Hamilton

Hamilton elects largest number of female councillors in city history

In 1931, Ward 1 elected Nora Frances Henderson as the first woman alderman for city council. Eighty-seven years later, women will make up almost half of the newly elected council members - the most in the council’s history.

87 years ago, Hamilton elected the first woman alderman, and now women make up almost half of city council

This year's city council will be the one with more women ever. (Colin Cote-Paulette)

In 1931, Ward 1 elected Nora Frances Henderson as the first woman alderman for city council. Eighty-seven years later, women will make up almost half of the newly elected council members - the most in the council's history.

Through a combination of veteran and rookie councillors, women now hold seven out of the 15 seats on Hamilton city council.

That's a few more than the previous council, which at one point had five women, but was left with four after Terry Anderson filled the spot Donna Skelly left in Ward 7.

The council before that, 2010 to 2014, only had three women members.

Hamilton is a unique place in that women leaders support women leaders- Nrinder Nann, newly elected Ward 3 councillor

​To get here, all four incumbent women councillors pulled their weight. Long-time councillor Maria Pearson in Ward 10 will serve her fifth term come December. Brenda Johnson in Ward 11 and Judi Partridge in Ward 15 will be serving their third term, and Arlene VanderBeek in Ward 13 will serve her second.

"I think it's a strong message of how hard we've worked and what we've been able to achieve not only in our wards but at the council table," says Pearson.

Pearson first ran in 1991 in Stoney Creek. She was first elected in 2003.

"I ran, not because I was a woman, but because I knew I could do the job, and I'm hoping that's why women are running today because they know they can do the job," she says.

Maria Pearson will serve her fifth consecutive term in Ward 10.

New additions

The new women on council come out of Wards 1, 3 and 7. Maureen Wilson took over Aidan Johnson's seat in Ward 1. She has had several senior staff positions in local and regional governments, and served as chief of staff for former mayor Bob Wade.

In Ward 3, Nrinder Nann is taking over Matthew Green's seat after managing his 2014 campaign. She is also a small business owner and former manager of community development for the city of Toronto.

Nrinder Nann is the newly elected Ward 3 councillor. (Nrinder Nann)

"It's fantastic to be part of this moment for Hamilton's history," says Nann. "Almost halfway there in terms of having gender equity or parity on council." 

Esther Pauls will be serving in Ward 7. She's said that her constituents don't want LRT, but that she's committed to listening and informing herself before making any decisions.

More women ran

Women involved in this election went beyond just the winners. 30 out of the 89 candidates running were women. That's six more than the last municipal elections.

It's not a big number, but it's significant.

"Putting your name on the application to run is a scary enough process, you're sticking your neck out wide," says Brenda Johnson.

Ward 11 councillor Brenda Johnson got this advice when she first ran for council in 2010: to get the imcumbant out we 'need an articulate woman from Winona.' She suspects it was because as a woman, she could present a refreshing change. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

But it's not just that. Johnson remembers a conference she attended a few years ago about women in politics. One of the concerns voiced there, was that women are still expected to manage their jobs and take care of the household.

For her the question is do women have enough support to get involved in politics?

"The election itself is like a triple full-time job. You're going from like 9 a.m. to like 9:30 p.m." says Johnson. "I waited until my kids got older, and my kids were no longer in the house before I tackled this because I don't know if I would've been able to do it when my kids were young."

And the women that did get involved in this election have more to brag about than just showing up. Overall, 34% of the ballots cast were for female candidates. In contrast, for the 2014 election, only 24% of the total votes were for women candidates.

Putting your name on the application to run is a scary enough process, you're sticking your neck out wide- Brenda Johnson, Ward 11 councillor

Nann sees the Hamilton community and different organizations in the city as big influencers on the involvement of women in politics. And beyond that, a culture of support from other women leaders. 

"Hamilton is a unique place in that women leaders support women leaders," she says. 

Compared to other municipalities in the area, Hamilton had a higher percentage of women candidates overall. Although Burlington elected Marianne Meed Ward as their new mayor, only eight out of the 33 candidates that ran for city council were women.

In St. Catharines, only nine out of 31 candidates for city council were women. And Toronto's new 25 ward council only has eight women councillors in it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samuel Guevara is a reporter with CBC Hamilton. He's passionate about local news and digital journalism. You can contact him at samuel.guevara@cbc.ca.

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