Inspirational words spoken a century ago went home Thursday with the winners of the 2016 Nellie Awards.

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Inspirational words spoken a century ago went home Thursday with the winners of the 2016 Nellie Awards.

Honouring the spirit of Nellie McClung’s life’s work by recognizing 12 women who have contributed to social justice, the arts and promoted democracy, the awards were presented at the glitzy Centennial Gala, celebrating 100 years of Manitoba women’s right to vote, at the RBC Convention Centre.

Recipients received awards featuring the inscription of a McClung quote. "I want to leave something behind when I go; some small legacy of truth, some word that will shine in a dark place."

Women in Manitoba were the first to win the right to vote 100 years ago on Jan. 28, 1916, thanks to Manitoba suffragettes like McClung, E. Cora Hind, Francis Beynon and her sister Lillian Beynon Thomas and others. Other provinces followed but it wasn’t until 1960, when voting rights were extended to First Nations people, that voting was universal in Canada.

Nellie's granddaughter Marcia McClung speaks to the Centennial Women's Gala.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Nellie's granddaughter Marcia McClung speaks to the Centennial Women's Gala.

Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon and Gail Asper were the recipients of the Nellie Legacy Award while Filmon, founding chairwoman of the Nellie McClung Foundation and the second woman to be appointed to the ceremonial post of Lieutenant Governor, served as the keynote speaker for the Centennial Gala.

"It’s been a very meaningful and inspiring day and this evening is really capping it off," Filmon said in an interview prior to the gala. "I hope that the women and men at the gala are leaving inspired knowing that there is a place for them, for those that feel they can mentor, and that the words that are spoken find a place in somebody’s heart. It’s never one big thing. It’s a series of choices, a series of small decisions that lead to the big one. Maybe that’s a thousand hearts that were changed at one point, I don’t know, but I do know that we must celebrate these kinds of milestones."

Filmon reflected on what it must have been like 100 years ago when the current legislative building did not stand where it is today and when the provincial government was housed in a building on the corner of Broadway Avenue and Kennedy Street.

"Those women, at the time, they knew they were working on something important . I don’t know that they could have known the important part it plays from a historical point of view because it really opened up, once that went through, that women could vote, be in elected office, own property."

Earlier in the day, Filmon and former prime minister Kim Campbell participated in a special day of programming with students at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Manitoba Museum.

Filmon spoke about the responsibilities of voting to the students in her keynote address at lunch.

"Voting rights are protection against injustice and incompetence," Filmon said Thursday. But, she added, they only work if you use them.

Lt-Gov. Janice Filmon at the Centennial Women's Gala, celebrating 100 Years of Manitoba women's right to vote.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Lt-Gov. Janice Filmon at the Centennial Women's Gala, celebrating 100 Years of Manitoba women's right to vote.

"A single piece of legislation did not bring social equality, or economic equality or political equality for women, but if you look around the world you can see the effect of Nellie McClung and her allies."

She reviewed the suffrage battle a century ago, noting women were ridiculed for seeking the same voting rights as men who owned property until McClung’s knack for humour turned the tables and made the premier of the day, Rodmond Roblin, eat his words.

"Man’s place is on the farm," said Filmon, paraphrasing McClung’s remarks at a mock legislature, a piece of political theatre that suffragettes used a century ago. "Who knows what they would do if they got the vote? It’s hard enough now to keep them at home."

McClung’s famous remarks mocked the premier who’d dismissed women voting rights, insisting they belonged at home, quietly supporting their men. The mock parliament helped turned the tide for advocates of women’s suffrage, gaining them valuable political allies and public support.

Students in attendance indicated they understood the importance of the milestone.

"In 50 years I will look back at this and say, ‘I was there to mark the 100 years since women won the right to vote,’ " said Quynhanh Nguyen, 11, in Grade 6 at Winnipeg’s Oakenwald Elementary School.

Women’s rights are a basic mark of respect people owe each other, added classmate Dorsa Nourmohammadi, who wore a hijab.

"It means respect for everyone — no one should bug each other because of their religions or stereotypes," she said.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca