It is difficult to determine the origins of the Senate Page Program. The title "page" first started to appear in the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada in 1841. There are also reports indicating the presence of pages in legislatures as early as 1765 and 1827. It is certain, however, that by 1868, the position of page was a well-established part of Canadian parliamentary life.
The basic requirement of a Senate page following Confederation was "to be a smart little boy." There were several reasons why pages had to be little. To begin with, because there was no microphone system in the chamber, it could be difficult to hear the senators during their speeches. Therefore, it was essential to have short pages in order to avoid obstructing the sound. In addition, parliamentarians were concerned that taller pages might obscure their view during debate. Finally, the uniform was only available in one size, so pages had to be small enough to fit the uniform. Because of this size requirement, pages were usually forced to retire by the age of seventeen.
Initially, the Senate had only six pages. Following the First World War, priority was given to candidates who were young boys from needy families. The six pages were required to be present for every sitting of the Senate because the sitting hours did not conflict with school. As the work of the Senate expanded and its sitting hours started to interfere with school, the decision was made to select university students as pages. This practice began in 1971, and the pages were required to organize their schedules around the sitting hours of the Senate.
Hiring female pages was not seen as an option until 1971 when Senator Muriel Fergusson asked that there be consideration given to hiring women. She noted that the United States and Ontario legislatures had already broken with tradition and hired female pages. Later that same year, Speaker Jean-Paul Deschatelets introduced the first two female pages in the Senate.
The responsibilities of the Senate pages have been expanded in recent years. While initially only responsible for the chamber during the sittings, pages now assist senators in Senate committee meetings and work in the Senate Administration when the Senate is not in session. These added tasks provide the pages with a broader understanding of the functions of the Senate. As the workload has increased, the size of the Senate Page Program has expanded, first to eight pages, and then to fifteen in 1995.
Today, the Senate Page Program is made up of 15 young men and women from all over Canada. The Senate pages must be students enrolled at the University of Ottawa, Carleton University, Saint Paul University or l’Université du Québec en Outaouais.
While many have moved on to other endeavours, it is interesting to note that several Senate pages have moved on to other positions in the Senate.