This Week in History


Winnipeg Women Hold "Mock" Parliament

For the week of Monday January 26, 1998

On January 28, 1914, women from the Political Equality League of Winnipeg, Manitoba, hosted a mock parliamentary debate at the Walker Theatre. Manitoba's Premier, Sir Rodmond Roblin, had recently made a speech against giving women the vote. In the theatre, "Premier" Nellie McClung turned Roblin's speech on its head showing how ridiculous it would be if men were to receive the vote! The following excerpt from her speech indicates how effectively she used humour to make a serious point.

Nellie McClung
Nellie McClung
© LAC / PA-30212
I must congratulate the members of this delegation on their splendid appearance. Any civilization which can produce as splendid a type of manhood as my friend, Mr. Skinner, should not be interfered with . . . .

If all men were as intelligent and as good as Mr. Skinner and his worthy though misguided followers we might consider this matter, but they are not. Seven-eighths of the police court offenders are men, and only one-third of the church membership. You ask me to enfranchise
these . . . .

O no, man is made for something higher and better than voting. Men were made to support families. What is home without a bank account? The man who pays the grocer rules the world. In this agricultural province, the man's place is the farm. Shall I call man away from the useful plow and harrow to talk loud on street corners about things which do not concern him! Politics unsettle men, and unsettled men means unsettled bills broken furniture, and broken vows and divorce . . . When you ask for the vote you are asking me to break up peaceful, happy homes to wreck innocent lives . . . .

McClung's presentation was so successful that the mock parliament was repeated twice to full audiences and raised enough money to finance the rest of the women's campaign for the provincial vote. In January 1916, Manitoba became the first Canadian province to allow women the vote. Over the next 23 years the remaining provinces, ending with Quebec in 1940, followed suit. On May 24, 1918, only two years after the Manitoba victory, the Canadian federal government passed a similar act that allowed most women aged 21 and older to vote in federal elections.

Opened in 1906, the Walker Theatre is designated a national historic site because of its architectural and historical values. The Walker Theatre is an excellent example of an early Canadian theatre, and has been the home to many important political rallies. Nellie McClung (1873-1951) is also commemorated by means of a plaque at Chatsworth, Ontario.

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