This January 28 marks a significant milestone in our province’s history: 100 years ago women from Manitoba became the first in Canada to win the right to vote.
Nellie McClung is synonymous with the Canadian women’s suffrage movement, when many campaigned for the right of women to vote in elections. Feisty, eloquent, and witty, McClung is considered one of the greatest Manitobans—if not Canadians—for her leadership. She was a Renaissance woman: author of 16 books, mother to five children, a politician, syndicated newspaper columnist, public speaker and advocate for numerous social issues from prohibition to education.
To commemorate this 100th anniversary—and to truly appreciate the gall of suffragists like McClung—visit these ten stops around Manitoba. From gripping graffiti on the side of a barn to graceful memorial sculptures, this tour will educate you on women’s reform, as well as life on the prairies in the early 20th century.
Step 1: The Manitoba Museum
The title of the Manitoba’s Museum latest exhibit “Nice Woman Don’t Want the Vote” is what Manitoba Premier Sir Rodmond Roblin said during a heated exchange with Nellie McClung. The exhibit runs until mid-April and outlines the causes, the contradictions and the people involved in the women’s suffrage movement. Through artifacts, photographs, audio files and an interactive ballot box, the temporary exhibit also touches on why some Canadian women—like Indigenous people and immigrants—were left out of the conversation.
Step 2: Fort Gibraltar
McClung’s famous slogan on the campaign trail was “Never retract, never explain, never apologize—get the thing done and let them howl.” Those three last words form the title for an new outdoor photography exhibition at Fort Gibraltar. “Let Them Howl,” presented by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, launches at the fort on the first day of Festival du Voyageur on February 12. Mounted on the fort wall, 12 portraits honour historic and modern day women like McClung who have broken gender barriers.
Step 3: The Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Once you contemplate the installation at Fort Gibraltar, journey back across the river and head indoors to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights where various galleries educate with a multitude of exhibits on women’s rights. The Canadian Journeys gallery touches on women’s political reform by examining the historic Persons Case of 1929, when McClung (who was then living in Alberta) and four other prominent female activists challenged the Supreme Court of Canada to allow women a seat in Senate.
Step 4: The Manitoba Legislative Building
Have a seat at the table with the most notable figures in Canada’s women’s rights movement. The bronze sculpture of the ‘Famous Five’—the five women whose challenge to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1929 resulted in women being legally recognized as persons under the British North America Act—lives on the west lawn of our legislative grounds.
Step 5: Wolseley neighbourhood
Even today this central neighbourhood in Winnipeg is known for zealous residents with alternative views. McClung and her family moved to Winnipeg from rural Manitoba in 1911, into the bustling new suburb of Wolseley and bought a house at 97 Chestnut Street. The house had a writing room, in which the prolific McClung wrote the books that brought her international renown. This house is now a private home, but tucked around the corner is a little park bearing her name and a dedication plaque.
Step 6: Manitou, Manitoba
This small town in south-central Manitoba is where Nellie Mooney settled as a young woman for a teaching term. In 1896, she married Wes McClung, the local pharmacist, and the newlyweds lived above the drugstore, a building which still stands today. Explore more of Manitou and you’ll discover the secondary school is named Nellie McClung Collegiate. Also, in front of the historic Manitou Opera House sits a bronze bust of McClung to welcome patrons.
Step 7: La Rivière, Manitoba
The Archibald Historical Museum in La Rivière, a neighbouring town to Manitou, features two of Nellie McClung’s homes, both furnished with artifacts and mannequins in period costume, including the 1878 log house where she boarded during her first teaching position from 1890 to 1891, and a large frame house she lived in with her family from 1904 to 1911.
Step 8: Wawanesa, Manitoba
At the age of seven, Helen ‘Nellie’ Mooney moved with her family from Ontario and settled on a remote homestead near current-day Wawanesa, 200 kilometers south west of Winnipeg. The tiny Sipiweski Museum has a notable collection of artifacts from McClung, some of which were donated to the Manitoba Museum for the current “Nice Woman Don’t Want the Vote” exhibit. In the nearby Heritage Park is another bronze sculpture of the suffragist.
Do you know of more landmarks to visit to channel your inner suffragist? Are you organizing an event to celebrate the ‘Right to Vote’ centennial? Please enlighten us and leave a comment below.