Trailblazing: Women in Canada since 1867

What has it meant to be a woman in Canada throughout its 150-year history? This nationally travelling exhibit, created and toured by the Waterloo Region Museum, explores how women have transformed Canadian politics, work, and everyday life. Trailblazing highlights the experiences of women – mothers, sisters, daughters, partners, and friends – from all walks of Canadian life.

Trailblazing explores 150 years of women’s issues in Canada through the themes of Work,Education, Body, Politics, and Violence Against Women. Each thematic area includes historic and contemporary narratives, multi-media presentations, artifacts, and in some cases, hands-on interactives. Learn about the challenges faced by women both historically and today, and discover achievements from across the country.

Highlighted throughout the exhibit are Canadian women who have been “trailblazers” in bringing about social and political change. Come learn about the accomplishments of hundreds of remarkable women. From Hide Hyodo Shimizu (a teacher who organized a school system in British Columbia’s Japanese internment camps during the Second World War) to Shelia Watt-Cloutier (Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2007), their stories will inspire.

The audiovisual bus in Trailblazing was inspired by Cora, the Women’s Liberation Bookmobile, which toured Ontario in 1974. Named after prominent Canadian suffragist, E. Cora Hind, the purpose of the bus was to spread literature about women’s issues to areas that did not have access to those resources. Our bus will be used as a theatre in the exhibit, showing a video featuring female-led protests across the country and through time.

The exhibit includes a hands-on hockey game that features famous Canadian female players from a variety of time periods. From Lady Stanley, who played in the first recorded female hockey game in 1889, to Manon Rhéaume, the first woman to play in an NHL game, Trailblazing also explores the history of women’s hockey in Canada. Come see items worn by Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser, on loan to us from the Hockey Hall of Fame.

One of many stories told in Trailblazing , the Fleck workers’ strike occurred in 1978. Women workers at the Fleck Manufacturing plant had endured horrible working conditions and sexual harassment. This strike set a precedent and challenged the labour movement to address the needs of women workers.

Between 1892 and 1969, it was illegal in Canada to advertise, sell, or distribute contraceptives. In 1936, social worker Dorothea Palmer was arrested and charged for distributing birth control information. Her trial captured the nation’s attention, and sparked debate about a woman’s right to contraception. Come learn more in Trailblazing.

The exhibit also examines work that still needs to be done in the 21st century with respect to women’s rights, different experiences based on race, class and ethnicity, and the experiences of the “everyday” woman.

The Trailblazing: Women in Canada since 1867 exhibit was created and produced by the WaterlooRegion Museum and was funded by the Region of Waterloo. The exhibit was also funded in part by the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage / Museums Assistance Program. The exhibition tour is managed by Science North. This exhibition is on view at Joseph Brant Museum, February 7 – May 27, 2023.

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