. volunteer, says feels writing a makes a powerful statement.

“It brings him awareness that he doesn’t necessarily know about,” said Morrison. “Instead of a government level of thinking it brings it down to a citizen level.”

Speakers at the free event included Tracy MacCharles, MPP for Pickering-Scarborough East, Kathleen Smyth, a professional storyteller, and Katie Bausch, a women studies professor at Trent University.

Martine Robinson is the co-superintendent of the Durham District School Board was also a guest speaker. She talked about how her daughter motivates her.

“Because of my amazing daughter, Sadie, I work hard every single day to make sure I am a good role model for young women,” said Robinson.

But while many of the speakers discussed the progress that has been made for and by women in Canada, there still may be a long way to go, according to Katie Bausch.  She said it is important to know our history as a society.

“Sometimes it can make people feel like a little hopeless,” said Bausch. “But if you think of all the things women have been able to do in Canada it can really boost your sense that is it possible for change to happen.”

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Nicole O'Brien is a second year journalist student at Durham College. She enjoys writing about the campus, entertainment and sports for The Chronicle. Her work can also be seen on her entertainment blog, www.entertainmentgirl.wordpress.com and also on the lifestyle blog Godigio. In her spare time, Nicole enjoys watching movies and listening to music. She hopes to one day work for an entertainment news network on either radio or television.