En 1918, quand les Canadiennes sont autorisées pour la première fois à participer aux élections fédérales, Ellen Louks Fairclough (née Cook) a 13 ans. C’est une jeune fille «typique de la nouvelle ère» qui saisit bon nombre des chances qui s’offrent alors aux femmes. La vie d’Ellen Cook suivra une trajectoire extraordinaire puisqu’elle deviendra la première femme membre d’un cabinet ministériel fédéral au Canada.

Fairclough abandonne l’école en 8e année. Elle travaille déjà à mi-temps depuis l’âge de 12 ans. Pendant une brève période, au cours de la récession économique de 1921-1922, cause de chômage considérable à Hamilton (Ontario), sa ville natale, elle est le seul soutien de sa famille.  Ses racines ouvrières l’amèneront à poursuivre une carrière dans les affaires et elle sera l’une des premières femmes à devenir comptable agréé au Canada.

Fairclough triomphe de nombreuses difficultés; elle fait l’objet de discrimination au travail, surtout après son mariage avec Gordon Fairclough et la naissance de son fils, Howard. Elle est très active dans de nombreuses organisations bénévoles, siège au conseil municipal de la Ville d’Hamilton, et dirige une entreprise prospère pendant la Crise de 1929. 

John Diefenbaker and Ellen Fairclough in Prime Minister’s Office John Diefenbaker holding a plaque in Prime Minister’s Office

Avant de faire carrière en politique, Fairclough a occupé des postes de direction dans de nombreuses organisations, dont l’Association des consommateurs du Canada, les Guides du Canada,, I.O.D.E.,  Zonta International. L’expérience qu’elle y a acquise lui servira lors qu’elle entrera en politique au niveau fédéral. Elle adhère au Parti conservateur et, le 15 mai 1950, lors d’une élection partielle pour la circonscription d’Hamilton West, est élue à la Chambre des communes.

Le Premier ministre G. Diefenbaker la nomme secrétaire d’État en 1957. Elle se fait remarquer pour ses talents oratoires, sa détermination et son énergie. En 1958, elle devient ministre de la Citoyenneté et de l’Immigration. Elle est la première femme à assumer par intérim la fonction de Premier ministre du Canada (19-20 février 1958), et pour cette raison la reine Elizabeth II lui octroiera le titre de The Right Honourable le 1er juillet 1992. En 1962, elle introduit de nouvelles règles pour réduire la discrimination raciale dans les politiques en matière d’immigration, augmentant ainsi le nombre d’immigrants autorisés au Canada et apporte d’importants changements pour libéraliser la politique relative aux réfugiés.

Bien que sa carrière parlementaire prenne fin en 1963, Fairclough continue à s’intéresser à la politique et à la condition féminine. Elle appuie activement la législation sur la parité salariale et continue à assurer la place des Canadiennes dans le gouvernement en proposant la candidature de Kim Campbell à la tête du Parti progressiste-conservateur en 1993. Cette dernière deviendra la première, et la seule, femme Premier ministre du Canada. 

Le 16 avril 1980, Fairclough est nommée Officier de l’Ordre du Canada puis promue Compagnon le 1er mars 1995. Elle reçoit l’Ordre de l’Ontario, honneur le plus élevé de cette province, en 1996. Un immeuble à bureaux fédéral, au coin de McNab et de King Street, dans sa ville d’Hamilton, porte le nom d’Édifice Ellen Fairclough. Elle est décédée le 13 novembre 2004, quelques semaines seulement avant son centième anniversaire. En 2005, la Société canadienne des  postes a édité un timbre en son honneur.

John Diefenbaker with Ellen Fairclough, William Hamilton, Gordon Churchill, Michael Starr and others in Centre Block Office John Diefenbaker, Vincent Massey and the Cabinet with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip


House of Commons, Canada 

502 Toronto General Trusts Bldg.,
Calgary, Alberta,
August 23, 1960
Stamped: “Seen by John G. Diefenbaker”
Personal and Confidential


The Right Honourable Mr. John G. Diefenbaker,
Q.C., P.C.,
Prime Minister of Canada,
House of Commons
Ottawa, Canada.

Dear Prime Minister: -

Re: Oriental Problem

Find enclosed a copy of a letter I have written to The Honourable Ellen Fairclough which I honestly and conscientiously believe is causing much difficulty across the country.

I do not know if there is a solution, but I really believe that some simpler formula could be devised and I bring it to your attention in the same spirit as I wrote the letter to Mrs. Fairclough.

Yours very truly,

Eldon M. Woolliams



Stamped: “Office of the Prime Minister, Aug 24, 1960”

House of Commons, Canada
502 Toronto General Trusts Bldg.,
Calgary, Alberta
August 23, 1960

Personal and Confidential

The Honourable Mrs. Ellen Fairclough,
Minister of Citizenship & Immigrations,
House of Commons,
Ottawa, Canada.

Dear Mrs. Fairclough: -

Re: Oriental Problem

My sympathy has always been with you Ellen as you have a most difficult portfolio, and in consequence, with this type of responsibility goes some unpopularity.

One of the main problems is the manner in which we treat Orientals. Is there not some easier formula which could be set up, rather than dealing with wives and relatives and questioning them in reference to their credentials, which only leads to a false hope and criticism of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration at your expense?

This is mentioned to you, not as criticism on my part, but as something which no doubt all of you have had in mind and mentioned only as a matter of goodwill to all.

Yours sincerely,

Eldon Woolliams


c.c. to: The Prime Minister of Canada.

[Handwritten Note]

Jan. 12, 1960

354 x 312 C+I

Mr. P.M.

I would like to plant a seed – for thought:

A Royal Commission on Citizenship and Immigration

The Committee should meet during 1960 Session. It’s [sic] recommendation could be for a Royal Commission

If set up in, say, June or September 1960, it could not report before 1962 any legislation could only be subsequent to the next election.

Front of postcard: “Flamboyant Tree, Barbado”

Reverse: Tuck’s Postcard

Air Mail

Rt. Hon + Mrs. J.G. Diefenbaker

24 Sussex Dr.

Ottawa, Ont

Stamped:  Office of the Prime Minister, Apr 20 1963, Ottawa


It seems a long way from home but we are gradually unwinding and getting a rest. Will see you next week. 


Ellen Fairclough.

Hamilton, Ont.

April 9, 1964

Stamped: “Seen by John G. Diefenbaker”

Dear John,

We all worked like dogs down here but to no avail. I am so sorry I could not hold Hamilton West for you but I’m afraid it was a lost cause from the start. Peculiarly enough I thought we were winning but the people must have been kidding me. Even yesterday, on my rounds of the polls, I was sure I was winning.

I do want to thank you warmly for giving me the opportunity to serve in your Cabinet. It was an unforgettable experience and one I shall always cherish.

I am leaving tomorrow for a holiday in Barbados. I arranged this in January and the reservations cannot

25 Stanley Avenue, 

Hamilton, Ontario
September 9, 1963

Dear John,

No doubt you have wondered if I crawled in a hole or something and I do apologize for not having written before this.

I had intended to come down to Ottawa during the summer session but have had rather a hectic few months about which I shall tell you. The other day I met Mrs. Freeman in a Department store and when she told me Olive had been asking for me I really felt very guilty indeed.

About the first week in June I went into hospital for a check-up, the result of which was that I went back again for surgery the last week of June. I had amazing success with my recovery but, of course, it takes quite a bit out of one even under the best of circumstances.

The job of clearing out three offices and my bed-sitting room at the Chateau was a little more than I had bargained for. I have most of the stuff put away now but was amazed at what I had accumulated (it cost me $250 to have it moved to Hamilton). Gordon said “Thank goodness you didn’t have an apartment or a house,” to which I said “amen.”

I am going back into business with a group of Hamilton business and professional men in a new venture which should be quite exciting and challenging. As soon as the announcement is made

I shall let you know. My campaign manager, Mr. David Goldberg, Q.C., and I will be starting to work on the Hamilton West situation just as soon as the provincial election is over. We had intended starting September 1st but the election is claiming everyone’s attention right now. We will start a new organization, getting rid of some of the dead wood, and scouting around for a candidate because I have a feeling we may be in for an election sooner than most people think.

We will have to have three new candidates in Hamilton because, in addition to myself, I suppose you know Bob MacDonald has taken a position in Toronto and Quinto is running for the provincial.

Controller Ada Pritchard is running in Hamilton Centre which takes in a portion of my riding and a portion of Quinto’s. You may recall she is the woman I wanted Howard Green to name to the United Nations as a delegate but he wouldn’t go for it. She is a good candidate, aggressive and experienced, and should win if her workers are on their toes. She has had no experience in this kind of a campaign, however, and I am doing what I can to help her out.

We were all so sorry to hear that you had lost “Happy” who was a lovely animal. I am sure you must miss him sorely but hope you will replace him.

It must have been quite a chore moving to 541 and I have heard some intriguing tales about the situation there but will have to wait until I see you to get the story straight.

If all goes well, and my business will allow it, I shall try and come down during the forthcoming session and will hope to have a chat with all of my old friends.

I don’t know whether you heard about Howard or not but he and Jeannine are being married this coming Friday (the 13th!). You will be receiving an announcement in due course but I thought you and Olive would be interested since you met her on a couple of occasions although you may not remember.

So you can see that, with moving, surgery, son’s marriage, and my new business I have been far from idle.

As the Nova Scotians say, “God willing and weather permitting” I shall see you some time this autumn.

Warm regards to both of you.



Stamp: Seen by John G. Diefenbaker

Canada, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Ottawa, April 12th, 1962
Rt. Hon. John G. Diefenbaker, M.P.,
Prime Minister of Canada,

My dear Prime Minister,

As I was leaving the hotel this morning, Mr. Eloi Belanger asked me if I would deliver the enclosed note to you personally.

