- By Siobhán O'GradySiobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy., Reid StandishReid Standish is a journalist based in Helsinki, Finland. He was formerly an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
On Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — the self-declared feminist whose cabinet is 50 percent female — announced that in 2018, Canada will put a woman other than Queen Elizabeth II on a new bank note for the first time in the country’s history.
The move will put Canada two years ahead of the United States, where women have thus far been reserved only for collectible coins, like the silver Susan B. Anthony or golden Sacagawea dollars that are inarguably more inconvenient to carry around than bills. Last July, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that a newly redesigned $10 bill will feature a woman by 2020.
Canadians themselves will decide which iconic woman that will be: They have until April 16 to submit nominations on Bank of Canada’s website, and participants can nominate up to five people at a time.
Nominees must be Canadian women who have been dead for at least 25 years as of mid-April, and fictional characters will not be considered (sorry to Prince Edward Island’s beloved Anne of Green Gables). According to the national bank, an “independent advisory council composed of eminent Canadian academic, cultural and thought leaders” will sort through the nominations to create an initial list of 10 to 12 options. Canadians will then have the opportunity to weigh in with a formal public opinion survey before the council publishes a shortlist with three to five names. The governor of the Bank of Canada will consult with the country’s minister of finance on those final options, and the minister will make the final call next year.
Foreign Policy’s resident Canadians teamed up to compile a list of those we think should, at the very least, make the shortlist.
Perhaps no woman made a greater impact on Canada in the early 20th century than Nellie McClung, the feminist activist who helped bring women’s suffrage to the Great White North. Not only did she play an outsize role in winning women the right to vote in the province of Manitoba in 1916 and later nationwide in 1918, but McClung was also a member of “The Famous Five,” a group of female activists who wanted to expand the legal definition of what constituted a “person” in Canada beyond a man. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled against them in 1928, but handed them a win the next year.
However, recent controversy has surfaced over the suffragette’s support for the eugenics movement, which espoused selective breeding and heavily influenced Nazi leaders during the second World War. McClung is seen as a front-runner, but those views might cause Ottawa to find another candidate.
This candidate might not inspire Americans the same way she does their northern neighbors, but Laura Secord’s role in the War of 1812 helped define the early Canadian identity. Born in 1775 in Massachusetts, which was a British colony at the time, Secord has been built up as a Canadian Paul Revere: She walked out of American-occupied territory in 1813 to deliver valuable information to British forces in Upper Canada about a coming American assault. The information she delivered is credited with helping the British and their Mohawk allies win the so-called Battle of Beaver Dams, which saw the defeat of an invading U.S. force.
Canadian artist Pitseolak Ashoona was one of the last in a generation of Inuits to be raised in a traditional, nomadic hunting lifestyle in what is now known as Nunavut, a Canadian territory. Her husband, Ashook, died at 40, and much of her autobiographical art was inspired by that loss. Her colorful drawings, which she began after Ashook’s death, are considered some of the Canadian works most representative of Inuit life. She was eventually accepted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1974 and was awarded the prestigious Order of Canada in 1977. Before her death in 1983, she made close to 9,000 drawings, about 250 of which were turned into prints.
Heavily influenced by the the First Nations communities of Canada’s Pacific Northwest, Emily Carr is one of the country’s first modernist and post-impressionist painters. Largely unknown during most of her life as an artist, Carr became a Canadian art icon before her death in 1945, with her paintings featured in Amsterdam, London, Paris, and Washington. She was a distinguished writer, and her fascination with landscapes and nature made her an early environmentalist, which was reflected in work depicting the effects of deforestation in western Canada.
Lucy Maud Montgomery
Anne Shirley, the beloved central character of the Anne of Green Gables book series, may not qualify for the new bank note, but her creator, Canadian writer Lucy Maud Montgomery, certainly does. Montgomery wrote 20 novels and 530 short stories between the publication of the first Anne book in 1908 and her death in 1942. Many of those were based on Anne, the redheaded orphan adopted by a brother and sister on Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province, where Montgomery was born and raised in the rural town of Cavendish. Her books sold more than 50 million copies worldwide and were later made into various TV series and movies. The award-winning Anne musical that has been playing on the island’s capital of Charlottetown every summer since 1965 is the longest-running musical in Canada and possibly the world. Many of those who go to see it each year also flock to the Cavendish estate that re-creates Anne’s fictional home, which sees more than 125,000 visitors each year.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons