It's Agnes Macphail day: hailing from Grey County, she helped pave the way for women in politics

Women in politics is nothing new to Grey County, in fact, it is where it all began.

“Agnes Macphail is a local hero, and someone who has made great strides in the field of politics,” said Grey Highlands Deputy Mayor, Aakash Desai.

“This year, incidentally, also happens to be the 100th anniversary of Agnes Macphail being elected as the first female MP to the Canadian Parliament. As such, it's important that we recognize the contributions that were made,” he continued.

The past three years have marked three significant anniversaries for women in politics:

Agnus Macphail was born in Grey County in 1890 in the township of Proton. She lived and farmed with her family before becoming a school teacher and eventually working her way into politics.

Macphail was the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons in 1921, which was also the first year the majority of Canadian women were allowed to vote, and the first year a woman could be elected.

She was a founding member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the forerunner of the New Democratic Party, and championed many causes throughout her time in office, including Ontario’s first equal pay legislation and reformations of penitentiary governance and regulation.

Within the House of Commons, Macphail grew a reputation for speaking out against injustice at every turn.

Macphail passed away in 1954. However, her legacy continues to live on across Grey County through several permanent exhibitions of memorabilia and displays as well as buildings named in her honour, such as the Macphail Memorial Elementary School in Flesherton.

The Grey Highlands Public Library offers a dedicated webpage and digital collection including a unique set of historical materials and information about Macphail's connection to Grey County and its people.

At the national level, Macphail’s contributions have been recognized with bronze busts that have been displayed in the Ontario House of Assembly in Toronto and the Speaker's Chambers in Ottawa.

A commemorative postage stamp was minted in 1990 to mark her 100th birthday and, in 1992, Agnes Macphail's birthday – March 24 – was officially proclaimed to be Agnes Macphail Day by the Province of Ontario.

At a recent Grey Highlands council meeting, Desai presented a motion that would acknowledge the notable anniversaries and “expresses admiration and gratitude for the countless civic contributions of women locally, provincially and nationally, as electors, volunteers, candidates and elected officials, to the democratic wellbeing of our communities, thereby immeasurably strengthening and enriching the life of this community, and of all communities across Canada.”

“I think it's important that there is education around the fact that women have made important contributions to politics, which is why I have presented this motion,” said Desai, adding that he hopes to see increasingly equal opportunities for women to run in politics at both the local and federal levels.

In addition to the proclamation, Grey Highlands council also directed its museum curator to further celebrate trailblazing women in politics every March.

“We have actually had some conversations about celebrating women trailblazers generally, moving forward,” said Michele Harris, director of economic development and community services. “I have no doubt, our community heritage curator will embrace this opportunity."

Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca