The Canadian constitution is to some extent characterised by its focus on equality, and in particular gender equality. This development of women’s rights in Canada and the greater engagement of women as political actors is often presented as a steady linear process, moving forwards from post-enlightenment modernity. This article seeks to disturb this ‘discourse of the continuous,’ by using an analysis of the pre-confederation history of suffrage in Canada to both refute a simplistic linear view of women’s rights development and to argue for recognition of the Indigenous contribution to the history of women’s rights in Canada.
The gain of franchise and suffrage movements in Canada in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century are, rightly, the focus of considerable study (Pauker 2015), This article takes an alternative perspective. Instead, it examines the exercise of earlier franchises in pre-confederation Canada. In particular it analyses why franchise was exercised more widely in Lower Canada and relates this to the context of the removal of franchises from women prior to confederation.