3 min

The Greatest Canadian lesbians

Where are they on the CBC list?

Credit: Capital Xtra files

This past spring, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation put out a call to find Canada’s Greatest. An exercise in national pride, the nationwide search garnered 140,000 nominations. The result is a shortlist of 10 men from which one Greatest will be chosen.

Among the top 100 nominations, there are only 19 Canadian women. The first woman to be nominated on the list is midriff-baring Switzerland-living Shania Twain, who clocks in at 18th. Without a framework that insists upon women being an equal part of such a list, they will almost always be excluded. This is the case for surveys of the Greats around the world, whether Great Britons, Great Germans, Great Dutch, Great Finns or Great Arabs – the lists continue to be dominated by men to the exclusion of women.

This prompted me to come up with a Greatest list of my own. The following 10 women would appear on my top 100 list of Greatest Canadian Queer Women. Here they are in no particular order:

International recording superstar kd lang has been performing music for the past 20 years, and was out before lesbian chic was chic. She was invested as an Officer of the Order Of Canada in 1997.

Jane Rule is a novelist, short-story writer, gay and anti-censorship activist, journalist and educator. She is the author of, among other works, Desert Of The Heart, which became the basis for the 1985 film Desert Hearts. She survives her partner of 45 years, the late Helen Sonthoff.

Recognized as the first ladies of Canadian sculpture, Frances Loring and Florence Wyle were life-long and artistic partners for over 50 years. In 1938, Wyle became the first woman sculptor to gain full membership into the Royal Canadian Academy. Loring’s portrait of Sir Frederick Banting and her nine-foot statue of Robert L Borden on Parliament Hill were commissioned by the Canadian government. Loring and Wyle both died in 1968.

Ann-Marie MacDonald, Governor General’s Award-winning playwright, novelist and broadcast journalist, became a household name and joined the ranks of Canada’s millionaires with her literary coups, Fall on Your Knees and The Way The Crow Flies. MacDonald and her partner, award-winning director and writer Alisa Palmer, live in Toronto where they are raising their daughter.

Elvira Kurt, Canadian comedian, actor and writer, proudly outed herself on national television in 1993. She is a fast-rising star on the international comedy circuit, and has appeared on HBO, A&E, Showtime and her hit series on Canada’s Comedy Network, “Elvira Kurt: Adventures in Comedy.”

Libby Davies is a Canadian Member of Parliament for the New Democratic Party, representing the riding of Vancouver East. She is the NDP House Leader and federal NDP spokesperson for housing, homelessness and multiculturalism. During a parliamentary debate in October 2001, she became the first openly queer female MP when she revealed that she was in a relationship with a female partner.

Nicole Brossard, Montreal poet, essayist, editor and lesbian theorist and activist, has written over 20 books. Her experimental work on language continues to influence feminist writing. Brossard is the winner of numerous awards, including two Governor General’s awards.

Sook-Yin Lee is a musician, actor, artist, filmmaker, television host and producer. She is a former Much Music VJ, and now lives in Winnipeg where she hosts the popular CBC radio program, Definitely Not the Opera. She discussed her coming out on a 1997 episode of the Canadian queer TV program, 10%-Qtv.

Erstwhile Capital Xtra columnist Irshad Manji is the author of Risking Utopia and the lauded and controversial The Trouble With Islam. She is the former host and producer of City TV’s award-winning Queer Television – one of the first TV shows to be streamed entirely on the internet, making it the world’s only internationally syndicated queer show.

Charlotte Whitton became the first female mayor of a large Canadian city in 1951. She held two terms as the mayor of Ottawa in the 1950s and 1960s. Whitton was a social worker, founding director of the Canadian Council On Child And Family Welfare (now the Canadian Council On Social Development) and a life-long champion of women’s equality. She is credited with the famous quotation: “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” Charlotte Whitton and her partner Margaret Grier were together for 32 years.

All of the women on this list are Great contributors to our country, and there are many more who have not been mentioned. Without their achievements, Canada would not be the great country it is. Thankfully, this list will only continue to grow.