The honour of being represented by a statue on Parliament Hill is usually reserved for prime ministers and royalty, but an exception was made for the Famous Five: Irene Parlby, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Nellie McClung and Emily Murphy, the Alberta women who won the Persons Case that gave women the right to sit in the Senate.
The five were recently added to the back of the new $50 bill as part of the 75th anniversary of the Persons Case. That's what most people know.
What most people may not be celebrating during this International Women's Week is that in 1922 Emily Murphy began writing under the pen name Janey Canuck in Maclean's and other publications, regularly vilifying Asian immigrants, American blacks, Jews and Eastern Europeans who had chosen Alberta as their home.
Granted, Murphy's particular brand of xenophobia, it can be argued, wasn't uncommon in her time - and wasn't even considered racist by many. But are we learning anything from the past by ignoring these facts?
Her book The Black Candle outlined her belief that multiculturalism spelled moral degeneracy and was detrimental to the purity of the white race. She advocated tighter immigration control and the "exclusion of all persons of colour from the continent."
Murphy publicly supported the Chinese exclusion laws of the 1930s and 40s, and travelled throughout British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan delivering speeches advocating forced sterilization. Murphy, along with McClung, a novelist and legislator, and McKinney, the first woman sworn into the Alberta legislature, were all instrumental in the adoption of the Alberta Sexual Sterilization Act in 1928. Until as recently as 1971, the Alberta government made applications to the provincial courts to have young native women sterilized.
The Bank of Canada acknowledges that during focus-group sessions on the new $50 some people were concerned about some of the history of the Famous Five but believed that their contributions as a group were valuable.
The theme of the new $50 is "Nation building, shaping the political, legal and social structures for democracy and equality." Designed by Jorge Peral, it also bears a quote from the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights as well as an image of a pair of scales representing justice.
Murphy's writing was instrumental in developing the ideology of white supremacy. Should she be regarded as an ideal exemplar of modern Canadian feminism?
The Canadian Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs, which raised thousands of dollars for the commemorative statues of the Famous Five on Parliament Hill as well as a commemorative plaque in the Senate, now has its doubts.
"I am not sure that we would do the same thing today," says vice-president Fran Donaldson, referring to the group's commemorative efforts. "It can be quite disturbing to realize some of the things that were done."
True. A memorial plaque could easily be added to explain the truth, so people could learn from our past.
Other complaints have been lodged about the bill, the Bank of Canada confirms. And there is a precedent for removing Canadian money from circulation. Many people believed that a gargoyle-like face could be seen in the line work of Queen Elizabeth's hair on the 1954 issue. Known as the "devil's head" bill, it was modified in 1956 to remove the effect.
One hundred five million Famous Five $50 bills have been printed and circulated. For the sake of Canada's self-respect, shouldn't the Bank of Canada remove Emily Murphy and her colleagues from Canada's modern identity?