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
John Diefenbaker with Ellen Fairclough, William Hamilton, Gordon Churchill, Michael Starr and others in Centre Block Office
John Diefenbaker holding a plaque in Prime Minister’s Office
John Diefenbaker and Ellen Fairclough in Prime Minister’s Office

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

Letter from Ellen Fairclough to John Diefenbaker

Creator: Ellen Fairclough

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Postmaster General | Canada – 1963 Federal Election

Description: Ellen Fairclough apologizes to John Diefenbaker for losing her seat in Hamilton West and thanks Diefenbaker for the opportunity to serve in his cabinet

Date Created: 9 April1963

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/171 Volume 60 (041935 – 041938)

Memorandum Re: Discussion with Hon. Ellen Fairclough

Creator: John Diefenbaker

Subject: : Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Minister of Citizenship and Immigration | Canada – 1962 Federal Election

Description: John Diefenbaker summarized a conversation with Ellen Fairclough regarding the issue of Chinese immigration as it affected the loss of two constituencies from the Progressive Conservative Party during the 1962 Federal election, as well as his request that she transfer portfolios

Date Created: 12 August1962

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/171 Volume 60 (041926 – 041927)

Letter from Eldon Woolliams to John Diefenbaker

Creator: Eldon Woolliams

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Minister of Citizenship and Immigration | Canada – Member of Parliament

Description: Eldon Woolliams, MP, writes to John Diefenbaker, informing him of a letter he sent to Ellen Fairclough, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, regarding the treatment of Asians attempting to immigrate to Canada; Woolliams includes a copy of the letter he sent to Fairclough

Date Created: 23 August1960

Identifier:MG01/VI/335 Bow River Volume 288 (234922 – 234923)

Letter from Ellen Fairclough to John Diefenbaker

Creator: Ellen Fairclough

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Royal Commissions | Canada – Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Description: Ellen Fairclough suggests to John Diefenbaker that a Royal Commission on Citizenship and Immigration be established in June or September, 1960, with the report coming after 1962, the year of the next federal election

Date Created: 12 January1960

Identifier:MG01/VI/354 Volume 320 (256636 – 256637)

Postcard from Ellen Fairclough to John Diefenbaker

Creator: Ellen Fairclough

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Postmaster General | Canada – 1963 Federal Election

Description: Ellen Fairclough, on vacation in Barbados after losing her seat, indicates she will see John Diefenbaker next week

Date Created: 20 April1963

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/171 Volume 60 (041939 – 041939_f)

Letter from Ellen Fairclough to John Diefenbaker

Creator: Ellen Fairclough

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Personalities | Canada – Politics

Description: Ellen Fairclough updates John Diefenbaker on her personal and professional life since her defeat in the 1963 Federal election, in addition to her plans help the Progressive Conservatives regain Hamilton West

Date Created: 9 September1963

Identifier:MG01/XII/C/171 Volume 60 (041940 – 041942)

Letter from Ellen Fairclough to John Diefenbaker

Creator: Ellen Fairclough

Subject: Canada – Head of Government | Canada – Minister of Citizenship and Immigration | Canada – Politics

Description: Ellen Fairclough informs John Diefenbaker that she has a personal note to give him from Mr. Eloi Belanger, elevator operator at the Chateau Laurier; Belanger’s attached letter requests that Diefenbaker hold a Hamilton area appointment for Fairclough

Date Created: 12 April1962

Identifier:MG01/XII/F/204 Volume 112 (077090 – 077091)

Royal Commissions Appointed

Creator: Unknown

Subject: Canada –Government | Canada – Royal Commissions

Description: Three documents listing Royal Commissions appointed: 1) June 21, 1957-October 17, 1957; 2) April 1, 1953-June 21, 1957; 3) November 15, 1958 – June 21, 1957

Date Created:1961

Identifier:MG01/VI/354 1957-1962 Volume 320 (256615 – 256618)