When Ottawa was forced to change its Changing of the Guard ceremony
In 1979, women joined the pomp and circumstance for daily summertime ceremony on Parliament Hill
This summer, as they have since 1959, tourists visiting Ottawa can observe the pomp and pageantry of a ceremony like the one at Buckingham Palace, by showing up on Parliament Hill for Canada's own Changing of the Guard.
When CBC Newsmagazine visited Parliament Hill in the summer of '59, host Norman DePoe said it was apparent that "the newest tourist attraction in the Commonwealth has scored a smash hit," drawing 2,000 to 3,000 spectators every day.
At that time, the commander of the ceremony told DePoe that the guard was made up of young men.
It was not a sure thing that the show would go on past mid-August, but popularity won out.
A complaint, then change
Twenty years later, as CBC's The National reported, there had to be some changes made to bring the show into line with modern expectations.
"In Canada," CBC's George McLean said in the introduction to a June 25, 1979 report, "many traditionally male domains have in recent years opened their doors to women."
And as he explained further, one such group "that held out" until forced to change was the group of guards involved in the daily summer ceremony on Parliament Hill.
It took a complaint to the Human Rights Commission the summer before and a compromise from the Defence Department to do it, but the ceremony from the summer of 1979 would include women.
"This year," reported Bruce Cameron, "underneath those furry busbies are 11 women."
Because the guard was made up of "potential combat troops," allowing women to fill the summer jobs was impossible, because women were not then allowed to serve in combat.
Enter the compromise, which saw the changing of the guards to a "purely ceremonial unit," which could include men from militia units and women who would serve only in the ceremonial guards.