Grace MacInnis

First B.C. woman elected to the Canadian House of Commons (1965); elected provincially to the Legislative Assembly (1941)

Grace MacInnis
Image G-03063 courtesy of the Royal
BC Museum and Archives

Grace MacInnis was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1905. She attended the University of Manitoba and the Sorbonne before training as a teacher at the Ottawa Normal School.

MacInnis soon left teaching to act as secretary to her father, James Shaver Woodsworth, a federal Member of Parliament (MP) and the founder and leader of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), a social democratic party that emerged during the 1930s in Canada. MacInnis was a charter member of the CCF – which would later become the New Democratic Party – and the president of its British Columbia branch.

In 1941, MacInnis was elected to the Legislative Assembly as the member for Vancouver-Burrard. During her three-year term, she championed medicare, pensions, adequate living conditions, consumer affairs and accessible birth control.

In 1946, MacInnis was among six Canadian delegates to the International Assembly of Women in New York State. Chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, the Assembly discussed post-war issues and the role of the United Nations.

In 1965, MacInnis was elected as the New Democratic Party MP for Vancouver-Kingsway, becoming the first B.C. woman elected to the Canadian House of Commons. During her time in parliament, MacInnis was a forceful proponent of women’s equality and early advocate for causes that would later come to the fore in Canadian debate, including the removal of abortion from the Criminal Code.