Women In The Canadian Forces (CF) — Fact Sheet

1885 : Women serve as nurs­es for the first time in Cana­di­an mil­i­tary his­to­ry dur­ing the North­west Rebellion. 

1901 : A per­ma­nent Cana­di­an Nurs­ing Ser­vice is created. 

1898–1902 : Nurs­es once again sup­port the Cana­di­an mil­i­tary with the Yukon Field Force in 1898 and the three Cana­di­an con­tin­gents in the Boer War in South Africa.

Dur­ing the South African (Boer) War, they become a per­ma­nent part of the Roy­al Cana­di­an Army Med­ical Corps. 

1906 : Nurs­es are admit­ted to the Reg­u­lar Force. 

1914–1918 : More than 2 800 women serve with the Roy­al Cana­di­an Army Med­ical Corps between 

1914 and 1918, with the major­i­ty serv­ing over­seas in hos­pi­tals, on board hos­pi­tal ships, in sev­er­al the­atres of war, and in com­bat zones with field ambu­lance units. 

First World War also sees the first orga­ni­za­tion of women in a mil­i­tary capac­i­ty oth­er than nurs­ing. Cana­di­an women form para­mil­i­tary groups, out­fit them­selves in mil­i­tary-style uni­forms, and under­take train­ing in small arms, drill, first aid, and vehi­cle main­te­nance in case they are need­ed as home guards. 

1939–1945 : Approx­i­mate­ly 5 000 nurs­es serve in the Army, Navy, and Air Force Med­ical Corps dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. They serve over­seas in hos­pi­tals, casu­al­ty sta­tions near com­bat zones, mobile field hos­pi­tals and in many the­atres of war. How­ev­er, they are not per­mit­ted to serve in war­ships, com­bat air­craft, or com­bat arms units. 

1941 : The Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment decides to enrol more than 45 000 women vol­un­teers for full-time mil­i­tary ser­vice oth­er than nurs­ing. All three serv6ices estab­lish women’s divi­sions and the range of duties broad­ens dur­ing the war from tra­di­tion­al trades—clerks, cooks, dri­vers, and tele­phone operators—to mechan­ics, para­chute rig­gers, and heavy mobile equip­ment drivers. 

1942 : Mary Greyeyes of the Muskeg Lake Indi­an Reserve becomes the first Abo­rig­i­nal woman to enlist in the Cana­di­an Army. 

1950–1953 : Women are once again recruit­ed for mil­i­tary ser­vice when mil­i­tary per­son­nel are com­mit­ted to the Kore­an War. More than 5 000 women are serv­ing by 1955. 

1965 : A gov­ern­ment deci­sion is made to con­tin­ue to employ women in the Cana­di­an mil­i­tary. A fixed ceil­ing of 1 500, to include women in all three ser­vices, is estab­lished. The lim­it rep­re­sents rough­ly 1.5 per cent of the total force of the day. 

1970 : The Roy­al Com­mis­sion on the Sta­tus of Women rec­om­mends changes nec­es­sary to pro­vide a cli­mate of equal oppor­tu­ni­ty for women in Cana­da, with six rec­om­men­da­tions aimed specif­i­cal­ly at the Cana­di­an Forces: 

  • stan­dard­iza­tion of enrol­ment criteria;
  • equal pen­sion ben­e­fits for women and men;
  • oppor­tu­ni­ty for women to attend Cana­di­an mil­i­tary colleges;
  • open­ing of all trades and offi­cer clas­si­fi­ca­tions to women; and,
  • ter­mi­na­tion of reg­u­la­tions pro­hibit­ing enrol­ment of mar­ried women and requir­ing release of ser­vice­women upon the birth of a child.

1974 : Major Wendy Clay, a doc­tor, qual­i­fies for her pilot’s wings six years before the pilot clas­si­fi­ca­tion is opened to all women. 

1978 : Cor­po­ral Gail Toupin becomes the first female mem­ber of the Sky­Hawks, the Army’s sky­div­ing demon­stra­tion team. 

1979–1985 : Tri­als take place as part of the Ser­vice­women in Non-Tra­di­tion­al Envi­ron­ments and Roles (SWINTER) project. 

1979 : Mil­i­tary col­leges open their doors to women. 

