SPECIAL FEATURE: History is her story, too

Jennifer Hoegg jhoegg@kingscountynews.ca
Published on October 31, 2016

Throughout October – Women’s History Month in Canada - we’ll be digging into the TC Media archives to share the stories of women who made a mark on their community, province, country and beyond as leaders and builders in arts, sports, business, activism, politics and community development.


History textbooks are full of names and stories – most of them male – but women were not bystanders in the building of our communities.

For centuries, the contributions of women and girls were absent from the historical records because they were excluded from many parts of society – academia, law, politics, sport – that earned a spot in that record. There were few female journalists and historians contributing to that recording.

However, women and girls were there all along, even if we do not know all their stories.

Throughout October – Women’s History Month in Canada - we’ll be digging into the TC Media archives to share the stories of women who made a mark on their community, province, country and beyond as leaders and builders in arts, sports, business, activism, politics and community development.

You may know of Lucy Maud Montgomery and  Justice Constance Glube, but do you know war heroes Mona Parsons and Sarah Corning? Or Grace Lockhart, the first woman to earn a bachelor’s degree in the British Empire. Or of present day history-makers like Paralympic gold medalist  Katarine Roxon?

We found so many interesting stories from our own newsrooms, it was difficult to choose what to include in just one month. And we found tales that still need to be told.

Women making history

Sarah Corning was a First World War Red Cross nurse who was born in Chegoggin in 1872.

Oct. 31  - Sarah Corning  -  In 1922, this Nova Scotia-born nurse was instrumental in the evacuation of Armenian and Greek orphans from the besieged city of Smyrna in what is now Turkey. Today, the extent of the atrocities visited upon the Armenian community after the First World War is acknowledged as an act of genocide.

Read Corning’s story: Saving the children: Sarah Corning and the Armenian genocide

Mina Hubbard in the Labrador interior.
Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador/MUN

Oct. 28 – Mina Hubbard. After her husband died while trying to make his way across Labrador  in 1903, Mina Hubbard set out to complete his journey.

 With the help of Cree guide George Elson, her quest became an extraordinary achievement in exploration. 

Read Hubbard’s story here: Mina Benson's iron will propelled trek across Labrador

Rita MacNeil, Cape Breton's "first lady of song."

Oct. 27 – Rita MacNeil – Often described as Cape Breton's first lady of song, Rita released 24 albums, selling millions of copies throughout her career.

She won three Juno Awards, as well as numerous East Coast Music Awards, and many other honours, including the Order of Canada, while raising two children and running Rita’s Tea Room.

Read MacNeil’s story: Rita MacNeil, Cape Breton’s first lady of song

Jennifer Driscoll was the first female officer in the history of the Summerside Police Force to move up the ranks of corporal
Nancy MacPhee

Oct. 26 – Jennifer Driscoll - In 1988, Jennifer Driscoll joined the Summerside Police, right out of the police academy.  Looking back at her first 17 years in policing, Driscoll told the Journal Pioneer’s Nancy MacPhee in 2015 she felt as if she had to prove herself early on.  

“I think I pulled my weight.”

On March 1, 2015, Driscoll became the force’s first female corporal.


Read Driscoll’s story: Jennifer Driscoll becomes first woman in Summerside Police history to become corporal

Nurse Myra Grimsley in 1915
Nurse Bennett Heritage House

OCT. 25 Myra Bennett –  Born in London, England, 1890, Nurse Myra Bennett died 100 years later as a Newfoundland legend.

Bennett moved to the west coast of the island in the 1920s on a two-year contract and worked, officially and unofficially, in the community of Daniel’s Cove into her 90s.

Her life inspired stories, books and stage play.

Read Bennett’s story: Myra Bennett was Newfoundland’s   'Florence Nightingale of the North'

When Gladys Porter became mayor of Kentville in 1946, she made history

Oct. 24 - Gladys Porter was the first woman in Nova Scotia history to offer for the mayoralty of any town.

