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Tea Party

Detail of Famous Five sculpture on Parliament Hill, by Barbara Paterson

This 'Tea Party' is a celebratory statue in Ottawa (and  Calgary) of 5 crucial Women's Rights activists.  This 'Tea Party' has NOTHING AT ALL to do with the modern USA use of the term!!  This song was written in 2007.


TEA PARTY (words and music Mike Ford 2007)


There comes a time when it’s time to make choices

Steppin’ out together and raising our voices

Expected just to toil in nursery and kitchen

So the women of the nation set out on a mission


We got a right to teach our sisters what the facts is

Dignity, democracy and proper health practice

This world revolves on a feminine axis

Let’s have a cheer as the Famous Five relaxes at the


TEA PARTY - We Have Been Fighting for Equality at the

TEA PARTY – Give it up for sisters fighting for you and me


Stuck in their ways, stuck in the mud, stuck in tradition

Men thought they could laugh at this female exhibition

Stuck on their rules, stuck in their over-starched collars

While the women went a- marchin’ for respect and for dollars


You think their future is combustion in your pistons

But we aren’t jestin’ we are Suffragistin’

Huddle in your boys club and you look down your noses

We’re walkin’ and the rain and singin’ Bread & Roses at the


TEA PARTY – We Have Been Fighting for Equality at the

TEA PARTY – Give it up for sisters fighting for you and me


Sisters if we waited then still we’d be waiting

Grumbling and bowing and fumbling and hating

Instead we did our part with our hearts participating

Sorry little man - is that your pride I’m deflating at the


TEA PARTY – We Have Been Fighting for Equality at the

TEA PARTY – Give it up for sisters fighting for you and me

TEA PARTY - We Have Been Fighting for Equality at the

TEA PARTY - Tell the Parson I’m a Person and I’m Proud to be Preparin’ at the



Key Terms & Phrases

Tea Party

NOTE: In this song, the term ‘Tea Party’ has NOTHING to do with the 2010-on USA usage of the term (a generally right-wing populist movement protesting policies of the Obama administration). The song was written 2 years before the U.S. ‘Tea Party’ phenomenon, and the ‘Tea Party’ in its title and lyrics is a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT reference.


Tea Party

The ‘Tea Party’ reference in this title and lyrics is to a statue of Canada’s ‘Famous Five’ on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The memorial work shows the five suffragists having a ‘Tea Party’ in celebration of their victory in the landmark ‘Persons Case’, complete with tea pot, cups and saucers, and an extra chair for the visitor to sit in. The statue is by Canadian sculptor Barbara Paterson. There is also an identical statue in downtown Calgary, and a 2-dimensional reproduction of the work on Canada’s 50-dollar bill.


The Famous Five

◾Emily Murphy

◾Henrietta Muir Edwards

◾Louise McKinney

◾Irene Parlby

◾Nellie McClung


The “Famous Five” were five leading Alberta suffragists who succeeded in getting women legally recognized as ‘persons’ in Canada. They fought for the recognition of women as persons under the British North America Act. Though the Persons' Case remains one of their most significant achievements, the Famous 5 dedicated their lives to improving their communities in innumerable ways, serving to instill a spirit of strength and leadership that could be drawn upon for years to come.



This term generally refers to an advocate of the extension of voting rights (especially to women), coming from the word ‘Suffrage’, meaning ‘franchise’ or the right to vote. Suffragist movements spread across the western world in the early 1900’s. Due to Suffragists’ tireless and often ridiculed efforts, women were gradually allowed to vote in the early decades of the 20th Century in Canada, the United States and Europe.


Composer Notes

Parliament Hill in Ottawa has a great collection of statues honouring leaders through Canada’s past, although almost every one is done in the same traditional Man-On-A-Podium style. The greatest exception to this is the only three-dimensional memorial there that is not a man (or a Monarch). Every time I stroll The Hill I am spellbound by the originality, inclusiveness and message of the Famous Five Tea Party sculpture. I am also inspired by the way its total uniqueness contrasts its neighbouring staid bronze entities. Wandering the grounds, you come upon 5 larger than life women celebrating their monumental 1929 legal victory declaring that Women were, yes, officially Persons in the eyes of the law. Their celebration is Tea Party, complete with teapot, cups and saucers, and they have one big chair empty, ready for you. I love the magnanimity and humility of the gesture – a gentle and sharing Tea Party, in contrast to the years of struggle and humiliation that were endured to get to that point.


