KAMLOOPS — We have long failed to recognize the contributions of Canada’s women to our rich history, just as we have failed to recognize the contributions of many of our First Nations leaders.
So it is appropriate that last week, we learned that Viola Desmond would be the first Canadian woman to grace one of our banknotes. She’ll be on the $10 bill when the new run comes out in 2018. She is one of a myriad of women who could have been picked. She fought against discrimination long before the civil rights movement became active in the U.S. She may not have been the person I would have chosen, but you could argue in favour of any number of women who helped change the course of Canada’s history. You could have argued for Pauline Johnson, the first Canadian woman to grace a Canadian postage stamp, back in 1961. Or Emily Carr, or Margaret Laurence, or Lucy Maud Montgomery. And the list goes on. Hopefully this will not be the last such recognition.
Our Canadian history, whether it involved men, women, First Nations, French or English, or Chinese immigrants, has always been buried as an afterthought under that of our American neighbours. When people my age went to school, what we learned about Canadian history was skimpy at best. Little comments about the explorations of Radisson and Groseilliers (who, you say?), Alexander Mackenzie, Louis Riel, the Northwest Mounted Police, Tom Longboat, the building of the great Canadian Railways - all buried under the exploits of Lewis and Clark, Custer’s last stand, the Alamo, and everything American.
So when we have an opportunity to explore our own history, and recognize great Canadians, we can only say it’s about time. Canada’s History magazine recently put out an issue featuring Canada’s great women. Far from a complete list, it was a start to better understanding the Canadian women who have made a difference. Many of these women I had no knowledge about, and to read just a highlight of their achievements left me wanting more.
I fear that for many, their contributions are buried under mounds of historical information that is still to see the light of day. But the good thing is that recognizing someone like Viola Desmond, whom I am sure most of us hadn’t heard even her name until a week ago, provides a groundwork for future recognition in the years to come. It couldn’t have come soon enough.