Porter beat her male opponent by a two-to-one margin to become mayor of Kentville in 1946 and Eastern Canada's first female mayor. In 1960, she became the first female MLA in the Maritimes.

Read Porter’s story:  Kentville’s Gladys Porter a political pioneer

Karlee Burgess delivers a stone during playoff action at the women's world junior curling championship in Denmark.
WCF/Richard Gray

Oct. 21 – Karlee Burgess -  When Karlee Burgess and her curling teammates won gold in Denmark last winter, she became a third-generation

Hard work and skill helped the teenager to a string of championships last year and her career is just beginning.

Read Burgess’ story: Golden curler: Karlee Burgess a third-generation world champion

Rita Joe

Oct. 20 – Rita Joe started writing poetry in the late 1960s while raising 13 children, but didn’t tell her family in Eskasoni, Nova Scotia, until she won a literary contest in 1973.
The Mi’kmaq poet said she tried to have a positive outlook on life and reflect that in her writings.

"When I was one of the winners in the Literary Competition of the Nova Scotia Writers Federation, I remember thinking, 'Now my people will think, if she can do it, so can I,’” she wrote.

One of her most powerful poems, I Lost My Talk, conveys some of what the residential school system took from Mi'kmaq children.

Read Joe’s story: Lasting legacy of Mi'kmaq poet laureate, ‘gentle warrior’  Rita Joe


A photo of Estelle Bolger , right, with Senator Libbe Hubley at her 105th birthday celebration in 2014.

Oct. 19 – Estelle Bolger -  Born in 1909, Estelle Bolger was determined to live the life she wanted. From hockey to baking to crosswords to learning to step dance in her 70s, and in particular to take up her preferred profession, barbering.

The Prince Edward Islander worked in the traditionally male profession from the age of 16 to 87.

Read Bolger’s story: Prince Edward Island first female barber’s dynamic life

In 1957, Blackie Drover was the first woman elected to municipal office in Newfoundland. As of 2016, Drover is the only woman who has served as Mayor of Clarenville.

Oct. 18  Dorothy "Blackie" Drover Barton - "Blackie is my name, and it's not just the color of my hair - it's the color my soul!” “Blackie” Drover Barton told Packet reporter Ashley Fayth Vardy in 2006.

The Fogo Island native was ahead of her time - innovative, independent, assertive and keen on adventure -  and the first woman elected to municipal office in Newfoundland, which led to quite a fuss in 1957 Clarenville, NL.

Read Barton’s story here: Refusing to conform: Blackie Drover led the way for women in municipal politics in Newfoundland

Viola Desmond

Oct. 17 Viola Desmond – When Desmond took a seat in a New Glasgow movie theatre in 1946, she didn’t intend to make a stand. Her choice of seats in the Roseland Theatre in an unspoken “whites only” section that day led to her arrest, unlawful conviction, a subsequent appeal - and her treatment sparked dialogue about human rights in Nova Scotia.


Read her story:  Viola Desmond’s calm courage in the fight for social justice

Fran Smith received an honourary degree from Mount Allison in 2005.

Oct. 14 – Frances Read Smith’s volunteerism will be remembered long after her 2014 death at 101.

The New Brunswick native was known as a ‘spark plug’ for community initiatives in Sackville, where she continued to volunteer well into her 90s.

“I just do what I think ought to be done. I don’t think I deserve an award for that,” Smith said when she received the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award in 1999.

Read Smith’s story: Community ‘catalyst’ Fran Smith gave from her heart

Ambassador Jennifer MacIntyre speaks during the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Oct. 13 - Jennifer MacIntyre's Cape Breton roots contribute to her success as a diplomat. 

In 2014, the Canadian ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein talked to the Cape Breton Post's Laura Jean Grant about what it's like to lead the embassy there. 

"When you're a small team, you can't do everything, so we've been working really hard to focus on where are Canada's interests in Switzerland and how can we use our limited resources to ensure that we have the loudest voice possible."

