WCH Archives receives Digital Museums Canada Grant

June 7, 2024

The Archives of Women’s College Hospital is pleased to announce that it has been awarded an investment of $25,000 from Digital Museums Canada through its Community Stories program to develop a virtual exhibit on Dr. Marion Powell.

The exhibit, to be entitled Dr. Marion Powell – The Mother of Birth Control in Canada, will explore the career of Dr. Powell who spent more than fifty years working to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Canada. It will showcase a variety of primary source material held by the WCH Archives including the personal papers, photographs, audio and film recordings, and medical artifacts belonging to Dr. Powell.

Before joining the staff of WCH, Dr. Powell was a well-known women’s health advocate and an early leader in the family planning movement in Canada. After graduating from the University of Toronto’s (UofT) Faculty of Medicine in 1946, she started a general practice in Timmins, Ontario. As the community’s only woman doctor, Dr. Powell quickly became aware of the impact that a lack of birth control and limited sex education had on its female population. As a physician, Dr. Powell believed that she held some responsibility for not only improving women’s health in this community, but throughout Canada. Dr. Powell returned to UofT and completed a diploma in Public Health. She then joined the Peel County Health Unit and was named Canada’s first female Medical Officer of Health. Two years later, she joined the health unit in Scarborough and in 1966, she helped to establish Canada’s first municipally funded birth control clinic.

Dr. Powell joined the staff of WCH in 1972 and then was appointed to the newly established Bay Centre for Birth Control. As a staff physician and medical researcher at the Bay Centre, she was committed to improving access and quality of sexual and reproductive health services for young people. From 1981 to 1988, she served as the medical director of the Bay Centre, and then remained on its staff until her death in December 1997.

Our virtual exhibit aims to teach a new generation of young people about Dr. Powell and her contributions to SRHR in Canada through her work as a physician, medical researcher, and women’s health advocate. This relevant and timely exhibit will also explore how access to sexual and reproductive health services has evolved over time and how changing public attitudes towards sex and sexuality have impacted Canadian laws. And finally, our exhibit aims to encourage young people to become informed citizens and critically think about SRHR in Canada and how it impacts their own lives today.

Dr. Marion Powell – The Mother of Birth Control in Canada will launch in spring 2026 with the support of the Digital Museums Canada investment program. Digital Museums Canada is managed by the Canadian Museum of History, with the financial support of the Government of Canada.