Some readers will have already noticed this from previous coverage of streets across Ottawa named for entertainers. However, it seems a good idea to make it plain.
The lifespan of Kanata was among the shortest of the former municipalities that made up present-day Ottawa. It lasted from 1978, built out of old March Township and parts of Nepean and Goulbourn, until Amalgamation in 2001. Barely a quarter-century. But while it existed as a separate city, it carried on a unique tradition among the communities of the former Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton(RMOC). Kanata alone maintained an ongoing plan regarding the naming of streets within its borders. Specific themes would be assigned to new subdivisions as they were approved, and lists were maintained and submitted to the RMOC for approval in order to avoid confusion with other streets and roadways across the region.
One section of Beaverbrook, a residential section just north of the Queensway at the eastern end of the Kanata region as we now know it, was set aside for Canadians who’d made their mark in medicine in some notable way. Surgery, experimental lab work, and so on…and one of the street names in the “Penfield Triangle” – so it was called briefly in some of the internal correspondence at Kanata City Hall in the late 1970′s – is a side street called Stowe Court.
The size of Stowe Court is deceptive, in that the importance of its namesake far outweighs the physical details of the street itself; Stowe Court is in fact named for Dr. Emily Howard Stowe, the first woman ever to officially work as a physician in Canada.
Looking at her life from 1831 to 1903, we can see a number of reasons why the woman born Emily Howard Jennings should deserve to be honoured in this way. Certainly, she worked hard for most of her life in one way or another. Already having been a schoolteacher at age 15, she graduated from the Normal School for Upper Canada to become the first woman to serve as a school principal in Canada by age 23. Leaving that position two years later to marry English-born John Stowe and become a mother of three, it was as a wife and mother that she found her talent and calling for medicine in caring for her husband when he contracted tuberculosis.
Actually getting trained and licensed back in the 1860′s was, of course, another matter. She tried to get into the University of Toronto’s School of Medicine and was eventually told by the University’s vice-president of the day: “The doors of the University are not open to women and I trust they never will be.”
Thus she trained in the United States, graduating from the New York Medical College for Women in 1867. She returned to Canada, practiced without a license as best she could, took additional training – finally getting into the medical school in Toronto in 1871 in the process to do so – and it took her until 1880 to finally get her official license. Some of the troubles she endured in the process have been documented via one of the Heritage Minute infomercials, although that spot focused more upon her classmate Jennie Trout.
She didn’t stop with medicine. She was also one of the early advocates for female suffrage in Canada, becoming the first president of the Dominion Womens’ Enfranchisement Association in 1889, and upon having to retire from medicine due to a hip injury at a women’s equality gathering in Chicago in 1893, devoted herself to that cause full-time as best she could until her death, with one highlight of that phase of her life being her participation in the Mock Parliament of 1896, in which a delegation of men petitioning for the right to vote was received and its arguments – much the same as those of the women holding the event – were rejected.
By those actions and others, she arguably helped set the stage for the Persons Case, and the events and activism that have followed from that court challenge through to today. In politics and medicine alike, what she set out to do got done, sooner or later. Fair enough grounds for naming a street for Dr. Stowe.