Marie-Claire Kirkland-Casgrain-Strover: The SuperWoman of Quebec
When in 1939, Dr. Charles-Aimé Kirkland was elected the Liberal member of the Legislative Assembly of Quebec for the riding of Jacques-Cartier on the western part of the Island of Montreal, defeating Anatole Carignan, the Minister of Roads of Quebec, his daughter, Marie-Claire Kirkland was 15 years old. A medical doctor, Charles-Aimé was re-elected in the general elections of 1944, 1952, 1956, and 1960. The great majority of those years (from 1944 to 1959) were served during “la grand noirceur” of Premier Maurice Le Noblet Duplessis’s ultra-conservative strong majority Union nationale government. Appointed Minister of State in the Cabinet of Premier Jean Lesage on July 5, 1960, unfortunately, Dr. Charles-Aimé died while in office at the age of 64, on August 9, 1961. Dr. Kirkland was so well respected that the Town of Kirkland, Québec and an elementary school were named in his memory.
By-elections were called for December 14, 1961 in Chambly and Jacques-Cartier ridings. Marie-Claire was 37 years old and had practiced law in Montreal since being admitted to the Quebec Bar in 1952. The difficulty was that she was female, and a woman had never before been elected as a member of the Legislative Assembly of Quebec. Pierre Laporte was elected in Chambly, and Marie-Claire in Jacques-Cartier. So Marie-Claire went off to Quebec City to rent an apartment. Even though Marie-Claire was a lawyer and had just been elected the first female member of the Legislative Assembly, the landlord required Marie-Claire’s husband Pierre Casgrain, also a lawyer, to countersign the apartment lease. Such was Quebec law in 1961. This, of course, enraged Marie-Claire.
After being re-elected in the general election of 1962, she was appointed Minister without Portfolio by Premier Jean Lesage, the first female cabinet minister in Quebec ever. In 1964, Marie-Claire succeeded in her efforts to amend the Civil Code of Quebec, thereby improving the legal capability of married women, remembering how she had been treated just three years before when she had arrived in Quebec City. Premier Lesage appointed her Minister of Transport and Communications in 1964, and she served until the 1966 general election when Daniel Johnson Senior’s Union nationale formed the government.
With the boundaries of the ridings changing in time for the 1966 general election, Marie-Claire was elected in Marguerite-Bourgeoys during the general elections of 1966 and 1970. Marie-Claire was made a Queen’s Counsel (Q.C.) in 1969. Premier Robert Bourassa appointed her Minister of Tourism, Game and Fishing in 1970 and Minister of Cultural Affairs in 1972. Marie-Claire resigned from active politics in 1973 and was appointed a Judge of the Provincial Court of Quebec. She retired in 1990.
Marie-Claire was made a Knight of the National Order of Quebec in 1985 and a Member of the Order of Canada in 1992. In 1998, Marie-Claire was granted a personal Coat of Arms which, to her great joy as a life-long ardent supporter of McGill University, was surmounted by McGill’s red martlet. Marie-Claire had graduated from McGill with a Bachelor of Arts in 1947 and a Bachelor of Civil Law in 1950.
In 2012, Quebec’s first female Premier, Pauline Marois, unveiled a statue of Idola Saint-Jean (1880-1945), Therese Casgrain (1896-1981) and Marie-Claire Kirkland outside the National Assembly of Québec. The statue, by sculptor Jules Lasalle, was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Marie-Claire being named the first female cabinet minister in Quebec, and to recognize Idola Saint-Jean and Therese Casgrain for their efforts in the very long struggle for getting the vote for females in elections in Quebec, it finally being granted in 1940. At the federal level, women started getting the right to vote in 1917.
In Montreal on March 24th, Marie-Claire Kirkland-Casgrain-Strover passed away at the age of 91. And, of course, she was the first woman in the history of Quebec to be honoured with a state funeral. The SuperWoman of Quebec was no more. Rest in peace, Marie-Claire!