Read MacIntyre's story: World stage: Nova Scotian woman representing Canada as ambassador to Switzerland

Alison Larkin was chosen North Rustico's fire chief in March 2016. Larkin is pictured with her son Garrett, who was six-months-old when she took the job.
Jim Day

Oct.12 - Alison Larkin is hoping she'll inspire more Prince Edward Island women to join their local fire service.
The 27-year-old paramedic and parent became the province's first female chief in March 2016. 

"It is hard but I can do it,'' she told the Guardian's Jim Day of the physical demands of firefighting. "It doesn't matter how much something hurts, I just do it.''

Read Alison Larkin's story: Leading the way: Prince Edward Island's first female fire chief

Katarina Roxon
TC Media

Oct. 11 - Katarina Roxon did not let training limitations of her Kippens, NL hometown get in the way of her gold-medal performance in the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games.

“I was asked if I’d like to leave Newfoundland a few years ago to train, to go to better sports centres,” she said, “and I really didn’t want to do that. I love living in Newfoundland, I love how comfortable I am here, the support I get here.

“You know what? You don’t have to leave the island to achieve what you want.”

Read Katarina Roxon's story: Roxon's success was homemade. 

Grace Annie Lockhart, the first woman in the British Empire to receive a bachelor's degree.

Oct. 7 - Grace Annie Lockhart, first woman in the British Commonwealth to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Lockhart was also Mount Allison’s first female graduate “Higher education of women – What is it?, “she wrote in 1896. “It is the higher education of women to fit them for the higher spheres of action, whether they be political, professional, or social – the same education that men need under the same circumstances.”


Read Lockhart’s story: Grace Annie Lockhart - 19th century advocate for educational equality

Michelle Curtis tragically died a hero on Aug. 2, 2015, at age 45, after rescuing children from a riptide in the ocean off Dunvegan.


Oct. 6. Anne Michelle Curtis, died while rescuing three children from drowning off Cape Breton. 

"Michelle was the first one in the water and she was the first one to reach the kids. She saved them, she got them to shore," her sister told Sharon Montgomery Dupe in August 2015. 

Read Curtis' story: A true hero: remembering Michelle Curtis

Catherine Callbeck reflected on her political career ahead of her retirement from the Senate in 2014.
Nancy MacPhee

Oct. 5 Catherine Callbeck, the first woman elected premier of a Canadian province.
In 2014, former Prince Edward Island premier and senator  shared her reflections on political life with reporter Nancy MacPhee.

Read Callbeck's story: Political pioneer Catherine Callbeck on her time in Senate

Fogo Island native Anne Miller is the regional director with Canadian Coast Guard programs for the Atlantic region.


Oct. 4 Anne Miller, the first woman named regional director of Coast Guard Programs for the Atlantic Region.

Earlier this year, the Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, native told Christy Janes about growing up in a seafaring family and working her way up through coast guard ranks.  

Read Miller's story: Anne Miller rising through the ranks of the Canadian Coast Guard

Middleton’s Mona Parsons, a member of the Dutch Resistance in the Second World War.

Oct. 3 Mona Parsons, a Second World War hero from the Annapolis Valley, in Nova Scotia.
"Parsons, who was born in Middleton and later became a resident of Wolfville, is an unlikely - and mostly forgotten - war hero. If leading men into battle and confirmed kills are marks of heroes, Parsons is best remembered as a creature of peace," Heather Killen wrote in a 2015 feature.
Read Parsons' story: Forgotten Annapolis Valley war hero: From socialite to the Dutch Resistance to POW

Who are we missing? Share your suggestions of Atlantic Canadian women of historical importance with us at life@tc.tc


Five more ways to learn about women in Canadian History

To mark the centennial of women’s suffrage in Canada, Canada’s History Magazine features 30 of Canada’s great women.

Heroines.ca offers a guide to women in Canadian history

 The UFCW has compiled a timeline of women in Canadian history

Status of Women Canada is celebrating Women’s History month with a social media call to recognize achievements of Canadian women. To participate on Instagram and Twitter, use the hashtag #BecauseofHer

The Tumbler Cool Chicks of History has a section on Canadian “cool chicks.”