Famous 5 Ottawa Celebrates 15th Anniversary of the "Women are Persons!" Monument on Parliament Hill

october 17, 2015

Founders, supporters and friends of Famous 5 Ottawa joined in a celebration of the 15th anniversary of the Women are Persons! monument on Parliament Hill.

Senator Jim Munson hosted a reception in the Senate Foyer on Parliament Hill to congratulate the tremendous effort it took 15 years ago in getting all-party support to place the monument in the prominent position it now sits on the east lawn of Parliament Hill.

Famous 5 Ottawa Chair Isabel Metcalfe helped lead the charge back in 1997 to ensure that the exceptional women from western Canada – the Famous Five as they have become known – were given their due respect.

“We broke all the rules to ensure that these extraordinary women from western Canada, who at the average age of 67, changed Canada’s constitutional history and remain the only people that have ever reformed the Senate of Canada,” Metcalfe told the audience.

The Famous Five Alberta women – Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards – won their victory in the 1929 “Persons Case” when the court legally declared women as persons under the British North America Act and made them eligible for appointment to the Senate of Canada, a milestone in Canadian legal and constitutional history.

Metcalfe highlighted the many women who played an important role in the effort to ensure the monument received a prime piece of real estate on Parliament Hill: former Minister of Canadian Heritage Sheila Copps; former Chief Government Whip Marlene Catterall; former NDP Leader Alexa McDonough; former Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton; former Conservative MP Elsie Wayne; former chair of the Liberal Women’s Caucus Jean Augustine; former Senator Joyce Fairbairn; former Bloc Québécois MP Suzanne Tremblay; and a small army of determined volunteers.

Beatrice Keleher-Raffoul, a founding member of Famous 5 Ottawa who worked for Copps at the time, said she was sent in to deliver the message to government officials that their plan to place the monument in a small corner in the back yard behind the Parliament Buildings was not on.

She made clear Famous 5 Ottawa would accept only the most prominent position on the Hill and that was a large plot of land on the east lawn of the Centre Block near the Senate.

The monument, which was sculpted by Barbara Paterson of Edmonton and was the first of its kind to be interactive and welcoming, ultimately received the prestigious Parliament Hill address it was after and today it is one of the most popular and visited monuments on Parliament Hill.

Metcalfe also spoke about the Famous Five at the 8th Annual Canadian History Forum at the Canadian Museum of History following the Senate event.