Ellen Fairclough

In 1918, when women were first allowed to vote in Canadian Federal elections, Ellen Louks Fairclough (née Cook) was 13 years old. She was a typical ‘girl of the new day,' and embraced many of the new opportunities available to women. Ellen Cook's life would take an extraordinary course as she would become Canada's first female Federal Cabinet minister.

Fairclough completed her schooling at grade eight and joined the part-time work force when she was just twelve years old. For a brief time during the recession of 1921-22, which caused widespread unemployment in her hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, she was the sole breadwinner for her family. Her working class roots led her to pursue a career as a business person and she became one of the first female certified accountants in Canada.

Fairclough triumphed in the face of difficulty; she endured the discrimination she faced as a woman in the workplace, especially once she returned to the workforce after marrying Gordon Fairclough and giving birth to her son, Howard, a year later. She was actively involved in many volunteer organizations, served as a member of the Hamilton City Council, and ran a successful business in the midst of the Great Depression.

Prior to her involvement in politics, Fairclough held several executive positions in numerous organizations including the Consumers' Association of Canada, Girl Guides, Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, and Zonta International. The experience gained in these organizations helped her when she became involved in politics at the federal level. After joining the federal Conservative Party, Fairclough was elected to the House of Commons on 15 May 1950 in a by-election for Hamilton West.

Prime Minister Diefenbaker appointed Fairclough as Secretary of State in 1957.  She stood out because of her public speaking skills, determination, and energetic manner.  In 1958, she became the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.  She served as Canada's first female Acting Prime Minister from 19-20 February 1958, and she was granted the title Right Honourable by Queen Elizabeth II on 1 July 1992 for her service. In 1962, she introduced regulations that helped to reduce racial discrimination in immigration policy, allowed more immigrants into Canada, and introduced notable changes to make refugee policy more progressive.

Though her parliamentary career ended in 1963, Fairclough maintained an interest in politics and women's issues.  She actively supported "equal pay for equal work" legislation, and continued the legacy of Canadian women in government by nominating Kim Campbell for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership in 1993. Campbell went on to become Canada's first female Prime Minister.

On 16 April 1980 Fairclough was inducted as an Officer in the Order of Canada and as a Companion of the Order of Canada on 1 March 1995. She received the Order of Ontario, Ontario's highest honour, in 1996. A government office building at the juncture of McNab and King Street, in her hometown of Hamilton, was named the Ellen Fairclough Building. She died on November 13, 2004, just weeks before her 100th birthday. In 2005, Canada Post issued a stamp to commemorate her life and achievements.



John Diefenbaker standing in [Prime Minister’s Office, Centre Block] with Ellen Fairclough standing behind table [once belonging to Sir John A. Macdonald] talking
John Diefenbaker and Ellen Fairclough in Prime Minister’s Office
Media and Document Gallery

Images

John Diefenbaker, Vincent Massey and the Cabinet with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip
Creator: National Film Board of Canada

Subject: Canada – Head of State | Canada – Head of Government

Description: John Diefenbaker and his 1957 Cabinet posing with Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, and Vincent Massey at Government House

Date Created: October 1957

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD438

John Diefenbaker with Ellen Fairclough, William Hamilton, Gordon Churchill, Michael Starr and others in Centre Block Office
Creator: Rapid Grip and Batten Ltd.

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Cabinet Ministers – Ellen Fairclough, William Hamilton, Gordon Churchill and Michael Starr

Description: John Diefenbaker, Ellen Fairclough, William Hamilton, Gordon Churchill, Michael Starr, two unidentified clergy and three other unidentified men posing for a photograph in the Centre Block Office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, circa Prime Ministerial years. Diefenbaker and Ellen Fairclough are seated at a desk as the others stand behind them.

Date Created: 1957

Date Ended: Day Month 1963

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD4423

John Diefenbaker holding a plaque in Prime Minister’s Office
Creator: Rapid Grip and Batten Ltd.

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Cabinet Ministers – Ellen Fairclough

Description: John Diefenbaker holding Sir John A. Macdonald plaque, standing by sideboard with Macdonald statue in East Block office. Ellen Fairclough watching on as unidentified man films plaque

Date Created: 1957

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD2100

John Diefenbaker and Ellen Fairclough in Prime Minister’s Office
Creator: Rapid Grip and Batten Ltd.

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Cabinet Ministers – Ellen Fairclough

Description: John Diefenbaker standing in [Prime Minister’s Office, Centre Block] with Ellen Fairclough standing behind table [once belonging to Sir John A. Macdonald] talking

Date Created: 1960

Identifier: MG01/XVII/JGD3431


Audio

Speeches delivered at the Progressive Conservative Party’s Second Century Dinner, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Creator:Unknown

Subject:Canada – Political Parties | Canada – Parliamentarians

Description:An unidentified speaker introduces Ellen Fairclough, Hamilton West MP, to the assembled guests.

Date Created:[1961]

Identifier:MG01/XVII/T133cd-PAC4

Speeches delivered at the Progressive Conservative Party’s Second Century Dinner, London, Ontario

Creator:Unknown

Subject:Canada – Political Parties | Canada – Parliamentarians

Description:Ellen Fairclough, Hamilton West MP, introduces Ontario Premier Leslie Frost to the assembled guests

Date Created:1955

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T133c-PAC3a

Speeches delivered at the Progressive Conservative Party’s Second Century Dinner, London, Ontario

Creator:Unknown

Subject:– Political Parties | Canada – Parliamentarians

Description:The event MC calls upon Ellen Fairclough, Hamilton West MP, to introduce Ontario Premier Leslie Frost

Date Created:1955

Identifier:MG01/XVIII/T131-132b-PAC2b


Documents

More
< Previous ExhibitNext Exhbit >