Maintaining a pioneering woman’s legacy
Nellie McClung Heritage Site restoration aimed at boosting Manitoba town’s tourism potential
It’s no accident that Manitoba women were the first in Canada to win the right to vote—and hold political office—in January 1916.
The province was, after all, home to one of the most famous Canadian suffragettes for 35 years.
A driving force behind the franchise for women—and, in 1929, the legal definition of “persons” in Canada—Nellie McClung is best known today as one of the Famous Five who worked tirelessly to champion suffrage, and women’s rights in general. She was also a legislator, brilliant speaker, and best-selling author.
Today, the legacy of this pioneering activist is kept alive in the small southern Manitoba town of Manitou, population 840, through the efforts of community volunteers who manage the Nellie McClung Heritage Site and lead sponsors like Enbridge, who are contributing $25,000 to the revitalization of Nellie’s Homes of Manitou as a regional tourist attraction.
Support from Enbridge was made as part of a $2-million Line 3 Replacement Program (Canada) fund that will help kickstart approximately 250 important, locally driven projects and initiatives in more than 80 communities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. This one-time, project-related funding is over and above that provided by Enbridge’s ongoing community investment program.
“Nellie McClung is a very important historical and political figure, not only of the women’s movement but in all of Canada,” says Roxanna Benoit, Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications with Enbridge. “We're proud to support Nellie's Homes of Manitou, and its efforts to honor the legacy of the work she did to advance equality and inspire future generations of leaders.”
The Heritage Site houses the only two of McClung’s private homes in Canada that are open to the public. “Unknown to most people is that Nellie lived in and around Manitou for nearly 20 years,” says Bette Mueller, co-chair of Nellie’s Homes. “Here she worked as a teacher, wrote two Canadian best sellers, raised four of her five children and launched her career as a woman’s advocate and national speaker.”
The Heritage Site contains McClung House, the first home ever purchased by Wes and Nellie in 1899; Hazel Cottage, where Nellie boarded as a 16-year-old teacher (1892); and a period matching log house Nellie visited while living in Manitou. Also featured is a gift shop, tourism center and a small outdoor interpretive gallery.
With the help of Enbridge, the second floor of McClung House will soon be completed and opened to visitors for the first time. In addition to the bedrooms, it will feature a reading room reminiscent of the one Nellie and other suffragists opened in Manitou at the turn of the century.
The enhancements are expected to increase Manitou’s profile as an attractive tourist destination and drive additional traffic to “walk in Nellie’s footsteps” at other community attractions—including the historic Opera House, as well as turn-of-the-century homes and businesses.
But the real payback lies in offering inspiring, thought-provoking visitor experiences—especially for women, says Mueller: “The true legacy of this initiative will be its potential impacts on young people in terms of empowering them to take action, in their own ways, to do things to improve the lives of themselves, their families and communities.”
(TOP PHOTO: The Central Manitoba Youth Choir during a recent visit to Nellie's Homes of Manitou, in southwestern Manitoba.)