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Department of External Affairs/Library and Archives Canada.

Margaret Meagher

 

“I like to think that my record made some small contribution to the cause of equal opportunities for women in the Canadian foreign service.”

-Margaret Meagher

 

Margaret Meagher was among the first women recruited by the Department of External Affairs in 1942. The department’s wartime work provided ample opportunities for Meagher to take on duties above her position as a clerk. In 1947, Meagher wrote the Foreign Service exam – open to women for the first time – and became one of the first women in the Canadian Foreign Service. She worked her way up to become Canada’s first woman ambassador in 1958, accredited to Israel. At a time when the international diplomatic corps was staffed almost entirely by men, Meagher headed diplomatic missions to Cyprus, Austria, Kenya, Uganda, and Sweden. Meagher was a trailblazer for women, who represented Canada’s commitment to advancing gender equality on the global stage.

Margaret Meagher presenting her credentials to President Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya in 1967. Margaret Meagher fonds/Library and Archives Canada.

One of Meagher’s last accomplishments was her contribution to the establishment of Canada’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). After the nationalist government withdrew to Taiwan in 1949, the United States discouraged any action to legitimize the communist government in Beijing. Undeterred, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau set out to establish relations with the PRC. One major obstacle was Canada’s reluctance to recognize Beijing’s authority over Taiwan. A compromise was reached when Canada agreed to acknowledge the PRC position on Taiwan, without endorsing their territorial claim. As Ambassador to Sweden, Meagher conducted the final phase of these delicate and prolonged negotiations. She secured an agreement with her Chinese counterpart in 1970, and Canada exchanged ambassadors with China the next year. Canada’s decision to acknowledge – but not recognize – Beijing’s claim to Taiwan was followed by other western states as they established relations with the PRC.

Meagher was born in Halifax in 1911. She completed a Bachelor of Arts in political science at the Dalhousie University and pursued graduate studies in French and German Literature. Meagher was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 1974 in recognition of her accomplishments as a diplomat.


Further reading:

Weiers, Margaret K. Envoys Extraordinary: Women in the Canadian Foreign Service. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1995.

Evans, Paul M., and B. Michael Frolic. Reluctant Adversaries: Canada and the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1970. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.

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