Merna Forster calls on the Bank of Canada to offer equal representation
By Angela Espinoza, News Editor
In July 2013, an online petition started by author and historian Merna Forster sought support to add representations of Canadian women to Canadian currency. As of November 2014, the Change.org petition has collected over 50,000 signatures.
“Our banknotes currently honour four male, white, Prime Ministers and the Queen [Elizabeth II],” said Forster. “No real female historical figures from Canada appear on the bills—on the front or the back.”
The petition began in response to the removal of the “Famous Five” women’s rights activists and feminist Thérèse Casgrain from the $50 Canadian bill, first printed in 2004. The new polymer $50 bill released last year replaced the image of the Famous Five with an icebreaker ship.
“Did no one responsible for planning and approving the new polymers notice that not a single bill celebrated the contributions of the female half of our [Canadian] population…?
“Canada boasts of being a world leader in the promotion and protection of women’s rights and gender equality.
“If we really want to be a world leader in promoting gender equality, the federal government and its various agencies and organizations—such as the Bank of Canada—should act accordingly.”
In a similar situation in July 2013, the UK fought to keep the image of Elizabeth Fry on the £5 banknote last year with a signature signed by 35,000. While Fry’s image, the only other notable image of a UK woman besides Queen Elizabeth II featured on pound bills, is to be replaced with Winston Churchill in 2016, the Bank of England has agreed to place Jane Austen on the £10 banknote in 2017 (replacing Charles Darwin) following the petition.
“Who and what is celebrated on our banknotes matters, as it reflects what we consider important in our culture and history and who we consider worthy of honouring for achievement,” said Forster. “Women are not absent from the list of notable worthies in Canada, just notably absent or under-represented in many of the images that surround us and which contribute to our view of the world and our potential role in it. Banknotes that belong to all Canadians should depict a wider range of Canadians, of both genders as well as various ethnic origins.”
Columbia, Peru, Japan, Turkey, Mexico, and South Korea were a few countries Forster named that carried images of culturally iconic women on their currencies, and noted Australia specifically. “Four out of five polymers in Australia celebrate a notable Australian man on one side, and a notable Australian woman on the other,” said Forster.
“Gender equality is important and needs to be supported. Studies show that a root cause of violence against women is inequality, a lack of respect for women.
“We need to value women more, to value their achievements in the past and in the present. Students can play an important role by standing up to show they recognize and support the amazing women in Canadian history, as well as women who are working to contribute to society today.”
A website (womenonbanknotes.ca) launched by Forster allows visitors to add images of Canadian women to Canadian banknotes, which can then be shared around online. Forster invites students to try out and pass along their suggestions for who they feel should grace our currency.
“I am not lobbying for any specific women from Canadian history to be featured on our bills,” said Forster, “but my two books provide many possibilities.”
Forster describes herself as an “accidental activist,” and is the executive director of the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History Project at the University of Victoria. “I am passionate about developing greater awareness of women in Canadian history, and trying to ensure that our amazing Canadian heroines are recognized and celebrated,” said Forster.
Forster has been researching historical Canadian women for over a decade, publishing her first book, 100 Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces, in 2004. A second volume titled 100 More Canadian Heroines was released in 2011.
For more information, go to goo.gl/MW1PrQ. You can visit Forster’s website at heroines.ca to learn more about historical and iconic Canadian women.