Just to refresh your memory this is the elevator starter with the raspy voice who has been there for so many years. He asked me if I would mind delivering this to “my friend, the Prime Minister.”

Yours sincerely,

Ellen Fairclough

Ellen L. Fairclough


Royal Commissions

(November 15th, 1948 to June 21st, 1957)

The following is a list of Royal Commissions appointed by the Administration of the Right Honourable Louis S. St. Laurent (November 15th, 1948 to June 21st, 1957):

Royal Commission Date of Establishment
1. Cases where revocation of citizenship is under consideration 17th December 1948
2. Transportation 29th December 1948
3. National development in the arts, letters and sciences 8th April 1949
4. Floods in Red River Valley, Manitoba 17th May 1950
5. Fire damage to towns of Rimouski and Cabano, P.Q. 17th May 1950
6. Rents payable on leased lands in townsites and subdivisions in Banff and Jasper National Parks and minimum value of buildings which may be erected therein 15th September 1950
7. Claims arising out of World War II (Mr. Chief Justice Ilsley) 31st July 1951
8. South Saskatchewan River Project 24th August 1951
9. Staking of areas and application for permits re exploring petroleum products by Sun Oil Co. and California Standard Co. 12th November 1951
10. Claims arising out of World War II (Mr. Chief Justice Campbell) 23rd October 1952
11. Criminal law relating to defence of insanity 2nd March 1954
12. Criminal sexual psychopaths 25th March 1954
13. Quartz mining and placer mining in Yukon Territory 29th April 1954
14. Agreed charges under Part IV of the Transport Act 20th May 1954
15. Patents, Copyright, Trade Marks 10th June 1954
16. Humber River Valley flood 20th October 1954
17. Coasting trade in Canada 1st March 1955
18. Long-term prospects of the Canadian economy            17th June 1955
19. Broadcasting in Canada 2nd December 1955
20. Dispute between Canadian Pacific Railway and Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Engineers 17th January 1957
21. Financial position of Newfoundland 21st February 1957

Royal Commissions Appointed

April 1, 1953 – June 21, 1957

(excluding commissions appointed to inquire into charges of political partisanship, covering a period of 51 months)


Date of establishment

1. Criminal law relating to defence of insanity 2 March 1954
2. Criminal sexual psychopaths 25 March 1954
3. Quartz mining and placer mining in Yukon Territory 29 April 1954
4. Agreed charges under Part IV of the Transport Act 20 May 1954
5. Patents, Copyright, Trade Marks 10 June 1954
6. Humber River Valley flood 20 October 1954
7. Coasting trade in Canada 1 March 1955
8. Long-term prospects of the Canadian economy 17 June 1955
9. Broadcasting in Canada 2 December 1955
10. Dispute between Canadian Pacific Railway and Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Engineers 17 January 1957
11. Financial position of Newfoundland 21 February 1957

Royal Commissions Appointed

June 21, 1957 – October 19, 1961

(excluding commissions appointed to inquire into charges political partisanship; covering a period of 51 months)

  Date of establishment
1. Energy policy 15 October 1957
2. Price spreads in food products 10 December 1957
3. Seabird Island Indians 18 February 1958
4. Railway problems 13 May 1959
5. Route of railway line, Northern Alberta 4 June 1959
6. Treaties 8 and 11 as applied to the Indians of the MacKenzie District 25 June 1959
7. Coal 6 October 1959
8. Motor vehicles industries 2 August 1960
9. Station CHEK-TV, Victoria, B.C. 6 September 1960
10. Government organization 16 September 1960
11. Canadian magazines and other periodicals 16 September 1960
12. Health services 20 June 1961
13. Unemployment Insurance Act 17 July, 1961
14. Banking and finance 18 October, 1961



One of the most serious problems that was faced by the Government during the election was the question of immigration. Mrs. Fairclough had done well in her position but ethnic peoples do not feel that a woman should have a responsible position and never fully accepted her. I so advised her, and pointed out that we had lost two constituencies and possibly three because of the action taken against the Chinese.

As far back as November 1961 following a meeting in Winnipeg with representatives of the Chinese of that city, I directed that prosecutions that were under way should be proceeded with but there was no hope of making much of an advance, and there should be an immediate acceleration of the granting of entry certificates of such Chinese who had entered Canada illegally but had co-operated with the authorities by admitting their wrongdoing.

I directed, too, that the Hong Kong police should no longer be employed by the R.C.M.P.

Following this direction Mrs. Fairclough had tried to bring about an early issue of these certificates but Mr. Fulton continued to use the Hong Kong police, whose conduct was reprehensible and tyrannical.

Although I was given to understand that there were no further prosecutions during the election, two well-known Chinese in Edmonton were arrested.

The two constituencies that were definitely lost as a result of these prosecutions and action taken were Toronto-St. Paul’s and Vancouver Centre (Michener and Jung).

After some discussion, all in good spirits, she agreed to transfer.

I said if we had had a majority she might have gone to the Senate where she would be able to make a worthwhile contribution, and she said that would be a happy conclusion to one’s political career.