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Trailblazing Black Canadian women

By Luis Armando Sanchez Diaz, April 27 2021––

With the conclusion of Black History Month and Women’s History Month, this is a great opportunity to highlight the achievements, contributions and the work of Black Canadian women throughout history. These individuals continue to be part of the quest of achieving a more equal society, not only among races, but among genders as well. 

Their legacy — whether it’s historical or current — is part of many sectors of society and continues to inspire Black women, women of colour, non-Black women and people in general to work hard, develop their potential and achieve greatness in all its forms.

Viola Desmond

The story behind the woman featured on the $10 dollar bill is remarkable –– and one that keeps inspiring Black and BIPOC women and girls across the country. Born in Nova Scotia in 1914, Desmond was a businesswoman who put the spotlight on the racism experienced by Black Nova Scotians, because they “refus[ed] to sit in a segregated space in a public theatre,” in the mid 40s, as noted on Parks Canada’s webpage.

Desmond was convicted after she refused to change seats at a theatre that had segregated seating. Her case was taken by the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP), but they were unsuccessful in overturning her sentence, which accused Desmond of tax evasion — as she refused to leave a seat that cost one cent above what she paid. Her case provoked an activist sentiment among Black Nova Scotians to end racial discrimination in the Atlantic province.

To this day, she continues to be a face of the movement that strives to achieve racial equality in Canada.

The Honourable Jean Augustine

Born in 1937 in St. George, Grenada, Jean Augustine has devoted her life to achieving social justice. Her legacy represents the embodiment of the Canadian dream — a country where anything is possible if you work hard. She emigrated from the Caribbean Islands in 1960, through the Canada-Caribbean Domestic Program. Later, Augustine went on to obtain a B.A. from the University of Toronto and “earned her Masters in Education while working as an elementary school teacher with the Metropolitan Separate School Board in Toronto,” according to her website

Augustine made history in 1993, when she became the first African-Canadian woman to be elected to Parliament Hill. She was Chair of multiple committees in her time in office and was also part of cabinet as Minister of Multiculturalism and Status of Women. Of the many initiatives and projects she achieved as an Member of Parliament (MP), the most notable one was the passing of a motion that denominated February as Black History Month and has been observed and celebrated ever since.  

The work and devotion to social justice that characterizes the Honourable Jean Augustine has transcended into Canadian history.

Rosemary Brown

Elected in 1972 as the first woman to serve on the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia as an NDP candidate, the educator and politician contributed greatly to the lives of citizens of BC and Canada — a province and country that she began calling home in 1950 after emigrating from Jamaica, where she was born in 1930. 

Brown contributed to the founding of the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (BCAACP) in 1956, which aimed “to open up housing and employment to Black people in British Columbia,” as well as “for the introduction of human rights legislation in the provincial parliament” as noted in the BC Black History Awareness Society

She retired from politics in 1988, after 14 years in office and went on to “take a professorship in Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University.” After that, she was awarded numerous recognitions such as the Order of British Columbia and the Order of Canada in 1995 and 1996, respectively.

Dr. Eugenia Duodu

She is the current CEO of Visions of Science Network for Learning which is “a charitable organization that empowers youth from low-income communities through meaningful engagement in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math),” according to her webpage. She was born into a first-generation Canadian family and was very interested in the field of science from an early age. 

Duodu graduated from the University of Toronto and received a B.Sc., Hons and a PhD in Chemistry. Throughout her career, she has dedicated her time and efforts to advocate for equitable opportunities and education on behalf of youth. 

As detailed on her U of T webpage, “[Duodu]’s goal is to help make a long-lasting, positive impact in communities through STEM engagement and in turn, enable youth to reach their potential.”

The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean

In 2005, she was sworn in as the 27th Governor General of Canada, being the second woman to ever be appointed to the position and served until 2010. “Jean emigrated to Canada [from Haiti] along with her family in 1968, fleeing the dictatorial regime of the time,” according to The Governor General of Canada Office. She was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1957.

Jean studied comparative literature at the Université de Montréal while also teaching Italian. She then “worked for eight years with Quebec shelters for battered women,” and “actively contribut[ed] to the establishment of a network of emergency shelters throughout Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.” 

Before her appointment as Governor General, she embarked into journalism and was a news anchor for the CBC and Radio-Canada. 

Phylicia George

The Olympic track-and-field athlete and bobsledder who was born in Scarborough, Ontario in 1987. At 33 years of age, she has participated in numerous competitions such as the Pan American games in 2015, the Summer Olympic Games, both in London in 2012 and in Rio in 2016 and more recently, the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang in 2018 where she won bronze.

She began her journey at the age of 15, as noted on the Team Canada page. In 2010, she graduated from the University of Connecticut with a B.Sc. in Biological Sciences.

George has become a representative for Black and BIPOC athletes because of her impressive endurance and determination.

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