Random Hamilton fact: Canada’s first birth control clinic

Relatively recently, I came to the realization that Hamilton has become my home. By choice rather than necessity–this place has not only grown on me, I will actually admit to liking it now. In that spirit, a few days ago as I was walking by the old (now unused) train station on Ferguson, I was finally inspired to stop to read the historical plaque thing that’s there.

I was somewhat surprised to find that it didn’t talk about anything related to the train station, its commercial relevance to the city or province, or, you know, the usual stuff about steel and whatever. Instead it told me that this was the site of Canada’s first birth control clinic, established in the 1932. During the Depression. When birth control was illegal because it would “tend to corrupt morals”. It was established by quite the awesome lady, Dr Elizabeth Bagshaw*. Reading into the subtext of that link, this obviously exceptionally intelligent woman who had to scrape and fight and argue for the right to study and practice medicine was segregated into the “less than” field of obstetrics, because not only do we not want to have women as physicians, we don’t really want to supply the doctors to meet their needs. She provided birth control advice to any woman who needed it at a clinic that remained illegal until 1969.

That kind of story intimidates the crap out of me. The magnitude of that kind of fight, that kind of action, that kind of in-your-face risk-taking. So this is one of the things I’m coming to love about Hamilton: it’s not entirely coincidence that this woman would live and work in this town. There is a history of agitation, activism and bigger community here that we can still work with and build on.

I’m cool with making that home.

*I’m less than impressed with the reference to a “career woman’s life” and the implications thereof in an article written on behalf of the National Archives.


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