A A

Periscope broadcast on Cairine Wilson, Canada's first female senator

0:00.0 Hello and welcome to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. My name is Christina and I work in our Learning and Programming Department here at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
0 :19.2 So here at the Museum, we like to inspire some reflection and dialogue with human rights stories in Canada and around the world. So today, I thought I would talk to you about a few things.
0:30.3 So we have Cairine Wilson. This is a portrait that was from our former exhibit Let Them Howl. This was a portrait exhibition done in partnership with Library and Archives Canada.
0:41.1 And since, here at the Museum, we are celebrating a year of women’s rights achievements, Cairine Wilson is someone that, as a Canadian, I’m very proud to share a little bit about her story.
0:52.2 So she was the first female senator in Canada. She was elected, or appointed I should say, by William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1930 and she actually stayed as a senator until she passed away, till 1962.
1:07.3 So what was really interesting about her becoming senator is she was appointed only four months after women were considered persons. So this was a case that was taken up by a group called The Famous Five
1:18.4 where they went all the way to the British Privy Council to allow women to be considered persons and to allow them to have positions in office such as the senate.
1:28.3 So really… quite a great accomplishment just to be appointed as senator. At this time in 1930, Cairine Wilson was coming into government in a turbulent time in Canada.
1:39.8 It was during the Great Depression and she took on many different causes during her time. She was a senator as the Second World War was fast approaching
1:50.6 and one of her main disputes with the Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was her plea to allow more Jewish refugees to enter Canada.
1:59.7 So Canada only allowed about a mere 5,000 refugees and she really petitioned to have more. She actually was responsible for having about 100 Jewish orphans enter Canada and really did try and petition the government for more.
2:15.2 She was actually awarded an honour in France in 1950 for her effort in allowing Jewish refugees into Canada and helping Jewish refugees during the 1940s and 1950s.
2:28.4 So it was really one project that she really did have her heart in, as a woman and the first woman senator, she really liked this portfolio and she was also the first female representative in the UN.
2:41.8 So because today is International Refugee Day, since her cause was so closely related to refugees as well, I thought I would quickly show us one of the 18 exhibit spaces in the largest gallery here in the Museum called Canadian Journeys.
2:57.0 So if you look just directly behind me, this exhibit is talking about different refugee experiences coming to Canada and, in this particular instance, we’re talking about a time where Jewish refugees were not allowed to enter Canada with the story of the MS St. Louis.
3:14.1 So a little about how the interactive works. You look behind me, the globe that you see, this globe features different highlighted points on a map and each map represents a country of refugees coming to Canada.
3:29.6 --
3:41.0 So here we have Germany, was the one I selected that will tell us a little bit about the beginning of the MS St. Louis. Then I’ll stop the video just after a few moments and I’ll talk a little about what happened.
3:52.4 So you can see that the first introduction will tell you a little bit about the context so it’s going over the Night of Broken Glass.
4:01.2 This was a night in Berlin where thousands of Jewish business owners had their businesses smashed and this was really an escalated act toward its Jewish people in Germany. Many historians call it the turning point.
4:12.6 So from this point on, it really encouraged a lot of Jewish people living in Germany that they had to flee their country, that they were no longer safe where they were living.
4:23.7 So you can hear behind me some oral histories that we have included in the film. So one of the solutions that happened to this was to go on a ship called MS St. Louis.
4:35.7 So you can see a little bit of the footage from the film and what actually happens to the MS St. Louis is that they were granted visas to enter Cuba but they were denied entry.
4:51.1 So since those 937 passengers were denied entry into Cuba, they then tried to enter the United States and Canada was really their last hope and advocates like Cairine Wilson really wanted the government to accept these refugees.
5:04.4 But because of the anti-Semitism at the time – many had viewed Canada’s policy as “none is too many” – Canada said no and those 937 passengers went back to be dispersed into Europe.
5:17.3 And unfortunately, over 250 of those passengers died during the Holocaust. So this is just one of the stories that’s included in this exhibit here.
5:25.5 So really, I do thank you for listening to the periscope today. Please feel free to visit us online or come visit us here in Winnipeg at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and thank you for listening.