News / Vancouver

Which B.C. woman of note are you banking on?

Metro asked Merna Forster, who has campaigned for Canadian women to be featured currency, which notable B.C. woman could appear on bank notes in 2018.

Need a new face on the $50? How about Emily Carr?

Photo illustration: Andres Plana

Need a new face on the $50? How about Emily Carr?

After years of campaigning, a B.C. historian’s efforts to see an iconic Canadian woman featured on a bank note have finally paid off.

Merna Forster, who lives in Victoria, has been writing letters to politicians and Bank of Canada governors since 2011 arguing that it is unacceptable not to have a single bill featuring the image of a female figure from the country's history.

On Tuesday, she was thrilled to hear her work hadn’t been for naught when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a portrait of a Canadian woman will appear on Canada’s bank notes for first time in 2018.

“I must admit that I was getting discouraged,” said Forster, who is also the author of two books on Canadian heroines. “But I knew it was important and I couldn't give up.”

The Queen is currently the only woman featured on Canadian currency, although she wasn’t always the only female figure. In 2011, the Bank of Canada removed a depiction of five suffragettes, known as the Famous Five, on a new series of $50 polymer notes and replaced them with an image of an icebreaker.

Three years ago, Forster launched an online petition, which has since collected more than 73,000 signatures, calling for that to change. She also started an interactive website allowing people to suggest which woman they would like to see on a bank note.

Still, Forster never imagined the fight to memorialize Canadian women on the country's money would take this long.

“It's just not right,” she said. “Women hold up half the sky. Why don't they hold up half the bank notes?”

Other countries, including Australia, Japan and Colombia, have long had famous females on the currency, she said.

The Bank of Canada is now asking the public to nominate women deserving of the recognition through the bank's website.

Each nominee must be a Canadian woman who demonstrated outstanding leadership, achievement or distinction in any field, benefiting the people of Canada, or in the service of Canada.

They cannot be fictional, and must have been dead for at least 25 years.

While she doesn’t have a personal favourite, Forster said there are countless notable women who have connections to B.C. that could make the cut.

B.C. women who fit the bill

Emily Carr: A world-renowned artist who was born and died in Victoria, Emily Carr is an iconic figure in Canadian history, and an obvious choice for many to be featured on a bank note. “She really is one of the most talented artists in Canadian history, men or women,” said Forster.

Elsie MacGill: Born in Vancouver in 1905, MacGill was known as Queen of the Hurricanes. “She was an aeronautical engineer and she built the Hawker Hurricane fighter planes in World War II,” said Forster. “She was really an incredible pioneer.”

Helen Harrison-Bristol: Vancouver-born Harrison-Bristol was a pioneer in aviation. “She was an amazing pilot,” said Forster. “When the war broke out, she couldn’t land a position as a pilot in World War II, so she had to volunteer in Britain and transported all these fighter planes.”

Pauline Johnson: Johnson, who died in Vancouver in 1913, was a popular Mohawk poet and performer, often credited for helping define Canadian literature. “She was highly acclaimed,” said Forster. “She really did a lot to raise awareness of aboriginal culture.”

Helen Gregory MacGill: One of Canada’s first woman judges, MacGill served as a judge of the Juvenile Court of Vancouver for 23 years. An accomplished journalist and activist, she became the first female juvenile court judge in B.C. “She gained international recognition as an expert in the field of juvenile delinquency,” said Forster, adding that she was also the mother of aviation pioneer Elsie MacGill.

- With files from The Canadian Press

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