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Frances Wright Reunion Event

Reunion Recalls Political Intrigue Behind Famous Five Monument on Parliament Hill

The founder and original president of the Famous 5 Foundation brought the story behind the Famous Five monument to life at a special gathering in Ottawa on Aug. 9, 2016.

A group of supporters and trailblazers came together at the Persons are Women! monument on Parliament Hill to hear Frances Wright recall the political intrigue and backroom dealing that took place to convince Members of Parliament of all stripes to support a statue commemorating Alberta’s Famous Five - Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby  Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards.

Wright reminded the group that prior to 1929, Canada’s constitution said that only “qualified persons”—meaning men only—could be appointed to the Senate. It was in that year that the five courageous and idealistic Canadian women stepped onto the world stage to challenge these antiquated laws and conventions. By insisting women be officially recognized as persons in the fullest legal sense of the word, the “Famous Five” blazed the trail for those who followed in their footsteps.

Wright reminisced that when she came to Ottawa to campaign for a monument on the Hill, she was bluntly informed only royalty and prime ministers were considered for such honours on the lands surrounding parliament. That’s when Wright decided she would have to recruit some well-connected help.

That help came from prominent Ottawa lobbyist Isabel Metcalfe, Liberal MPs Jean Augustine, Marlene Catterall, Sheila Copps, Alfonso Gagliano, Senators Marjory LeBreton and Joyce Fairbairn, and others. They joined forces to rally support for a bill to establish a monument honouring the Famous Five on the Hill.

It took five attempts, but the bill still passed thanks to Catterall’s knowledge of parliamentary procedure, and a little luck when dissenting MP John Nunziata missed the final vote when he left early for the airport.

The Famous Five monument was proudly unveiled on Parliament Hill, near the Senate, in 2000, but not before another battle - this time about its location. Wright said originally the National Capital Commission, which operates the Parliament Hill lands, wanted it located several blocks away from the Hill downtown.

As Wright regaled the gathering of the hard fought victories almost 20 years ago, many tourists stopped to visit the monument, the only interactive statue on the Hill and one of its most visited.

The evening moved from Parliament Hill to the nearby Metropolitan Brasserie where Catterall, Copps and LeBreton continued to entertain the group with stories about their role in getting the monument on the Hill.

Photos By Cynthia Münster