Fun Ways to Celebrate Canada’s Famous Five

Are women persons? Today the question seems ridiculous, but before 1929 women were not fully recognized as persons under Canadian law. Five women changed that by challenging the government’s interpretation of the British North America Act of 1867. The Famous Five won their landmark case before the Privy Council of England on October 18, 1929. Canada is a different place because of them. Women in Canada have more opportunities because of them. Here are some suggestions for how you can honour and celebrate these brave women on Persons Day (October 18 annually) and a little more info about who they were and what they did.

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Related: If you find yourself in Calgary, check out Studio Bell, the Canadian National Music Centre. It is amazing!

An image of the Famous Five Monument in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
The Famous Five won their landmark case on October 18, 1929. Women are recognized legally as persons in Canada. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

Celebrating Canada’s Famous Five and Persons Day

How to Have a Pink Tea

Traditionally, women got together for tea as a social outing – to celebrate the birth of babies and on other occasions. Canadian suffragists called their meetings Pink Teas and they talked about womens’ rights while they sipped and snacked. We’re still working on equal rights in Canada for all people. If you host a pink tea, just make sure you have some great tea. Here’s my favourite kind of tea.

An image of a tea plate at Heritage Park in Calgary.
A look at the tea plate at Calgary’s Heritage Park. Photo compliments of Heritage Park.

What was the Persons Case?

By 1929, women had the right to vote, but they didn’t have the right to sit in the senate, because the British North America Act said only “qualified persons” could be senators. The Canadian government interpreted “qualified persons” to mean men. Why did this matter? The issue of women not being classified as persons was coming up in other areas. The first female judge in Canada, Emily Murphy, who was also one of the Famous Five, had a lawyer question her right to be a judge based on the fact that she wasn’t a person under Canadian law.

An image of the Famous 5 Centre at Heritage Park in Calgary, Alberta Canada
The Famous Five Centre in Heritge Park is a replica of Nellie McClung’s Calgary home. You can learn about the Famous Five and their landmark case in Canada through exhibits inside the home. Photo compliments of Heritage Park.

Who Were the Famous Five in Canada?

The Famous Five came about after female activists promoted the idea of making Emily Murphy Canada’s first female senator and were flatly denied. Canadian law stated that five people could petition the Supreme Court of Canada to interpret a point of law in the British North America Act. In August 1927, Emily Murphy invited four other prominent female activists to come to her Edmonton home – Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards. Together they signed the petition asking the Supreme Court to interpret the law. They lost the case with the supreme court and appealed to the highest court in the land – the Privy Council of England. On October 18, 1929, it was decided that women were persons in Canada.

An image of the Famous Five Monument in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This moment in history began and ended with tea. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

Persons Day – Why it Matters

The struggle for equality continues, but Persons Day is an important day in the history of the nation. Women are persons – in case you ever thought otherwise.

2 thoughts on “Fun Ways to Celebrate Canada’s Famous Five

  1. Donna Bateman Reply

    Thanks for sharing these important points in history!
    Love reading your articles. Keep up the great travel and writing.

    1. wanderwoman Reply

      Thanks so much, Donna. I think it’s good to think about the freedom we take for granted. I love the story of the Famous Five. Amazing that it was only 90 years ago.

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