Agnes Macphail - Champion of Equality and Human Rights


Posted on Thursday, June 15, 2017

On 1 June, the Bank of Canada marked the 150th anniversary of Confederation by issuing a commemorative $10 bank note.

What makes the Canada 150 note unique is that it features four portraits rather than the usual one. Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir George-Étienne Cartier, Agnes Macphail and James Gladstone are four parliamentarians who’ve each played a significant role in Canada’s history.

Let’s turn our attention to Agnes Macphail, the iconic Canadian woman in the group.

Macphail was a champion of equality and human rights who, in 1921, became the first woman elected to the House of Commons in Canada. Macphail entered politics to represent the interests of farmers in her riding of Grey South East (Ontario), and she became an advocate of the working class and defender of marginalized groups such as women, miners, immigrants and prisoners.

In 1929, she was the first woman to represent Canada at the League of Nations (the forerunner of the United Nations) and the first woman appointed to the Disarmament Committee of the League of Nations.
Her support of prison reform culminated in the 1939 Penitentiary Bill that recommended 88 changes to the penal system, including more outdoor time and exercise for inmates and mandatory education for inmates who were illiterate.

Macphail was an outspoken advocate of gender equity and worked toward ending legal discrimination against women. In addition to her support for female workers, she founded the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada, which supported women in conflict with the law.

Macphail spent about 19 years as Member of the Parliament of Canada before serving as Member of the Provincial Parliament of Ontario. There she advocated for Ontario’s first equal pay for equal work legislation in 1951.

In 1955, a bronze bust of Macphail was unveiled in the antechamber of the House of Commons in the Centre Block of Parliament Hill.

Beginning 1 June 2017, 40 million commemorative bank notes will be distributed through Canada’s financial institutions.

It should be noted that this commemorative note is separate from a new regularly circulating $10 note, featuring the portrait of Viola Desmond, that was recently announced and is expected in late 2018. As such, two iconic Canadian women will appear on two different $10 bank notes in the next two years.

Visit to learn more about the design and security features of the Canada 150 commemorative note. Follow the Bank on Twitter (@bankofcanada) for the latest news as we prepare to issue this special note marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

Key Dates
• Born: 24 March 1890, Proton Township, Grey County, Ontario
• Died: 13 February 1954, Toronto, Ontario
• Elected MP for Grey South East: 6 December 1921
• Member of Parliament: 1921–40
• Member of Provincial Parliament (Ontario): 1943–45, 1948–51