Local historian honoured by Governor General in Ottawa

Oak Bay’s Merna Forster has been honoured with the Pierre Berton Award for popularizing Canadian history.

In a ceremony at Rideau Hall, Gov-Gen. David Johnston presented Forster with a medal and a $5,000 cash prize.

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The award, formally known as the Governor General’s History Award for Popular Media, celebrates those who have brought Canadian history to a wider audience. The recipient is selected by Canada's National History Society, which publishes Canada's History magazine.

Forster, a historian, educator, genealogist and public speaker, has worked for years to create greater awareness of women in Canadian history. She is author of 100 Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces and 100 More Canadian Heroines.

Forster is best known for leading a relentless national campaign from 2013 to 2016 to feature prominent Canadian women on banknotes. She launched the campaign after the only Canadian women on currency — activist Therese Casgrain and the “Famous Five” who fought for women to be recognized as persons — were replaced by an Arctic icebreaker. The petition received 73,000 signatures.

A debate about who should be featured on banknotes led to a national discussion about accomplished Canadian women, said Forster.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the image of an iconic Canadian woman will appear on a new series of banknotes in 2018.

The Bank of Canada selected Forster to be on a seven-member advisory council that reviewed the nominations. Last week, the Bank of Canada released a short list of five women. Artist Emily Carr and activist Nellie McClung, two Greater Victoria women, did not make the short list.

The five contenders are civil libertarian Viola Desmond, poet E. Pauline Johnson, engineer Elsie MacGill, athlete Bobbie Rosenfeld and suffragist Idola Saint-Jean.

The winner will be announced on Dec. 8 by Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz. The denomination of new banknotes featuring a woman, expected in 2018, will also be made public that day.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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