Case Study 2: Women

Context Card


Black and white photograph of a young women placing her ballot in a metal ballot box, while smiling.
Source: Reg Innell, Toronto Star Photo Archive

The 1867 British North America Act allowed only men to vote.

Women formed groups in the 1870s to promote equality and fight for the right to vote by lobbying governments, marching and presenting petitions.

Different provinces had different rules for women and voting. The first success came in 1916, when Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta gave women the vote. In 1917, some women were given the right to vote in the federal elections during the First World War. In 1918, gender was removed as a criterion for voting at the federal level, and many women got the right to fully participate in elections by casting a ballot and running as a candidate. However, some women continued to be barred from voting for reasons other than their gender. It was not until 1960 that First Nations women obtained the right to vote.

Activity Card


Black and white photograph showing a group of men, including Sir John A. MacDonald, gathered on steps holding their top hats.  
Source: Library and Archives Canada, PA-091061

At Confederation, only men who are 21 or older and who own property are able to vote. Women are disqualified both federally and provincially.


Black and white photograph showing a large group of women, positioned in rows. Two dogs sit in front.
Source: Library and Archives Canada, PA-028033

The National Council of Women is formed to fight for women’s right to vote. Similar organizations spring up across Canada.


Black and white photograph of Sir John A. MacDonald standing in front of a fireplace, one hand on his hip, the other touching an open book on a small table beside him.  
Source: Library and Archives Canada, C-010143

Prime Minister John A. Macdonald proposes expanding the right to vote in federal elections from ‘male persons’ to certain women.

Macdonald’s proposal is withdrawn due to opposition in Parliament.


Black and white photograph showing four women seated around a table. On the table is a large stack of paper.
Source: Foote and James, Archives of Manitoba, PR1967-43, N9905

Manitoba becomes the first province in Canada to grant some women the vote.

A year earlier, Manitoba women collected 40,000 names on a petition in favour of the cause.


Photograph of a group of female military nurses lining up and voting outside during the First World War.

Source: William Rider-Rider, Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada, PA-002279 (modified from the original). Colourized image courtesy of the Vimy Foundation.

During the First World War, Canadian women in the armed forces and female relatives of military men are allowed to vote in federal elections. The Canadian military nurses in this photo were stationed in France when they cast their ballots.


Black and white photograph of Agnes Macphail, seated.
Source: The Grey Roots Archival Collection

Many Canadian women win the right to vote federally and, a year later, to stand as a candidate for the House of Commons. In 1921, Agnes Macphail is the first woman elected to the Canadian Parliament.


Black and white photograph of Thérèse Casgrain.  
Source: André Larose, Library and Archives Canada, PA-178194

There was a lot of resistance to giving women voting rights in Quebec. It was the final province to do so. It took the efforts of activists like Thérèse Casgrain to bring about change.


Black and white photograph showing Prime Minister John Diefenbaker shaking hands with a First Nations woman, amid a small crowd of people of all ages. The woman has her arm around a young child.
Source: University of Saskatchewan, University Archives & Special Collections, John G. Diefenbaker fonds MG 411, JGD 3636

All First Nations women (and men) are given the right to vote in federal elections without any conditions. Before this, they could vote only if they gave up their Treaty Rights and status. Here, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker greets a First Nations woman.


Photograph of Kim Campbell standing behind a microphone, smiling and waving.
Source: The Canadian Press / Phil Snel

In 1993, Kim Campbell becomes the first female Prime Minister of Canada.

Today, Canadian women have rights equal to men, yet still face barriers to participating fully in political life.