The Harper government has spent millions to commemorate the War of 1812 and other episodes from Canadian history, but has also erased at least one inspiring piece of the past.

Thérèse Casgrain, a feminist icon and Quebec heroine who died in 1981, has been quietly removed from a national honour, to be replaced by a volunteer award bearing the prime minister's banner.

The Thérèse Casgrain Volunteer Award was created in 1982 by the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau.

Casgrain fought for the right of Quebec women to vote, which they finally won in 1940.

She also became the first female leader of a political party in Canada, heading the CCF in Quebec, and was appointed to the Senate in 1970 by Trudeau.

The Casgrain award honoured Canadian activists such as June Callwood until it was eliminated — unannounced — by the federal government in 2010.

Family never consulted

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, which had administered the Casgrain award, was instructed in 2010 to create a Prime Minister's Volunteer Award in its place, to be handed out in a ceremony each year presided over by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Michèle Nadeau, Casgrain's granddaughter, says her family and the Montreal-based Thérèse Casgrain Foundation, which she heads, were not consulted about whether the award should be eliminated.

"We were informed of a sort of internal review that was done by the Human Resources Department, and they decided to discontinue. But we were never consulted.

"Basically, we were advised that at some point the award would be discontinued ... Members of the family, the grandchildren, etc., the great grandchildren, were rather upset."

An image of Casgrain and her namesake volunteer-award medal also disappeared from Canada's $50 bank note in 2012, replaced by the image of an icebreaker on a new currency series.

An image of the so-called Famous Five women was removed from the same bank note.

Therese Casgrain

Thérèse Casgrain, president of the League for Women's Rights in Quebec from 1929 to 1942, is pictured during an election run in 1967. (The Canadian Press)

The Casgrain Award was killed once before by the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney in 1990, but was revived in 2001 by the Chretien Liberals.

Elimination never communicated to public

A spokesman for Employment and Social Development Canada, the successor department to Human Resources, says the Casgrain award was reviewed in 2010 following the fall speech from the throne, which announced plans for a new volunteer award.

"Discussions took place with the Casgrain Foundation and it was decided that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada end the ... program, rather than re-orient and re-launch it," Pierre Nolet said in an email.

"There was no public announcement of its end. The spirit and objectives of the Therese Casgrain Volunteer Award were retained in two national categories of the PMVA [Prime Minister's Volunteer Award]."

The Prime Minister's Volunteer Awards, launched in 2011, honour 17 Canadians from across the country each year.

The awards ceremony was held Feb. 27 this year in Toronto, with Harper personally presenting a medal and certificate to each winner, and having his picture taken with them.