1981 : Sec­ond Lieu­tenant Inge Plug becomes the first female heli­copter pilot. 1981 Lieu­tenant Karen McCrim­mon becomes the Cana­di­an Forces’ first female air navigator. 

1982 : The Cana­di­an Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms is signed. It pro­hibits dis­crim­i­na­tion based on race, national/ethnic ori­gin, colour, reli­gion, sex, age, and mental/physical disability. 

1987 : Com­bat Relat­ed Employ­ment of Women (CREW) tri­als are announced for select­ed army units and naval ves­sels. The Air Force announces that no fur­ther tri­als are required and all areas of Air Force employ­ment, includ­ing fight­er pilot, are open to women. 

1986–1988 : Fol­low­ing a dis­crim­i­na­tion com­plaint, Cana­di­an Human Rights Tri­bunal orders the Cana­di­an Forces to: 

  • Con­tin­ue the CREW tri­als as prepa­ra­tion for the full inte­gra­tion of women in all occu­pa­tions of the CF rather than as a tri­als program;
  • Ful­ly inte­grate women into Reg­u­lar and Reserve Forces (with the excep­tion of submarines);
  • Remove all employ­ment restric­tions and imple­ment new occu­pa­tion­al per­son­nel selec­tion stan­dards; and
  • Devise a plan to steadi­ly, reg­u­lar­ly and con­sis­tent­ly achieve com­plete inte­gra­tion with­in ten years.

1988 : Colonel Sheila A. Hell­strom is the first female grad­u­ate of Nation­al Defence Col­lege. She becomes the first Reg­u­lar Force woman to be pro­mot­ed to the rank of Brigadier-General. 

The first female gun­ners in the Reg­u­lar Force grad­u­ate from qual­i­fi­ca­tion 3 train­ing and are post­ed to 5e Rég­i­ment d’ar­tillerie légére (5 RALC) in Val­carti­er, Que­bec, as part of the CREW trials. 

Pri­vate Shan­non Wills wins the Queens Medal for Cham­pi­on Shot of the Reserve Forces at the Con­naught Ranges in Ottawa. 

1989 : Pri­vate Heather R. Erxleben becomes Canada’s first female Reg­u­lar Force infantry sol­dier. Major Dee Brasseur becomes the first woman fight­er pilot of a CF-18 Hornet. 

1990 : The Minister’s Advi­so­ry Board on Women in the Cana­di­an Forces is estab­lished by the Min­is­ter of Nation­al Defence to mon­i­tor the progress of gen­der inte­gra­tion and employ­ment equi­ty in the Cana­di­an Forces. 

1991 HMCS NIPIGON becomes the first Cana­di­an mixed-gen­der war­ship to par­tic­i­pate in exer­cis­es with NATO’s Stand­ing Naval Forces Atlantic. 

Lieu­tenant Anne Reif­f­en­stein (née Proc­tor), Lieu­tenant Hol­ly Brown, and Cap­tain Lin­da Shrum grad­u­ate from artillery train­ing as the first female offi­cers in the com­bat arms. 

1992 : Cor­po­ral Mar­lene Shilling­ford becomes the first woman select­ed to join the Snow­birds team. She takes part in the 1993–94 show sea­son as a tech­ni­cian. The Snow­birds are the Air Force’s aer­o­bat­ic demon­stra­tion fly­ing team. 

1993 : Lieutenant(Navy) Leanne Crowe is the first woman to qual­i­fy as a clear­ance div­ing offi­cer and is sub­se­quent­ly the first woman to become Offi­cer Com­mand­ing of the Exper­i­men­tal Div­ing Unit. 

1994 : Major-Gen­er­al Wendy Clay becomes the first woman pro­mot­ed to that rank. 

1995 : Chief War­rant Offi­cer Lin­da Smith is the first woman to be named Wing Chief War­rant Offi­cer in the Cana­di­an Forces at 17 Wing Winnipeg. 

1996 : LCdr Wafa Dub­bagh becomes the first Cana­di­an Mus­lim woman to wear the hijab in the CF

1997 : Colonel Mar­cia Quinn assumes com­mand of 41 Cana­di­an Brigade Group. 

Colonel Patri­cia Sam­son is appoint­ed Cana­di­an Forces Provost Mar­shall; she is lat­er pro­mot­ed Brigadier-General. 

