Ethel MacLachlan was a key player in the development of Saskatchewan’s child welfare system. Born in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, on April 15, 1875, of Scottish parentage, she received her education at the provincial Normal School in Truro, Nova Scotia, and taught for fifteen years at the Lunenburg Academy. In September 1909 she moved to Regina to take a business course. In 1910, Saskatchewan’s Department of Neglected Children hired her for clerical work; but within a year she was inspecting the homes of adopted children, and eventually became the Superintendent’s assistant. In October 1916, MacLachlan became the first woman in Canada to hold the position of Superintendent of Neglected and Dependent Children. MacLachlan believed that all children had the right to a “happy” life, and in her work as Superintendent she did all she could to ensure that more children had secure home environments.
In 1917 the Saskatchewan Legislature passed the Juvenile Courts Act, 1917 and established a process to hear and determine complaints against juvenile offenders. Recognizing her exceptional work in the matter of child welfare, her sympathetic nature, and the respect she received from children, the government appointed Ethel MacLachlan as the first Juvenile Court Judge in the province, where she was also the first woman to become a judge. The Juvenile Court aimed to treat young offenders differently than criminals, and in her capacity MacLachlan believed in the fair treatment of all children regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, culture, class or gender. Throughout her career she advanced the development of child welfare policies through her participation in provincial, national and international discussions regarding children in need of protection. Ethel MacLachlan died in Vancouver on April 14, 1963.