Canada's first female cabinet minister and a trailblazer who pushed for equal pay for equal work, Ellen Fairclough, died Saturday at age 99.

Fairclough, who was appointed secretary of state under prime minister John Diefenbaker in 1957 and became his minister of citizenship and immigration a year later, died in a Hamilton nursing home late Saturday afternoon, her family said.

The pioneering politician served on Hamilton city council for five years before being elected as Conservative MP for Hamilton West in a 1950 byelection.

She was the only female MP for three years until the 1953 election.

Fairclough, who inspired many other female politicians to follow in her footsteps, was appointed secretary of state in 1957 and acted as citizenship minister from 1958 to 1962.

She held the position of postmaster general from 1962 until her defeat in an election a year later.

While an MP, Fairclough introduced private member's bills for equal pay for work of equal value. She averaged 150 speeches a year in the House of Commons, focusing on housing, income tax, unemployment insurance, the post office and the status of women.

An accountant for 22 years, she served on the boards of many foundations and charities, including the Girl Guides and Consumers' Association of Canada.

She received many honours over the years, including being named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1978 and a Companion of that order – the highest level – in 1995.

She was born in Hamilton on Jan. 28, 1905.

Her husband Gordon and son Howard both died before her.