My husband Dave and I were taking our four-month-old granddaughter for a walk in her stroller on Friday and found ourselves on Winnipeg’s Chestnut Street.
“Hey! Look at that!” Dave pointed to a small sign on the yard of a well- kept attractive yellow house we passed.
“That’s Nellie McClung’s house he said. ” And sure enough it was. The sign made it clear.
Nellie, who was instrumental in getting Canadian women the right to vote, lived in the house on Chestnut Street with her family from 1911 to 1914. Besides being a suffragette Nellie was also an accomplished author with fifteen books to her credit. Her first book was a best-seller earning her more than $25,000, a windfall in 1908 the year it was published. Nellie became a sought after public speaker. When her family moved into the house at 97 Chestnut she was also the mother of five children ranging in age from a newborn to a teenager.
Nellie’s husband Robert was a pharmacist and it was his job that brought them to Winnipeg from Manitou Manitoba in 1911. They left Winnipeg and their house on Chestnut Street in 1914 because Robert got a job in Edmonton. Two years later in 1916 Manitoba women became the first in Canada to win the right to vote in large part thanks to Nellie’s lobbying, speaking and persuasion.
Just before Nellie left Manitoba she and her friends put on a satirical play called The Women’s Parliament at what is now the Burton Cummings Theatre. Nellie played the role of then-premier Rodham Roblin. The play was a huge success and won lots of support for the suffrage movement. It played a key role in getting women the vote.
Nellie is featured in a sculpture on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature where she is depicted as a member of the Famous Five.
This was a group of five women who went all the way to the British Supreme Court in 1927 to fight for the right of Canadian women to be recognized as persons under the law and not merely their husband or father’s property.
I was delighted to find Nellie’s house and a little piece of Canadian history on my walk on Friday. I thought it an especially serendipitous find since Women’s History Month begins this week.
I am curious about who lives at 97 Chestnut now. I hope they don’t mind when curious passersby stop to have their photo taken in front of the former home of a feminist pioneer who championed the rights of women with such intelligence, talent, wit and courage. I will be sure to take my granddaughter back to see the house when she is a little older and I can tell her Nellie’s story.