Plaque honours Macphail's place in history 0
Recognition of Canada's first woman parliamentarian as a person of national historic significance has been marked with the unveiling of a commemorative plaque.
"Public service was her life and for this we value her hard work and honour her contributions to Canada," said Bruce-Grey Owen Sound MP Larry Miller, during a special ceremony on Saturday (July 16) at Agnes Macphail's former residence in Ceylon, west of Flesherton.
Macphail was designated a person of national historic interest in 1985 but that honour was publicized with Saturday's ceremony.
Born in the former Proton Township on March 24, 1890, Agnes Campbell Macphail became an early advocate for farmers. In the 1921 federal election she swept to victory defeating the incumbent by over 2,500 votes as the member of the Progressive Party of Canada for the riding of South-East Grey. Her victory marked the first time a woman was elected to the House of Commons.
Her success at the polls was due to the support of two groups new to politics in Canada-the United Farmers of Ontario, organized in 1914 to articulate rural political demands and women who had been become enfranchised as federal voters in 1919.
A remarkable public figure in her time, Macphail became an outspoken champion for fairness, equal rights, social justice and a strong advocate for peace and disarmament.
During Saturday's commemorative ceremony Barbara Mayer, one of the owners of the Macphail residence along with her husband Joseph, paid tribute to Macphail as a strong parliamentarian and shining example for other women in years to come.
"In parliament she was a force to be reckoned with. She was a beacon of light for other women to follow. So Agnes I would say this symbol in your honour is long overdue and richly deserved and now will be for all to see," Mayer said.
Macphail's niece Jean Clunas, 86, recalled many happy times in her late teens and early 20s visiting her aunt in Ceylon with her twin sister and another cousin.
" (Agnes) took us many places. I remember her well. She was a wonderful aunt. She was never cross with us. We could get into her stuff, cosmetic, shoes and that was fine with her. She got us some of our prettiest clothes . . . She wore capes all the time and I started wearing capes because of that," said Clunas during an interview.
Donna Mann, of Elora, the author of two books on Agnes Macphail's early years, noted the growth in awareness of Macphail in recent years with a web-site created by the Flesherton Library.
In June 2006 a section of Grey County Road 9 between Highway 6 and 10, was named in honour of Macphail along with the dedication of a cairn to her just a few kilometers from the family homestead east of Hopeville in Southgate.
The same year, highway signs labelled "You are now entering Agnes Macphail Country" were placed at the western entrance to the hamlet of Ceylon and on Grey Road 9, east of Hopeville.
In 2005, in a contest run by former Ontario MPP Marilyn Churley, Agnes Macphail was voted as the Greatest Ontario Woman.
Now the unveiling of a permanent plaque commemorates her as a person of national historic significance.
"We've awakened Canada to Agnes Macphail," Mann said.
Sharon Sinclair remembered Agnes Macphail in a lengthy poem. As a child she lived across the road from the house that belonged to the Tyler family who owned the house before Macphail bought it.
Grey Highlands Mayor Wayne Fitzgerald welcomed visitors to Ceylon on this memorable occasion.
Before running for public office Macphail had been a rural school teacher. During her years in parliament one of the ways she kept up contact with her constituents was through a regular local newspaper column entitled, 'Last Week in Parliament.'
Grey-Bruce voters elect Macphail to Ottawa as an independent and later as a member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) until 1940.
She was active in the formation of the left leaning CCF in Ontario long before she shifted her career to the provincial legislature as the CCF member for East York ( 1943-45 and 1948-51). A publication put out by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada aptly describes Macphail as, "witty and forceful, fearless and uncompromising , Macphail left a lasting mark on Canadian public life.
When Macphail died unexpectedly in 1954, a nomination to the senate was under review.
Dr. Richard Alway, chair of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, said Macphail is one of about 300 people that have been recognized as persons of national historic significance since the formation of the board in 1919.
He noted the importance of remembering important historic figures and events in our history as a way of helping Canadians to define the way we think of themselves as a society.
"History is to the nation as memory is to the individual. It gives meaning and context and identity. Without it we cannot know ourselves. By using it as a foundation, we can look to the future with confidence and a sense of broad possibility," Alway said.