Many prominent Canadian women are featured on Canada stamps. They have been so honored due to their extraordinary accomplishments and contributions to society as well as to their hard work on behalf of the advancement of women’s rights. This is Part 3 of this series of articles celebrating famous Canadian women on stamps.
Susanna Moodie & Catharine Parr Traill
Susanna Moodie (1803-1885) was born in England but emigrated to the new British colony of Canada. As a writer who initially lived in Upper Canada, she wrote extensively about the life and trials of those living in the new country. Her works were very honest; she did not gloss over the hardships to be endured as a colonist, but revealed everything that was entailed in emigrating to this new land. Towards the end of her life she began to paint, illustrating books for her sister and fellow author, Catharine Parr-Traill.
Catharine Parr Traill (1802-1899) was born in England and emigrated to Canada after her marriage. Catharine was an author like her sister, Susanna Moodie. She well describes life for the new colonists, as well as the geography, landscape, flora and fauna of her adopted country. Her collection of reflections on colonial life are still considered to be an excellent reference for those interested in life in a young Canada. A book about Canadian wildflowers was illustrated by her sister Susanna.
Roberta Bondar (1945- ) is Canada’s first female astronaut. She is also a photographer, author, neurologist and scientist. Roberta flew into space in January 1992 on the space shuttle Discovery. While on board she studied the effects space has on the human body. After her space journey, she continued to work at scientific research and various photographic pursuits. She has received a star on the Canada Walk of Fame, along with numerous other awards including the Order of Canada.
Julie Payette (1963- ) is a Canadian engineer and astronaut. She began her career working in computer architecture and then went on to work in computer voice recognition. She later flew into space on the space shuttle Discovery. On board the shuttle she oversaw station systems and operating the Canadarm. She also was on board the space shuttle Endeavor in 2009 during its flight to the International Space Station. Julie is also an accomplished musician and athlete.
Ellen Fairclough (1905–2004) was born in Hamilton, Ontario and was the first female federal Cabinet member. She began her professional career as an accountant (and even ran her own accounting firm) before becoming interested in politics. As a Conservative minister in the House of Commons, she fought for equal pay for women and for fair immigration policies. In 1958, she briefly served as Canada’s first female Acting Prime Minister for two days when then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was out of the country.
Fay Wray (1907–2004) was born in Alberta and became interested in acting at an early age after her family moved to California. Originally playing in silent movies, she was contracted to continue acting when “talkies” became popular. She is most well known for her lead role in the 1933 film “King Kong” and for being the original “scream queen” of horror movies. Who can forgot that iconic shot of her hanging off the Empire State Building? When Fay Wray died at the age of 96, the lights of the Empire State Building were shut off for 15 minutes to honor her memory.
Mary Pickford (1892–1979) was a famous Canadian-born actress in the era of the silent movie. Nicknamed “America’s Little Sweetheart” for her long, shiny ringlets, she was much loved for her roles in films where she played a young ingenue or heroine. One of her most well-known films is the talkie “Coquette”, for which she won an Academy award. Mary Pickford eventually married Douglas Fairbanks and together, they were a formidable pair in the cinematic world, contributing much to its progress.
Maureen Forrester (1930–2010) was born in Montreal, Quebec and went on to become an opera singer. She grew up in a poor family but was encouraged to sing by her brother and mother. It did not take long for her to establish a successful career as a professional singer, performing with the New York Philharmonic and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Maureen was famous for her lower-range contralto singing voice and performed all over the world.
Pierrette Alarie (1921–2011) was a French Canadian opera singer born in Montreal, Quebec. Her career as a singer began at an early age, performing on the radio at the age of 9. Even though her career started in North America, she later performed extensively in Europe as well. Pierrette married fellow opera singer Léopold Simoneau and together they had two daughters. After she retired, she taught singing.
Joni Mitchell (1943- ) is a Canadian musician, singer songwriter, and painter born in Alberta. She was interested in music at an early age, inspired by her father who was an amateur musician. She rose to fame with albums such as “Blue” and popular songs like “Big Yellow Taxi”. Her career started in small venues until her gaining in recognition in the 1970s after a move to California. Today, Joni Mitchell is lauded for her avant-garde style, a mix of jazz and pop which was ahead of its time. She now pursues an artistic career as a painter.
Anne Murray (1945- ) was born and raised in Nova Scotia to a music loving family. She practiced music and took singing lessons at an early age, singing “Ave Maria” at her high school graduation. She worked as a gym teacher at a high school in Prince Edward Island until she started attaining success as a singer. Her first great hit was the song “Snowbird” and she would go on to record many more hits and receive many awards, including four Grammy Awards. She has stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and on Canada’s Walk of Fame. A mother of two children, Anne Murray is also very active in charity work and is an advocate for saving the environment.
