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In Depth

Canada's Military

Women in the Canadian military

Last Updated May 30, 2006

In May 2006, Canada experienced its first loss of a female soldier during a battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Capt. Nichola Goddard died in active combat on the front lines. (DND)

Canada is considered a progressive nation with respect to its policy of equal access and full gender integration in its Armed Forces.

Women started serving with the Canadian military as nurses in 1885.

Over 2,800 served with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps during the First World War and it was during that era that the role of Canadian women in the military extended beyond nursing. Women were given paramilitary training in small arms, drill, first aid and vehicle maintenance in case they are needed as home guards.

In 1941, the Canadian government recruited over 45,000 women volunteers for full-time military service other than nursing. Women worked as mechanics, parachute riggers and heavy mobile equipment drivers.

In 1987, the Combat Related Employment of Women (CREW) trials were launched, with the object of integrating women into selected active combat units and naval vessels. That same year, the Air Force opened all areas of employment, including fighter pilot, to women.

WOMEN IN THE CANADIAN MILITARY

The Canadian Armed Forces opened all occupations, including combat roles, to women in 1989. Only submarines were excluded and they followed in 2000.

About 15 per cent of Canadian Forces personnel are women.

About two per cent of Canadian regular force combat troops are women.

There are 99 female combat officers in the regular force.

CBC Archives:
On Every Front: Canadian Women in the Second World War

Working women after the war

Source: Department of National Defence

Today, women make up 15 per cent of the Canadian military with over 7,900 female personnel currently serving in the regular force and more than 4,800 women serving in the primary reserve. Out of that number, 225 women are part of the regular combat force and 925 are enlisted in the primary reserve combat force.

In May 2006, Canada experienced its first loss of an active combat female soldier. Capt. Nichola Goddard died on the front lines during a battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

How many female Canadian Forces personnel are in Afghanistan?
Approximately 230.

How many female military staff died in WW1?
Forty-three.

How many female military staff died in WW2?
Seventy-one.

How many female military staff died in Korea?
Canada suffered no female casualties in operations during that war.


A history of firsts:

1885: Women serve as nurses for the first time in Canadian military history.

1914-1918: During the First World War, for the first time, women are included in military capacities other than nursing.

1974: Maj. Wendy Clay, a doctor, qualifies for her pilot's wings six years before the pilot classification is opened to all women.

1978: Cpl. Gail Toupin becomes the first female member of the SkyHawks, the Army's skydiving demonstration team.

1981: 2nd Lieut. Inge Plug becomes the first female helicopter pilot.

1981: Lieut. Karen McCrimmon becomes the Canadian Forces' first female air navigator.

1988: Col. Sheila A. Hellstrom is the first female graduate of National Defence College. She becomes the first Regular Force woman to be promoted to the rank of brigadier-general.

First female gunners in the Regular Force graduate from qualification 3 training.

1989 Pte. Heather R. Erxleben becomes Canada's first female Regular Force infantry soldier.

Maj. Dee Brasseur became the first woman fighter pilot of a CF-18 Hornet.

1991: HMCS Nipigon becomes the first Canadian mixed-gender warship to participate in exercises with NATO's Standing Naval Forces Atlantic.

Lieut. Anne Reiffenstein (nee Proctor), Lieut. Holly Brown and Capt. Linda Shrum graduate from artillery training as the first female officers in the combat arms.

1992: Cpl. Marlene Shillingford becomes the first woman selected to join the Snowbirds team. The Snowbirds are the Air Force's aerobatic demonstration flying team.

1993: Lieut. (N) Leanne Crowe is the first woman to qualify as a clearance diving officer and is subsequently the first woman to become Officer Commanding of the Experimental Diving Unit.

1994: Maj.-Gen. Wendy Clay becomes the first woman promoted to that rank.

1995: Chief Warrant Officer Linda Smith is the first woman to be named Wing Chief Warrant Officer in the Canadian Forces at 17 Wing Winnipeg.

Chief Petty Officer, 2nd Class Holly Kisbee becomes the first woman Combat Chief of a major warship.

Maj. Micky Colton becomes the first female pilot to complete 10,000 flying hours in a Hercules aircraft.

Lieut. Ruth-Ann Shamuhn of 5 Combat Engineer Regiment becomes the first female combat diver.

2001: Capt. Maryse Carmichael is the first female Snowbird pilot.

2002: Chief Warrant Officer Camille Tkacz is the first woman appointed to a Command Chief position as assistant deputy minister (Human Resources - Military) Chief Warrant Officer.

2003: Maj. Anne Reiffenstein is the first female to command a combat arms sub-unit.

Lt.-Cmdr. Marta Mulkins is the first woman to serve as a captain of a Canadian warship.

Maj. Jennie Carignan of 5 Combat Engineer Regiment (5 CER) becomes the first female Deputy Commanding Officer of a combat arms unit.

Leading Seaman Hayley John and Leading Seaman Marketa Semik are the first female clearance divers.

Master Seaman Colleen Beattie is the first woman qualified as a submariner, followed shortly by Master Seaman Carey Ann Stewart.

The first and only all female CF team to complete the Nijmegan March in Holland carrying the same weight as male teams. They are: team leader Lieut. Debbie Scott, second-in-command Capt. Lucie Mauger, Lieut. Jody Weathered, Cpl. Elizabeth Mutch, Warrant Officer Nathalie Mercer, Warrant Officer Jackie Revell, Master Corporal Denise Robert, Cpl. Melissa Cedilot, Cpl. Danette Frasz, Lt.-Col. Teresa McNutt, Lieut. Donna Rogers and Cpl. Anne MacDonald.

2004: Chief Petty Officer, 1st Class Jan Davis is appointed Coxswain of HMCS Regina and is the first woman Coxswain of a major warship.

2006: Capt. Nichola Goddard is Canada's first female soldier killed in active combat. She was near the front lines serving as a forward artillery observer during a battle with Taliban forces. She was killed when a rocket-propelled grenade struck her light-armoured vehicle.

These are the current statistics (as of March 31, 2006) for Canadian Forces personnel serving in combat arms:
Category Total Male Female % of Female
REGULAR FORCE COMBAT ARMS 12,054 11,829 225 1.9%
REGULAR FORCE OFFICERS 2,640 2,541 99 3.75%
REGULAR FORCE NON-COMMISSIONED MEMBERS 9,414 9,288 126 1.34%
PRIMARY RESERVE COMBAT ARMS 13,897 12,972 925 6.7%
PRIMARY RESERVE OFFICERS 1,909 1,832 77 4.0%
PRIMARY RESERVE NON-COMMISSIONED MEMBERS 11,988 11,140 848 7.1%
Source: Department of National Defence


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