This Manitoba trailblazer epitomizes grace in the literal sense.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/12/2019 (679 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

This Manitoba trailblazer epitomizes grace in the literal sense.

Pearl McGonigal, Manitoba’s first female lieutenant-governor (and the second in Canada), is the founding member of the Grace Hospital Foundation and was the foundation chairwoman for nearly two decades before stepping down in 2011. McGonigal’s career as a politician, gourmet cook and columnist has been one filled with altruism and distinction.

McGonigal was born in Saskatchewan and, in 1963, came to Winnipeg, where she enjoyed a career in merchandising and banking. She then began to break down all the barriers she could in politics. She was the first woman to be elected in St. James-Assiniboia in 1969, prior to the amalgamation of Winnipeg and its surrounding municipalities. After the ­amalgamation, she continued to represent St. James-Assiniboia in the newly created Winnipeg Unicity council and in 1979 became the first female deputy mayor of Winnipeg. She was also named chairwoman of the executive policy committee and remained an effective city politician until 1981.

In an interview with Chatelaine, McGonigal said her two areas of interest were politics and gourmet cooking. So, while dealing with city politics, she also wrote a weekly column that evolved into a recipe column for Metro One called Frankly Feminine.

McGonigal told a reporter in 2013 that she still gets people who approach her in Safeway to tell her that they use a specific recipe that she wrote.

From her column, two cookbooks evolved: Bringing It All Together: A Collection of Recipes and Frankly Feminine Cookbook. Proceeds from both went to help others — the United Way of Winnipeg and to fund a scholarship for student nurses at the Grace Hospital.

McGonigal was appointed to the Order of Canada in 1994 and the Order of Manitoba in 2000. She was given an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Manitoba in 1983.

In addition to her work with the Grace Hospital, she served as the Manitoba chairwoman of the Council for Canadian Unity and as an honorary colonel and chairman of the Canadian Forces Liaison Council in Manitoba.

Prime minister Pierre Trudeau named McGonigal Manitoba’s first female lieutenant-governor in 1981, a job that McGonigal saw as an opportunity from which to learn, have fun and a chance to have some influence. She told Chatelaine that her major aim as lieutenant-governor was "to strengthen the role of her office as a unifying force for all Manitobans and to ensure that Government House is accessible to groups of all ages and walks of life."

"Canada was founded on tolerance, and I think a great power of this office is to bring people together and let them communicate," she said at the time.

She held the job until 1986.

It took another 26 years to name a second woman to the post, and in 2015 the honour went to Janice Filmon, who, quite rightly, suggested it was "about time" that another woman was appointed.

McGonigal has marked the trail for women such as Filmon in the world of politics. She was ahead of her time in municipal politics in Manitoba and an important trailblazer.

Shannon Sampert is a retired political scientist and runs the communications consulting company Media Diva. She is working with the Nellie McClung Foundation on the 150 Women Trailblazers Awards. Nominate a trailblazer at wfp.to/trailblazers.