Women's History Month: Hamiltonian was Canada's first female cabinet minister


As our final look at a woman of distinction from Hamilton in honour of Women’s History Month, we meet Ellen Fairclough, a trailblazing Canadian politician.

Ellen Louks Cook was born in Hamilton in January 1905. She married Gordon Fairclough in 1930 and had a son, Howard, in 1931.

Fairclough was a chartered accountant by profession and owned her own accounting firm in the city before throwing her hat in the political ring.

She was a member of city council from 1946-49 and she won a federal seat in a May 1950 by-election. She was also on the executive board for the Girl Guides of Canada prior to her election as a Member of Parliament for Hamilton West.

Under former prime minister John Diefenbaker, she was appointed Secretary of State and became the first federal cabinet minister in 1957.

Fairclough introduced a bill requiring equal pay for equal work and advocated equal opportunity and the creation of a Dept of Labour Women’s Bureau. She moved to the Dept of Citizenship and Immigration in 1958 and became postmaster general in 1962. She was defeated in the 1963 election.

After leaving politics, she served first as a senior executive in a trust company, then as chairman of Hamilton Hydro and finally as treasurer of the Zonta International women’s group.

In 1985 she was invested Dame of Grace, Order of St John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaler and in 1989 was given the Persons Award.

In 1992 Fairclough was bestowed with the title Right Honourable by the Queen in a ceremony celebrating Canada’s 125th birthday. She was made Companion of the Order of Canada (1995) and published her memoirs, Saturday’s Child in the same year.

Fairclough died in Hamilton in November 2004.

Today, in Downtown Hamilton, the Ellen Fairclough building is an 18-storey highrise building that has the distinction of being the city’s fifth tallest building.

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