Dianna Boileau, first to receive gender-affirming surgery in Canada, commemorated with Ontario Heritage Trust provincial plaque

FORT FRANCES — Today, the Ontario Heritage Trust and Borderland Pride unveiled a new provincial plaque recognizing an important moment in transgender history in Ontario and Canada. The unveiling ceremony was held at the Fort Frances Museum & Cultural Centre to coincide with International Transgender Day of Visibility.

The new plaque commemorates Dianna Boileau, who challenged conventions to express her gender identity, and Dr. Harold Challis, the physician who supported her social transition in her late teens. In 1970, Boileau became the first Canadian to receive gender-affirming surgery. She went on to tell her life story in a ground-breaking autobiography, released in 1972, titled Behold, I Am a Woman.

The plaque will be permanently installed in front of La Verendrye Hospital in Fort Frances — Boileau’s hometown — where Boileau and her family are believed to have met with Dr. Challis.

Douglas W. Judson, Co-Chair of Borderland Pride, stated, “Borderland Pride is proud to commemorate Dianna’s story, which reflects the journey and challenges of many LGBTQ2+-identifying people from rural and northern communities across Canada. This story reminds us that LGBTQ2+ people come from all corners of Canada, that they have always been here, and that their ability to live openly and safely often turns on the understanding and early support of a few key allies. We are especially mindful that we are celebrating this groundbreaking example of medical allyship from the 1950s while LGBTQ2+ youths, their families and gender-affirming care are under attack across a border a few hundred feet from our plaque.”

Today’s provincial plaque unveiling is part of the Trust’s broader work to expand the historical narrative and update its Provincial Plaque Program to be more diverse and inclusive, respectful, accurate and authentic. In the last two decades, the Trust has made it a priority to highlight marginalized and underrepresented communities whose stories have been omitted from our history books and classrooms.

John Ecker, Chair, Board of Directors, Ontario Heritage Trust, said, “The Trust’s provincial plaque program commemorates significant people, places and events in Ontario’s history. By focusing many of our new provincial plaques on topics that are not well represented, the Trust’s plaque program continues to evolve to better reflect the great diversity and complexity of our province’s rich heritage.”

The provincial plaque text reads as follows:

Dianna Boileau, Dr. Harold Challis and Transgender Rights

    In 1970, Dianna Boileau (c. 1930s-2014) became the first Canadian to receive gender-affirming surgery. The catalyst for Dianna’s transition was Dr. Harold Challis, a British physician at La Verendrye Hospital in Dianna’s hometown of Fort Frances, with a rare and progressive understanding of gender for the time. Dr. Challis saw Dianna frequently in her youth and learned of her struggles among her peers. His counsel helped Dianna and her family with her transition to begin living openly as a woman. In 1970, Dianna received gender-affirming surgery through the new Gender Identity Clinic at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in Toronto. In 1972, she told her life story in a ground-breaking autobiography, recounting incidents of harassment, discrimination and abuse. The international media blitz that followed traced the challenges of being trans in her time and provided a public face for transition when few existed. Dianna married in the 1980s and disappeared from the public eye. The fight for provincial funding for medical transition waged until 2008. It helped unify and focus the trans movement in Ontario for decades to come. By going public with her story, Dianna helped bring awareness to transgender rights and medical transition.

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For more information about the Ontario Heritage Trust, contact Patricia Njovu at 437-248-1439 or Borderland Pride — the LGBTQ2+ Pride organization serving the Fort Frances area — can be reached at

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About the Ontario Heritage Trust

The Ontario Heritage Trust (the Trust) is an agency of the Government of Ontario. The Trust conserves, interprets and shares Ontario’s heritage. We conserve provincially significant cultural and natural, tangible and intangible heritage, interpret Ontario’s history, celebrate its diversity and educate Ontarians of its importance in our society. The Trust envisions an Ontario where we conserve, value and share the places and landscapes, histories, traditions and stories that embody our heritage, now and for future generations.