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Judy Verlyn LaMarsh

Minister of National Health and Welfare, Secretary of State

Judy LaMarsh

Julia Verlyn LaMarsh was born in Chatham, Ontario, on December 20, 1924. During the Great Depression, her family moved to Stamford (now part of Niagara Falls), where she received her public and high school education.

After graduating from high school (in 1943), LaMarsh joined the Canadian Women's Army Corps. She studied architectural drafting in Toronto before being posted to Halifax, Nova Scotia, were she worked with the Royal Canadian Engineers. She then studied Japanese in Vancouver, British Columbia, after which she was sent to the United States as part of an Allied intelligence operation responsible for translating Japanese documents found by Allied soldiers in the Pacific Theater. She had reached the rank of Sergeant by war's end.

After the war, LaMarsh entered Victoria College at the University of Toronto, from which she received her Bacelor of Arts in 1947. She then studied law at Osgoode Hall at York University, and was called to the bar in 1950, at which time she joined her father's law practice in Niagara Falls.

LaMarsh first became involved in politics while at the University of Toronto, where she was an active member of the Young Liberals. She held a number of posts in the organization at the provincial and federal levels, including president of the Ontario Women’s Liberal Association. In 1958, she was the only Canadian woman at the first conference of young political leaders of the NATO nations, in Paris, France.

LaMarsh entered national politics when Niagara Falls elected her to the House of Commons in a by-election on October 31, 1960; she was re-elected in the general election of 1962. During her tenure in the Commons she had a reputation as a very loyal member of the Liberal Party. During the 1963 campaign, she was one of three members of the "Truth Squad," which was sent to follow Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker and correct any of his "misstatements of fact." The squad was disbanded after a week of what Liberal leader Lester B. Pearson called "misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and harassment."

The Truth Squad attending a meeting in Moncton, New Brunswick, March 13, 1963, at which Diefenbaker spoke.
the Truth Squad

In April 1963, Prime Minister Pearson named LaMarsh Minister of National Health and Welfare; she was the youngest member of the Cabinet, and only the second woman ever to serve in the Cabinet. During her tenure she was instrumental in the development of several groundbreaking federal programs, including Medicare and the Canada Pension Plan.

In December 1965, LaMarsh was made Secretary of State, in which position she was instrumental in bringing about the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada, which was established in February 1967. She also oversaw the 1966 White Paper on Broadcasting, an examination of the country’s broadcasting sector that became the basis for the Broadcasting Act of 1968, and coordinated Canada’s Centennial year festivities.

LaMarsh retired from politics in 1968, after Pierre Elliott Trudeau succeeded Lester Pearson as leader of the Liberal Party.

Memoirs of a Bird in a Gilded Cage, in which LaMarsh wrote about her experiences on Parliament Hill, was published to great fanfare and controversy in 1969. The title reflected LaMarsh’s belief that, as a woman, she was an oddity on Canada’s political scene. A Very Political Lady, a political thriller with characters based on her experience in public office, was published in 1979, and its sequel, A Right Honourable Lady, was published in 1980.

Following her first book tour, LaMarsh became host of "The LaMarch Show," an Ottawa TV program in which she offered advice to people with political and legal grievances. The show was a local hit, but LaMarsh found the commute from Niagara Falls to Ottawa burdensome and it was ended after one season. In the early 1970's, she hosted a current affairs call-in radio program in British Columbia. From 1975 to 1976, she hosted CBCRadio's "This Country in the Morning" (renamed "Judy" during her tenure), a three-hour current affairs program broadcast from Toronto. During this same time, she also hosted "On the Line," a weekly topical program on TVOntario. In 1975, Ontario Premier William Davis named LaMarsh chair of the province’s Royal Commission on Violence in the Communications Industry, which held 61 public hearings focused on depictions of violence in the media and its effects on audiences and investigated possible industry regulations.

In addition to her writing and broadcasting careers, LaMarsh also maintained a law practice in St. Catharines, Ontario, and taught law at Osgoode Hall. In 1974, she defended the “Brunswick Four,” a group of young lesbians that had been harassed by police and arrested for causing a disturbance at a Toronto tavern, for free.

Judy Verlyn LaMarsh died of cancer in Toronto on October 27, 1980.

LaMarsh was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in July 1980. In recognition of her work with the Royal Commission on Violence in the Communications Industry, York University established the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution in 1980. Victoria College at the University of Toronto offers the Judy LaMarsh Lecture for Women in Leadership, while the faculty of law awards the Judy LaMarsh Prize in Feminist Analysis of Law to upper-year students who have achieved excellence in feminist legal analysis. In 1984, the Liberal Party established the Judy LaMarsh Fund, which provides funding to female federal Liberal candidates.


The Canadian Encyclopedia

See Also

John G. Diefenbaker
Lester B. Pearson

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The Robinson Library >> Canada >> History

This page was last updated on 12/20/2018.