1998 : Lieu­tenant-Colonel Karen McCrim­mon is appoint­ed Com­man­der of 429 Trans­port Squadron in Tren­ton, Ontario. 

Chief Pet­ty Offi­cer 2nd Class Hol­ly Kis­bee becomes the first woman Com­bat Chief of a major warship. 

2000 : The Chief of the Mar­itime Staff announces that women can serve in submarines. 

Major Micky Colton becomes the first female pilot to com­plete 10,000 fly­ing hours in a Her­cules aircraft. 

Lieu­tenant Ruth-Ann Shamuhn of 5 Com­bat Engi­neer Reg­i­ment becomes the first female com­bat diver. 

2001 : Cap­tain Maryse Carmichael is the first female Snow­bird pilot. The Snow­birds are the Air Force’s aer­o­bat­ic demon­stra­tion fly­ing team. 

2002 : Chief War­rant Offi­cer Camille Tkacz is the first woman appoint­ed to a Com­mand Chief posi­tion as Assis­tant Deputy Min­is­ter (Human Resources — Mil­i­tary) Chief War­rant Officer. 

2003 : Major Anne Reif­f­en­stein is the first female to com­mand a com­bat arms sub-unit. She is cur­rent­ly a Bat­tery Com­man­der at 1st Reg­i­ment Roy­al Cana­di­an Horse Artillery at CFB Shilo. 

Lieu­tenant-Com­man­der Mar­ta Mulkins is the first woman to serve as a cap­tain of a Cana­di­an warship. 

Major Jen­nie Carig­nan of 5 Com­bat Engi­neer Reg­i­ment (5 CER) becomes the first female Deputy Com­mand­ing Offi­cer of a com­bat arms unit. 

Lead­ing Sea­man Hay­ley John and Lead­ing Sea­man Mar­ke­ta Semik are the first female non-com­mis­sioned mem­bers clear­ance divers. 

Mas­ter Sea­man Colleen Beat­tie becomes the first indi­vid­ual qual­i­fied as a sub­mariner, fol­lowed short­ly by Mas­ter Sea­man Carey Ann Stewart. 

The first and only all female CF team com­pletes the Nijmegan March in Hol­land car­ry­ing the same weight as male teams. They are: team leader Lieu­tenant Deb­bie Scott, sec­ond-in-com­mand Cap­tain Lucie Mauger, Lieu­tenant Jody Weath­ered, Cor­po­ral Eliz­a­beth Mutch, War­rant Offi­cer Nathalie Mer­cer, War­rant Offi­cer Jack­ie Rev­ell, Mas­ter Cor­po­ral Denise Robert, Cor­po­ral Melis­sa Cedilot, Cor­po­ral Danette Frasz, Lieu­tenant-Colonel Tere­sa McNutt, Lieu­tenant Don­na Rogers and Cor­po­ral Anne MacDonald. 

2004 : Chief Pet­ty Offi­cer, 1st Class Jan Davis is appoint­ed Coxswain of HMCS REGINA and is the first woman Coxswain of a major warship. 

2006 : Brigadier-Gen­er­al Chris­tine White­cross becomes first female Joint Task Force Com­man­der (Joint Task Force North). 

Cap­tain Nico­la God­dard, 1st Reg­i­ment Roy­al Cana­di­an Horse Artillery, was killed in action in Afghanistan 

2007 : Lieu­tenant-Colonel Tam­my Har­ris becomes the first female Wing Com­man­der (9 Wing Gander) 

Com­modore Jen­nifer J. Ben­nett becomes the first woman appoint­ed Com­man­der of the Naval Reserve. 

2009 : Com­man­der Josée Kurtz is the first woman appoint­ed to com­mand a major war­ship – the HMCS Halifax. 

2010 : Lieu­tenant-Colonel Susuan Wigg, Direc­tor for Cadets, one of the ini­tial women to enrol at Roy­al Mil­i­tary Col­lege in 1980, becomes its first female direc­tor of cadets. Lieu­tenant-Colonel Maryse Carmichael becomes the first female Com­mand­ing Offi­cer of the Snowbirds. 

1. This back­grounder con­tains a non-exhaus­tive list of mile­stones and is not a defin­i­tive com­pendi­um of all the his­tor­i­cal achieve­ments or accom­plish­ments of Cana­di­an Forces female members. 

Depart­ment of Nation­al Defence, Canada 

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