Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bring Nellie home

  • Print

My husband's French is almost non-existent, but he got my message loud and clear as we surveyed the statues that adorn the facade of the National Assembly in Quebec City.

"Une," I said indignantly.

Related Items

Poll

Should Nellie McClung be memorialized at the legislature?

View Results

"No, deux," he corrected, spotting a second woman among the 20 male founders of la belle province.

We knew most of the men, household names in history books: Montcalm, Champlain, Wolfe... We didn't know the two women, Sister Marie Guyart and educator Marguerite Bourgeoys, but it got me wondering -- how many women adorn Manitoba's legislative building?

Guess.

I circled the legislature one warm autumn night, amazed that I could find only one: Queen Victoria, and she never set foot in Canada, much less this province.

What message does that send to the young women of Manitoba who visit our legislature? Or the record number of female MLAs who today comprise more than a third of the house? That we're invisible? Or that we just don't count?

There is a movement to establish a statue in honour of noted feminist Nellie McClung at the legislature, but it's been six years since we first heard about this effort, and still no statue.

No one was willing to talk with the Free Press about the memorial this week. Perhaps it's because there's so much pressure to say and do the right thing in these politically charged times.

But this one seems so obvious, it's hard to believe it hasn't happened yet.

Public symbols and statues and words matter.

Ask the Métis nation, which struggled years ago to get a statue of Louis Riel, the province's founder, at the legislature.

Ask the Ukrainians, who worked hard to get a statue of their poet and hero Taras Shevchenko on the legislative grounds, or the Scots who managed to enshrine Robbie Burns.

They matter.

Alberta seems to have figured this out.

In honour of the "Famous Five" who won the battle in 1929 to have women declared "persons" under the BNA Act, there are plaques and parks and a wonderful monument of the five women sculpted by Canadian artist Barbara Paterson.

It was unveiled in Calgary in 1999, and a replica established on Parliament Hill in 2000.

Interestingly, all five of the women are dubbed Albertans, including Nellie Mooney McClung.

She was 43 when she moved to Edmonton and helped galvanize Alberta's suffrage movement. But she was "Our Nell" for decades before that. She was raised here, came into her own as a public speaker and novelist in Manitou, and became the most famous women's activist in North America after her family moved to Winnipeg in 1911.

It was Nellie and her passionate, hardworking and outspoken colleagues that made this province ground zero of the feminist movement at the turn of the century.

In 1873, when Nellie was born, women couldn't be lawyers, judges or politicians. They could not vote or hold political office.

And yet, despite the formidable odds, McClung grew up to be one of the most remarkable Canadians in history -- a teacher, mother of five, best-selling novelist, provincial politician, public speaker, syndicated newspaper columnist, and an eloquent advocate for social reform.

She made profound changes in our laws and in our society, changes for which every woman in Canada is grateful. And it's here in Manitoba that she truly came into her own.

She knew that.

When a visitor remarked on her beautiful garden in Victoria, B.C., near the end of her long and illustrious life, the ailing McClung replied: "If I were only a few years younger, I'd move tomorrow to Winnipeg with its blizzards."

Ninety-three years after she fought and won the battle to give Manitoba women the right to vote and to hold public office -- a first in North America -- it's time to recognize McClung where she belongs.

It's time to bring Nellie home.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 3, 2009 A19

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Spring fashion trends

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A group of Horese pose for the camera in the early evening light at Southcreek Stables in Stl Norbert Wednessday. Sept  14, 2011 (RUTH BONNEVILLE) / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos

Ads by Google