Norma Shearer (1902-1983) was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec. She had a happy childhood and decided early on that she wanted to be an actress, a desire supported by her mother. When her father’s business failed, Norma’s mother moved her and her sister to New York City in an effort to start Norma’s career. She got bit parts in small productions which provided her with invaluable experience in the industry. Norma eventually became a star of the silent screen and ended up marrying an MGM executive. With the advent of talkies, many silent film stars got lost in the shuffle, but not Norma. She successfully transitioned to the new cinematic format and the little girl from Montreal became known as the “First Lady of MGM”. Norma eventually retired from show business and died in 1983 of Alzheimer’s disease.
Marie Dressler (1869-1934) was born in Cogourg, Ontario. She ended up being one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood. Marie was stocky and plain, not what one would consider to be starlet material. But she knew how to use her facial expressions to their best advantage and quickly discovered that she had a talent for comedy. She was on Broadway and in vaudeville productions and soon starred in the silent film series “Tilly’s”. Her popularity would start to wane for a short time, but then, in her late 50’s, Marie Dressler was again cast in motion pictures. She would hold her own against actresses such as Greta Garbo and Jean Harlow. As she was once told, “her face was her fortune” and at the age of 60 she won an Academy Award. Marie Dressler died of cancer at the age of 63. At her death, the flags in Cobourg were flown at half-mast in her honor.
Rosemary Brown (1930-2003) was born in Jamaica and moved to Canada to attend McGill University in Montreal Quebec. While pursuing her education in Montreal, Rosemary was to encounter prejudice due to the color of her skin several times. One might argue that this made her stronger and served to establish the principles which would define her political career. She was the first black woman to serve office in a provincial government (British Columbia), as a Member of Legislative Assembling representing the New Democratic Party from 1972-1986. She would go on to run for leadership of the federal party and come in second; her campaign slogan was “Brown is Beautiful”. When she retired from politics (and even before) Rosemary was active in many organizations that worked to overcome discrimination against women and minorities and provide equality for them. As a wife, mother and activist, Rosemary Brown toiled tirelessly until her death from a heart attack in 2003.
Édith Butler (1942- ) was born in New Brunswick to a family with Acadian ancestry. At the age of three she began pounding the keys of the family piano and with her mother’s encouragement pursued an interest in playing music. Timid and shy, it would take some time before she could be convinced to sing on stage in front of the public. Once she did, there was no stopping her and she steadily built up a fan base. She refused a recording contract in the USA because it would have meant singing only in English and abandoning her Acadian roots. Happily though, by touring and performing at various festivals around the world she garnered respect for her work and was signed by Columbia Records in 1973. International fame was the next step.
Anne Hébert (1916–2000) was born in a small village near Quebec City and is a famous French-Canadian author. Her family already had a literary connection (she is descended from a famous French Canadian historian) and Anne’s own literary talent revealed itself at an early age. Encouraged by her mother to write plays, she soon was also writing poetry and fiction. Ironically, she had to fight to get some of most classic poetry published, paying for the publishing fees herself or relying on a friend’s help. One of her best known novels in “Kamouraska”, a suspenseful murder story full of psychological complexities. Anne moved to Paris for a time, but moved back to Quebec in the ’90s. She received many awards and recognition throughout her career and her novels are recommended reading in many literary study programs.
Carrie Best (1903–2001) was born in Nova Scotia and grew up to become a journalist. In fact, she established the first Nova Scotia newspaper for black citizens owned by a black person. In addition to her writing, she also starred on a radio show. Carrie knew about racism firsthand, as a young girl in Nova Scotia she lived her share of derogatory remarks and inequalities based on the color of her skin. An intelligent, vibrant woman, her life was spent fighting racism and trying to raise public awareness about prejudice and how to rid our society of the discrimination of minorities. Carrie Best was an Officer of the Order of Canada and was posthumously awarded the Order of Nova Scotia.
Ginette Reno (1946- ) is a Quebec legend. Born Ginette Raynault in Montreal, she loved music at a young age. She would sing in stores in the Plateau Mont-Royal district of Montreal. After entering a singing contest at the age of 13, her life changed. Ginette won first prize, acquired a manager, got a name change, and was on her way to stardom. Her first hit at the age of 15 was ‘J’aime Guy’. Her mature and powerful vocals meant that there was no stopping her. An international performer, Ginette Reno is regarded as one of the best singers in the world and many stars have been inspired by her. Ginette was the youngest artist to be made an Officer of the Order of Canada. She also has a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame and innumerous trophies and awards.
Kate and Anna McGarrigle
Kate (1946-2010) and Anna (1944- ) McGarrigle were raised in St-Sauveur-des-Monts, Quebec, and started playing music at a young age. During their illustrious career, they also collaborated with many other famous artists such as Emmylou Harris, Gilles Vigneault and Joan Baez. They produced music for film and television, including a musical piece for the fantasy movie ‘Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller’. The musical legacy continues within the family ; Kate McGarrigle’s children, Rufus and Martha Wainwright are well known musicians in their own right. Although she knew of the plan for the stamp, in 2010 Kate McGarrigle lost her battle to clear-cell sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, before the official unveiling by Canada Post. The sisters were members of the Order of Canada and had also received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award.
We hope that you have enjoyed this series of articles!