Manitoba

The fight is on to get Nellie McClung on Canadian cash

If one Manitoba historian had a vote on the matter, the Bank of Canada would reconsider suffragist Nellie McClung to appear on a new series of Canadian banknotes. So — following in McClung's footsteps — she's appealing to local politicians in hopes of making a change.

'This is happening, and it's our time to say something about it,' says historian

Snow covers a Calgary statue of 'Famous Five' member Nellie McClung as she holds a 1929 announcement which helped give women the right to vote in Canada. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

If one Manitoba historian had a vote on the matter, the Bank of Canada would reconsider suffragist Nellie McClung to appear on a new series of Canadian banknotes. So — following in McClung's footsteps — she's appealing to local politicians in hopes of making a change. 

On Thursday, the Bank of Canada announced its newest shortlist of female finalists to appear on its next series of banknotes, bringing the list down to five from 12.

The list includes poet E. Pauline Johnson, athlete Fanny (Bobbie) Rosenfeld and Second World War aircraft designer Elizabeth (Elsie) MacGill, but not noted Manitoba suffragist Nellie McClung.

McClung's leadership in the women's suffrage movement helped win the right to vote in Manitoba elections for some women in 1916, first in the country; however it would still be decades before the right to vote was extended to Indigenous and Asian women.

Linda McDowell, a history advisor for the Nellie McClung Foundation, criticized McClung's removal as "short on rationale."

"I think I could live with Nellie being left out if there had been someone else from the Prairie region, but there's no one from our region — from the three Prairie provinces — in that final list," she said.

Since the decision was announced, McDowell has been sending emails to Manitoba senators, members of Parliament and members of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, she said, "to say, 'Look, this is happening, and it's our time to say something about it."

The winner — and the denomination of the bill she will appear on — will be announced Dec. 8 by Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz, but McDowell hopes to change some minds before then.

"I suspect that the final decision has been made anyway, but we can at least try to influence," she said.

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

In January, Premier Brian Pallister wrote to Poloz to advocate for McClung's appearance on the bills.

As part of the Famous 5 — Emily Murphy, Irene Marryat Parlby, Nellie Mooney McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards — McClung has already appeared on the $50 bill from 2004 to 2012.

But McDowell said if that's the reason McClung got the boot, the decision-makers should never have included her on the list at all.

"Why were they not honest and say, we don't want her on there, she's not in our final list because we had her on before? But they didn't do that. She was on the [list]."

McDowell said McClung deserves to be a finalist because of her wide-reaching effect on women's lives across the country.

"The argument that I would make is that it's impossible, really, to choose one woman to represent all women from all times and all places in Canada, but what you need to do then is to try to choose a woman who has had an influence or a contact over a wider area," McDowell said.

"Nellie, it seems to me, is perfect for that."

McDowell said McClung was born in Ontario, educated in Manitoba, active in politics across the Prairies, elected into office in Alberta and finally retired to write her memoirs in British Columbia.

"She wasn't just one achievement," McDowell said. "Nellie was an actress, an orator, a mother, a teacher, a writer and a suffragist and a politician."

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