Farewell, Miss Canada: how the beauty pageant met its end

The annual contest was "a symbol of the exploitation and oppression of women," said Judy Rebick of the National Committee on the Status of Women.

Contest started in 1946 but was 'out of step with the changing times' by 1992

After 46 years, the organizers of the Miss Canada pageant announce the 1992 edition will be its last. 2:49

Miss Canada was going to have to turn in her crown.

In January 1992, the company that produced the annual beauty pageant announced the end had come.

A contestant parades before spectators at the 1966 Miss Canada pageant. (Sunday/CBC Archives)

The cost of putting on the show, which aired on the CTV network, was one factor. But the whole premise of the pageant — which was open to unmarried women between the ages of 18 and 24 — was another.

It was time

"It may have been an acceptable way to portray Canadian women for the last 45 years," said reporter Steve Paikin. "But the Miss Canada organizers say 'not any more.'"

Thousands of women competed for the title and the winner was awarded $100,000 in prizes from sponsors.

But Cleo Productions said it was pulling the plug despite the pageant's ongoing popularity with would-be beauty queens and high TV ratings.

Contestants wore identical swimsuits for the competition. (The National/CBC Archives)

It was expensive, too

"It's time to present Canadian youth in a more contemporary fashion," said company head Joseph Garwood in a statement.

The company was also having financial trouble, losing almost $500,000 on the 1991 edition of the pageant.

The producer denied that protests by feminist organizations also played a role in the contest's demise. But women's groups claimed victory, said Paikin.  

Like a 'meat market'

"Beauty pageants are a symbol of the exploitation and oppression of women," said Judy Rebick of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. "The fact that advertisers are withdrawing their support is a sign that the women's movement is having a lot more influence and affecting institutions in society."

Judy Rebick of the National Committee on the Status of Women applauded the decision to end the Miss Canada pageant. (The National/CBC Archives)

The pageant had its defenders, including 1981 Miss Canada Dominique Dufour. She argued it was a force for national unity.

"Quebec is there, there's Nova Scotia, there's Vancouver, there's British Columbia, there's Winnipeg," she said. "We're all a country together, and I think it's a nice way to show it."

The last crown

Unless a new producer took on the show, said Paikin, the last Miss Canada to fulfill the unspecified duties of the role would be B.C.'s Nicole Dunsdon, winner of the 1991 competition.

"It gives me an extra drive to do a very good job and inform people what it's all about," she said. 

Cleo Productions said they owed it to Dunsdon and all previous Miss Canadas to retire the crown "with dignity and grace."

The pageant was later revived by another business as Miss Canada International. 

The 1991 champion, Nicole Dunsdon, said she would work extra hard knowing she was the last Miss Canada to win the crown. (The National/CBC Archives)