Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/3/2016 (400 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The United Kingdom is doing it. So is the United States. Australia, Denmark, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Syria and other countries are doing it, too.
And now, finally, so is Canada.
On March 8, International Women’s Day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced that at long last, an "iconic Canadian woman will be featured on the first banknote of its next series in 2018 — and you get to pick her."
But why so long, Canada? It’s such a simple thing. Such a small step. A mere pebble in the ocean, really. Victoria-based writer and historian Merna Forster has likely been asking the same question.
Forster deserves thanks. It’s largely because of her efforts a Canadian woman will appear on a bill at all. She began writing about the absence of Canadian women on our money in 2011. The Bank of Canada had decided to eliminate tiny depictions on one banknote of the Famous Five who fought for women’s rights, in favour of an icebreaker.
By that point, Forster had unearthed enough material for two books about forgotten Canadian heroines and knew there were plenty of accomplished Canadian women; they were just not visible or known to many.
She started a petition in July 2013, and to date more than 73,000 people have signed it. Yet it took more than three years of Forster writing letter after letter to the Bank of Canada, cabinet ministers, other members of Parliament and many others. Though often discouraged, she ultimately found encouragement from those who supported the campaign.
"After slogging away at my campaign since 2013, I’m proud that it was finally successful. I’m proud of the more than 73,000 people who signed the petition and supported the campaign for years. We did it," she said via email.
Forster continued, "One woman said she was going to frame the first bill to appear with a Canadian woman on the face, because she helped make that happen. As one person wrote, ‘Awesome. We can make a difference.’"
Glad to be able to savour the victory, Forster also said, "But, of course, honouring one Canadian woman on our notes is only a first step, and I’d like to see gender parity on the new series… as is the case in Sweden and Australia. Why not?"
Of course, why not? Sweden and Australia will depict equal numbers of men and women on their notes.
To those who question why gender matters (and sadly, there are plenty of misogynistic posts online), Forster says, "Let’s show only female Canadian historical figures for a change! If gender doesn’t matter, nobody should mind if that’s the approach taken for any new money — right?"
Frances Wright, founder of the Famous 5 Foundation, told reporters she also would like to see a woman featured on more than one bill.
In a public message posted along with her petition, Forster says "Women are not absent from the list of notable worthies in Canada, just notably absent… in many of the images that surround us and which contribute to our view of the world and our potential role in it."
Thus the importance of what to some may seem merely symbolic or trivial.
Not only do we not learn much about Canadian women throughout history, you have only to look around today at our schools, monuments, parks, municipal buildings and street names in our own city to see how few are named for Canadian women. Out of 223 public schools in Winnipeg, fewer than 10 are named for a Canadian woman.
Montreal is one city that has stepped up recently and wants to name more streets and buildings after women in time for its 375th anniversary in 2017.
Surely Winnipeg, or Manitoba, can do the same. This year is the 100th anniversary of the year most Manitoban women first obtained the right to vote. Let’s not let it end there.
One woman on one banknote may be a mere pebble in the ocean, but with apologies to Pascal, the entire ocean can indeed be affected by one pebble.
Those who wish to nominate a Canadian woman have until April 15 to do so.
The Bank of Canada is accepting nominations at bankofcanada.ca/banknoteable. For ideas, you can visit Forster’s website at womenonbanknotes.ca.
Cheryl Girard is a Winnipeg writer who likes to write about history.