© Gabriola Sounder, March 8 2016
One hundred years ago, on 28 January 1916, the Manitoba Election Act was amended to grant women the vote.
The decades-long Canadian campaign for female suffrage may have lacked some of the high drama of other similar campaigns, but the women who fought it were every bit as steely as their British and American sisters. Gabriola Players is thrilled to be telling their story this weekend.
What Glorious Times They Had by Diane Grant begins in 1912, not long after the formation of the Political Equality League. Founding members of the League included the already famous author Nellie McClung (Margaret Litt) and the journalists Francis Beynon (Donna Deacon), Lillian Beynon Thomas (Joyce Ashley) and E. Cora Hind (Jean Wyenberg).
Standing between the women of Manitoba and the right to vote was the Conservative Premier, Sir Rodmond Roblin (Joe DiCara). A man very much of his time, Sir Rodmond truly believed that nice women (whom he felt should be protected from the corrupting influence of politics) did not want the vote. And that is exactly what he told the delegation from the Political Equality League when they offered their case for female suffrage to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly on 27 January 1914.
The following night the women responded not with brickbats, but with mimicry, staging a mock female parliament to shine a spotlight on the farcical nature of anti-suffrage arguments. Nellie McClung’s mocking and condescending portrayal of Roblin was particularly well received.
Exactly two years later, Manitoba’s new Liberal premier, T C Norris, legislated female suffrage in the province. The dominoes fell rapidly westward. Within two months the women of Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia had also won the right to vote. On 24 March 1918, the government of Robert Borden granted Canadian women the right to vote in federal elections – whether or not they were eligible to vote in their home province. (By 1925 most Canadian women had the right to vote both federally and provincially. The women of Quebec would not gain a provincial franchise until 1940.)
In Canada, as in Britain, calls for female suffrage were met initially with incredulity by the male establishment – and the female head of state. In 1879 Buckingham Palace released the following statement from Queen Victoria: “The Queen is most anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write or join in checking this mad, wicked folly of ‘woman’s rights’ with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety.”
As Nellie McClung famously said: “Never explain, never retract, never apologize. Just get the thing done and let them howl.”
There will be four performances of What Glorious Times They Had at the Rollo Centre this weekend: March 11 and 12 at 7pm, March 12 and 13 at 2pm. Tickets: $17 at North Road Sports or online at gabriolaplayers.ca.