Skip to main content

Portraits of past Ontario premiers hang on the second floor walls at the Ontario Legislature on March 24 2016. From left are William Davis, Frank Mills, David Peterson and Bob Rae. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Portraits of male premiers line the corridors of Queen's Park, and its grounds are dotted with statues of dour-looking men, including George Brown, Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Oliver Mowat, standing prominently on large pedestals.

A statue of Queen Victoria, sitting on a throne, is the only female representation on the grounds.

Marie-France Lalonde is about to change that.

The Liberal MPP for Ottawa-Orléans recently presented a motion to the Ontario Legislature to have statues of Agnes Macphail and Rae Luckock, the first two female MPPs elected in the province, erected on the grounds of Queen's Park.

On Thursday, her motion passed with unanimous consent.

"We see little around the legislative building that recognizes the contribution that female legislators have made to this province," she said. "Walking around the grounds and in the legislature, if you pay close attention, you start to recognize the art is heavily male. The busts are nearly all male and the statues contain only one historical female figure."

Ms. Lalonde came up with the idea to honour the two women a year ago during a discussion with her female Liberal colleagues. They were talking about what it means to be an elected woman in Ontario, and it was noted that the grounds of the legislature are "very male oriented," she said.

Agnes Macphail and Rae Luckock were both elected to the Ontario Legislature in 1943; Ms. Macphail was also the first woman elected to the House of Commons, in 1921.

They were trailblazers, working for equality rights – in 1951 Ms. Macphail successfully pushed for Ontario's first equal-pay legislation.

Ms. Luckock, meanwhile, was described as a "rebel" by her grandson, Lloyd, who was part of the news conference at Queen's Park on Thursday, in advance of Ms. Lalonde's motion being passed. "She didn't back down to anyone. I saw that," he said, noting she fought not only for women's rights, but for farmers and to improve the environment.

Said Nancy Coldham, of Equal Voice Toronto, a non-partisan organization advocating for more elected women in Canada: "The trail goes cold if we don't continue to persist and push that these stories be told, and that they be told, luckily, in bronze or iron now so they can't be forgotten."

For Ms. Lalonde the hard work starts now: A committee must be created to set up a plan for fundraising – it will be looking for private donors – and figure out the best location for the monument. An artist also needs to be chosen.

So far, Ms. Lalonde said, there is a view that the two pioneering politicians be featured together, and that the monument include a place where people can sit and reflect.

Some people have told her that they don't want to see the women "erected on a pedestal." It's too soon, however, to estimate the costs or to have a firm deadline, she said.

Ms. Lalonde found inspiration for her motion from the Famous Five statue on Parliament Hill. Unveiled in 2000, it commemorates the five women who fought to have women legally declared persons in Canada, allowing them to be appointed to the Senate. (There is also a statue of the Famous Five on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature, while a statue honouring three female political activists was erected on the grounds of the Quebec National Assembly in 2012.)

The Parliament Hill statue, which is appropriately located by the Senate, features the women debating – two of them are drinking tea, the other three are standing and there is an empty chair for anyone to sit on.

Erecting that statue on Parliament Hill was no easy task. It took a considerable lobbying effort to change the rules, which at that time allowed only dead monarchs and nation builders to be commemorated.

Jean Augustine, the former Liberal MP from Etobicoke-Lakeshore, spent an entire day in the House of Commons pushing to allow a statue commemorating these women on the Hill. She needed unanimous consent and did not have it.

But she persevered: "Getting up, getting shot down, getting up again," she said, recalling how she kept reintroducing her motion until it finally passed. She started at 10:15 a.m. and by 5:35 p.m. was finally successful.

"Symbols are also important, and as we look at our young people and their knowledge of real Canadian history, we have to make sure that the place of women in Canadian society is underscored and underlined," she said at the news conference.

With the unanimous support Ms. Lalonde's motion received, she said the project is a good start to improving women's profiles at Queen's Park.

"We can start looking at really changing the landscape of this legislature," she said.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect name for the grandson of Rae Luckock. He is Lloyd Luckock, not Lyle as initially published. This online version has been corrected.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct