Claire Kirkland-Casgrain

Written by  //  March 24, 2016  //  Absent Friends  //  No comments

Claire Kirkland-Casgrain, Quebec’s first female legislator, dies at 91

Claire Kirkland-Casgrain, the first woman elected to Quebec’s legislature and a pioneer in the women’s movement, has died at the age of 91.

Born Marie-Claire Kirkland on Sept. 8, 1924 in Palmer, Mass., she got a law degree from McGill University and worked as a lawyer in Montreal as of 1952. The daughter of a member of the assembly, she was an activist within the Quebec Liberal Party in different roles, notably as head of the Fédération des femmes libérales du Québec.

In 1961, her father, Liberal legislator Charles-Aimé Kirkland, who had served since 1939, died suddenly. Even though no woman had ever served on the assembly in Quebec, she offered her services to finish his mandate. On Dec. 14, 1961, at age 37, she was elected with a strong majority. She was re-elected in the Jacques-Cartier riding in the 1962 general election, and then in the Marguerite-Bourgeoys riding in 1966 and 1970.

In the Jean Lesage government, she was named a minister without a portfolio within a year of being elected. Later, under Lesage and Robert Bourassa, she headed different ministries: transport and communications, tourism, hunting and fishing, and cultural affairs.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard announced Friday that Kirkland-Casgrain will be given special honours during her funeral, which will be organized in part by the provincial government.

“(Kirkland-Casgrain) put her convictions towards working for the equality between men and women,” Couillard said in a statement. “On behalf of myself and the Quebec government, I offer my most sincere condolences to her family and friends.”

No funeral date has been set.

Kirkland-Casgrain also passed laws that changed the lives of women. Bill 16 gave women legal rights, such as the right to sign a cheque or a lease without the authorization of her husband. In 1997, she told the Gazette des femmes that of all the things in her career, “it’s what I’m most proud of.”

A few years before the law passed, the newly minted member of the legislature wanted to rent an apartment in Quebec City and was told by the owner he needed her husband’s signature.

Claire Kirkland married lawyer Philippe Casgrain in 1954. She also modernized marriage laws and created the Conseil du statut de la femme in 1973.

After leaving politics in 1973, she served as a judge on the provincial court and head of the Commission on the Minimum Wage. She retired in 1991, at 67 years old.

Kirkland-Casgrain had three children before her divorce. In 1990, she married lawyer Wildham Alfred Strover.

Kirkland-Casgrain was named to the Ordre national du Québec and the Order of Canada, among many awards she received throughout her career.
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