Poll reveals which historical figures Canadians want as the woman on their money

A new survey shows that the vast majority of Canadians agree that at least one woman (other than the Queen) should be on the country's bank notes. While Nellie McClung is the favourite, Canadians are still largely split — and mostly by region — on who it should be.

80% of Canadians think a woman should be on our bank notes, and 27% favour Nellie McClung

Nellie McClung led a list of Canadian women in a new poll asking people which women should be on Canada's money. (womenonbanknotes.ca)

An overwhelming majority of Canadians agree that a woman should be featured on their money, but there is less agreement on who it should be, according to a new poll.

The survey, conducted by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI), found that 80 per cent of Canadians agreed that there should be at least one woman (other than Queen Elizabeth II) featured on the front of a Canadian bank note.

At the end of a public consultation process to determine which Canadian woman will be featured on a bill in a new series of bank notes that will begin rolling out in 2018, an independent advisory council settled on a list of 12 names. After conducting a public opinion survey of their own and consulting historical experts, the council will narrow the list down again to three to five names. Finance Minister Bill Morneau will make the final decision.

The ARI put the names, along with a short biography, to Canadians earlier this month. Nellie McClung, described in the poll as "a member of the 'Famous Five' who won women the right to be appointed to the Senate", topped the list with 27 per cent of Canadians saying she was among the "one or two" women that respondents would like to see on the new bill.

Elizabeth (Elsie) MacGill (1905-1980), a pioneering engineer and feminist, is one of twelve people being considered by the Bank of Canada for a new series of bank notes featuring women.

McClung was followed by Thérèse Casgrain ("suffrage campaigner in Quebec, first woman to head a Canadian political party") at 19 per cent and Elizabeth (Elsie) MacGill ("first female aircraft designer in the world, first Canadian woman to earn an engineering degree") at 18 per cent.

Both Lucy Maud Montgomery ("author of Anne of Green Gables and 21 other novels and books of stories") and Emily Carr ("artist known for her post-impressionist paintings, especially of Indigenous culture") ranked next at 16 per cent apiece.

Viola Desmond ("known for fighting racial segregation at a Nova Scotia theatre") rounded out the top half of the list with 12 per cent.

When looking only at female respondents the same six names topped the list, though McClung was slightly more popular — she was the favourite choice of 32 per cent of women.

None of the remaining names — poet E. Pauline Johnson, author Gabrielle Roy, artist Pitseolak Ashoona, feminist Idola Saint-Jean, humanitarian Lotta Hitschmanova, and Olympian Fanny (Bobbie) Rosenfeld — registered more than 8 per cent support.

Local favourites

The poll showed stark differences from one region to the next, almost entirely related to the region of the country from which each candidate hailed.

Nellie McClung was the top choice among respondents in Alberta, the Prairies, and Ontario, registering over 40 per cent in both Alberta and Manitoba — not coincidentally the two provinces in which she had the greatest impact.

Thérèse Casgrain (1896-1981) was an activist and politician who led the women's suffrage movement in Quebec and became the first female leader of a political party. (Canadian Press)

Quebecers were very likely to choose hometown heroes as well. Thérèse Casgrain was the favourite of 52 per cent of Quebecers, followed by Gabrielle Roy at 20 per cent. Neither of these two women scored highly in any other part of the country.

Viola Desmond of Nova Scotia was the top choice of Atlantic Canadians (37 per cent), while Lucy Maud Montgomery, whose Anne of Green Gables books were largely set in Prince Edward Island, had her highest support in the region as well.

British Columbian artist Emily Carr was the favourite of people in her home province at 34 per cent.

Much of this support for local candidates is likely due to the greater familiarity respondents might have had for figures from their home regions. The woman finally selected and featured on one of the new bank notes, however, will soon become a familiar face to Canadians from coast to coast.

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The poll by the Angus Reid Institute was conducted between May 10 and 13, interviewing 1,517 adult Canadians via the Internet. A probabilistic sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/- 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

About the Author

Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.