One of my motivations for writing the song (beyond wanting to help popularize The Person’s Case) was to help popularize this monument (completed by sculptor Barbara Patterson in 2000 – there is also a duplicate memorial at in Calgary’s Olympic Plaza). Since 2004 it has been featured on Canada’s $50 bill, but sadly (in my opinion) the 2-dimensional reproduction on the bill is poorly done – totally erasing any effect the live statue has. I find this doubly unfortunate, given the vital message of this historical milestone, and the inspiring work of the 5 individuals memorialized. Maybe we can get the Royal Mint to try that one again, huh?


Lyrically, I wanted the song to be a celebration, a brief intro to the human rights struggles the Famous Five rallied against, a nod to some of the methods used in their campaigns, and a smirking put-down of the ridicule the suffragists constantly encountered. ‘Bread & Roses’ refers to that most popular of marching anthems in the Women’s Rights movement, a song I often sing to my high school audiences.


For this song, I wanted to juxtapose a modern style onto the 1929 event, to underscore the fact that the struggle for equality is still being fought. Dave and I brought in Toronto Hip Hop recording artist Miles Jones for his excellent work on the beats and breaks heard here. As half the lyrics, and the chorus, are sung from a woman’s perspective, I was very happy to have Toronto singer Jennifer Bush share the lead vocals. (Miles and Jennifer are also featured on my Canada Needs You, volume one album).


Activities & Lesson Ideas


1) Sankey, the judge who decided in favour The Famous Five, remarked, “the exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours” What other statements in the BNA Act (or 1982 Charter of Rights) can be said to be outdated or obsolete today? See activity page


2) After the legal victory, one of the Famous Five, Henrietta M. Edwards said,

“This decision marks the abolition of sexual discrimination in politics. It has been a long, uphill fight”. Was the fight over? Does that kind of discrimination still exist in politics? Are there presently other forms of discrimination in politics?


3) How is it that some countries (India, Pakistan….) have had female heads of state, yet in their societies have some examples of gender-based discrimination that would perhaps be shocking in Canada or the USA.


4) It is often remarked that it is natural that The Famous Five came from western Canada, as that region ‘is the home of protest politics and 3rd parties’. What other examples of western protest politics and 3rd parties can be found? Can a similar boast be made about other regions?


5) Some of the opinions of espoused by members of the Famous Five, in the regard of treatment of the developmentally challenged or non-European immigrants, for example, are considered quite unacceptable by many Canadians today. What in the following quotes would cause modern-day controversy? Should these opinions colour our view of their work towards Women’s Rights? In light of these opinions, should they have a statue on Parliament Hill?


6) Janey Canuck – are there politicians today who have created artistic works?


Write a Chant

Like other movements advocating for social change and justice, the women’s suffrage movement had many chants and songs that were sung in marches, rallies and protests. Have students write a suffrage song or chant using songs that can be found on line.

Go to as examples to get them started.


Alternatively, students can do something similar to what Mike Ford has done and write a suffrage song in a more contemporary style.


Spot the anomaly

The case put forward by The Famous Five all centres on one word: Persons – used in the BNA Act of 1867, and how it would be interpreted in 1929. In his decision, Sankey remarked that “the exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours” and that “the British North American Act planted in Canada a living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits.”


Is the BNA Act meant to be frozen in time, or is it meant to be adaptable to meet the changing needs of an evolving and maturing nation? If the BNA Act is indeed a Living Tree, what statements in it might be interpreted differently today than in 1867? What statements might need a complete re-editing?


(Apply these same questions to the 1982 Charter of Rights)



References / Suggested Readings

Sharp, Robert J. & Patricia MacMahon The Persons Case: The origins and legacy of the fight for legal personhood Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History 2007


Ridicule after the judgement – This “Sex Equality” Foolishness (London Daily Mail, 28/10/29)


Suffrage Singalong -

This site (referred to above) has a collection of songs and chants that were sung by suffragists in their

campaign for equal recognition before the law. While the site requires you to sign up for a “free trial”

in order to download and listen to the songs, it at least provides the words, and then one can look up

most of the songs on YouTube, which is *actually* free!


Songs about suffrage at


Famous 5: Heroes for Today