Alberta commemorates 100-year anniversary of women's suffrage

This province's women weren't allowed to vote until April 19, 1916, when the Equal Suffrage Statutory Law Amendment Act made Alberta the third province in Canada with female suffrage after Manitoba, then Saskatchewan.

First Nations women weren't afforded the right to vote until 1960s

(Province of Alberta)

Dozens of women gathered on the front steps of the Alberta Legislature on Tuesday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in the province.

They were recreating an historic photo from 1916, when the efforts of women like Nellie McClung and Emily Murphy paid off with the government granting women in Alberta the right to vote.

The Equal Suffrage Statutory Law Amendment Act made Alberta the third province in Canada with female suffrage after Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Dozens of women gathered on the front steps of the Alberta Legislature on Tuesday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in the province, recreating an historic photo from 1916. (Government of Alberta)

Petitioning for the right to vote

Suffrage activists in the early 1900s primarily used petitions to advance their cause, said University of Lethbridge history professor Sheila McManus.

"Of course, because there are no women in the legislature [at the time] it's not like they could go to their local woman MLA and say, 'please help us,'" said McManus. 

Those petitioning for the vote came from a variety of backgrounds, she added.

Nellie McClung helped women win the right to vote in Alberta. (National Archives of Canada/C.Jessop)

"For some of them, it does come from a fairly progressive political place," McManus said. "For some of the other leaders, it's about getting temperance legislation finally into place. They saw temperance as a women's issue and they were never going to get prohibition in unless they could get women voters in the legislature"

The women also found support in rural Alberta, from farmers looking to double the farm vote. 

Breaking barriers

One hundred years after that fight, Alberta's minister for the status of women stood up to credit the women who came before her.

With her two month baby in tow, Calgary MLA Stephanie McLean made a speech in the Alberta Legislature today — honouring of all the women who came before her. 2:54

"It is through the grit and determination of the women before me that I can be here," said MLA Stephanie McLean.

"Women made change happen in Alberta in 1916, and we are making it happen today. Extending the vote to Alberta women opened a path for women to run for office, and it took just a year for Louise Mckinney, followed shortly by Roberta MacAdams, to win their seats in this house in 1917."

An 'incomplete' equality

Though the initial suffrage legislation passed in 1916, many women weren't allowed to vote until decades later, said McManus.

Chinese and Japanese women weren't permitted to vote until the 1940s and First Nations women couldn't cast a ballot until the 60s.

"There was all kinds of racial discrimination," McManus said. "For Chinese and Japanese women at this point in time 100 years ago Canada still had very firm exclusionary legislation in place."

In 2015, Alberta achieved its first-ever gender-balanced cabinet. 

The more things change

While McManus still believes those who petitioned for the right to vote a century ago would be pleased with how far the province has come, they wouldn't be surprised at some of the attacks woman politicians have endured. 

Earlier this week, conservative MP Michelle Rempel penned an opinion piece outlining her experiences with sexism and sexual harassment. 

"One hundred years ago they were attacked for being women," McManus said. 

"It was never really about policy issues, it was about being women. We see this still so often today lobbied at women politicians that it's not really about discussing their political issues. All often when it comes to women politicians, it becomes an attack on women."


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener