Celebrating Black History Month
This #BlackHistoryMonth, we are celebrating Black Canadian women who have made substantial contributions to Canadian history and culture.
Throughout the month, we will be sharing the stories of eight women who have excelled in the fields of business, journalism, athletics, and politics. Not only are these women leaders in their respective fields, but they also set a strong example for young women across Canada.
Visit this blog each week to read about the stories of excellence that each of the women pictured above bring to their respective fields!
For the first week of our #BlackHistoryMonth Spotlight Series, we are shining a light on Canadian businesswomen who serve as exceptional role models to young girls interested in the world of business and finance.
The first individual we would like to celebrate is Viola Desmond. When Desmond graduated high school, Black women were not permitted to attend beauty school in Nova Scotia. After attending schools in Montreal and New York, Desmond opened a salon, Vi’s Studio of Beauty and Culture, and a beauty school, the Desmond School of Beauty Culture, where she mentored a new generation of young Black women in Nova Scotia. She also developed her own line of beauty products for Black women, the first of its kind for Black women in Nova Scotia.
In 1946, Desmond was forcibly removed from the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia after refusing to leave the Whites-only section. Without legal representation, Desmond was convicted for attempting to defraud the provincial government due to the difference in tax for seats in the White and Black sections of the theatre even though she offered more than once to pay the difference while in the theatre. Despite the efforts of the Nova Scotia Association for Coloured People (NSAACP), the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled against her civil suit. Although her legal action failed, many historians point to this case as a clear example of the mobilization of the Black community in Nova Scotia for justice and equality. Segregation in Nova Scotia officially ended in 1954.
In 2010, Desmond’s sister, Wanda Robson, published a book about Desmond’s experience titled Sister to Courage. On April 15, 2010, Desmond was officially pardoned by Nova Scotia Lieutenant-Governor Mayann Francis in Halifax. This pardon recognized that Desmond had done no wrong and that charges should never have been laid. It was accompanied by a public declaration and apology from Premier Darrell Dexter. As well, the Viola Desmond Chair in Social Justice was established at Cape Breton University in 2010 and in 2012, Desmond was honoured on a Canada Post stamp. In 2016, it was announced that Desmond would appear on the new $10 bill - the first Canadian woman to do so - which was released in 2018. In 2019, Desmond appeared on the Royal Canadian Mint’s first Black History Month coin.
The second businesswoman we are featuring this month is Claudette McGowan, the Global Executive Officer for Cyber Security at TD Bank.
McGowan has a Bachelor of Arts from Lakehead University and a Master of Business Administration from Athabasca University. Prior to joining TD, McGowan gained a wide variety of experience in the technology sector working for Deloitte, Metropolitan Police Services, North York General Hospital, and the Bank of Montreal. McGowan is also the author of several children's books, which tell inspiring stories that encourage resilience and hard work in young people.
McGowan has received a number of prestigious awards throughout her nearly twenty-year career.
- An honouree at the Jamaican Canadian Association’s 20th International Women’s Day event
- Recognized by Toronto Life in 2019 as one of the city’s Top 50 Most Influential Torontonians
- Recognized by Women’s Executive Network as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada
- Named by the Digital Finance Institute as one of the Top 50 Canadian Women in FinTech.
McGowan also famously moderated a memorable conversation with Former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama at Elevate, Canada’s largest technology festival.
In 2015, McGowan founded the Black Arts and Innovation Expo (BAIE) to highlight the talent of young professionals of every nationality, colour, race and creed in response to the lack of ethnic diversity in leading organizations in Canada. Not only does this event give young professionals the opportunity to network, but it also provides the opportunity for attendees to apply scholarships and grants to help them further their careers. In June of 2020, McGowan and other senior leaders in Canada’s technology, innovation and advanced industry sectors launched the Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism (CILAR), which seeks to connect Black, Indigenous and people of colour to the innovation sector. McGowan was nominated as the chair of CILAR.
For the second week of Black History Month, we are highlighting two women in journalism. Carrie Best, born March 4, 1903 in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, was a human rights activist, author, journalist, publisher, and broadcaster.
In 1941, Best learned that several young Black girls were removed from the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow for sitting on the main floor of the theatre, which was unofficially the ‘white only’ section. After trying to speak with the owner of the theatre, Best decided make a larger statement by purchasing tickets to the main floor of the theatre. After paying the price of tickets on the main floor, Best and her son were handed tickets to the balcony. They proceeded to enter the theatre and sat on the main floor, but were forcibly removed by the police and charged with disturbing the peace. Based on this charge, Best filed a civil lawsuit and requested damages for assault and battery, damage to her coat, and breach of contract. Not only did the judge rule against Best, but he also ordered her to pay the defendant’s legal costs.
In 1946, in response to the persistent racial discrimination her community faced, Best co-founded The Clarion, one of the first black-owned and published newspapers in Nova Scotia. While reporting on all news pertinent to the Black Canadian community, The Clarion emphasized the battle for civil rights. One example of Best’s advocacy through The Clarion was the public coverage of Viola Desmond and her experience of racial discrimination at the Roseland Theatre.
In 1952, Best founded her own broadcasting program, titled The Quiet Corner, where she read African American poetry in between music segments. In 1968, Best was hired by the Pictou Advocate to write a weekly column titled “Human Rights”, where she promoted Indigenous rights and civil rights for all Canadians until 1975. Notably, Best conducted an investigation into the over-taxation of Black residents in New Glasgow and authored a report that was sent to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. In 1975, Best founded the Kay Livingstone Visible Minority Women’s Society, which provided educational funding for Black women.
Best was awarded numerous honours for her long career as an advocate for civil and human rights.
- Named a Member of the Order of Canada by the Governor General in December, 1974
- Promoted to the rank of Officer of the Order of Canada in 1979
- Awarded an honorary doctor of law in 1975 from St. Francis Xavier University
- Awarded an honorary doctor of civil law in 1992 from University of King’s College, which also offers an undergraduate scholarship in her name for African-Canadian and Indigenous students (The Dr. Carrie Best Scholarship)
- Additional Awards include: Queen Elizabeth Medal (1977), Black Professional Women’s Group Award Certificate (1989), Award of Excellence in Race Relations from the Minister of State for Multiculturalism (1990). Best was also an inductee into the Nova Scotia Black Wall of Fame (1980) and was posthumously awarded the Order of Nova Scotia in 2002.
For the second profile this week, we are excited to share the story of Amanda Parris, a Canadian journalist, playwright, and broadcaster.
Parris writes the weekly column Black Light for CBC Arts, hosts CBC Arts: Exhibitionists, The Filmmakers, and From the Vaults on television, and hosts the Marvin’s Room radio broadcast on CBC Music. She also writes ideas for television shows.
Parries completed her Honours B.A. in political science and women’s studies at York University, and later received a Master’s degree in Sociology of Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Parris received numerous scholarships throughout her education, including the William Waters Scholarship in Urban Education, the Joseph Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship and the Michael Smith Foreign Study Bursary. During her graduate degree, Parris conducted thesis research at New York University. The product of this research, titled, “‘Document it Before we Forget’: A Conversation with African-Canadian Female Artists on the Canadian Black Arts Movement,” was published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2015.
Parris also worked as the managing director of the Remix Project, which is a cultural organization for at-risk youth in Toronto and co-founded Lost Lyrics, a multi-award-winning alternative education organization. Through Lost Lyrics, Parris “co-created a number of programs within and outside of the school system using arts-based engagement.” According to Parris, “being able to create a space and platform for young people to recognize the journey they want to be on” makes both Lost Lyrics and the Remix Project two of her greatest achievements.
In 2017, Parris’s play, Other Side of the Game, debuted at the Obsidian Theatre and Cahoots Theatre in Toronto. Parris’s inspiration to write this play came from her visit to a friend in the Don Jail, where she noticed that the majority of the women in the waiting room were also women. After conducting a series of interviews with friends and acquaintances, Parris developed the story of this work, which “turns the spotlight on the Black women who organize communities, support their incarcerated loved ones, and battle institutions, living each day by a ride-or-die philosophy, strengthening their voices and demanding to be heard.” This play was published by Playwrights Canada Press in May 2019 and received the Governor General Literary Award for drama at the 2019 Governor General Awards. Other Side of the Game, as well as Parris’s other plays, have been staged at festivals like rock paper sistahz, The Piece of Mine Festival, The Festival of Original Theatre and the De Colores Festival. As well, they have been awarded grants and bursaries by the Michaelle Jean Foundation, the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council, and Canada Council for the Arts.
Parris’ other honours include:
- Named one of Grenada’s Top 40 Individuals under the age of 40 (2014)
- Named one of Toronto’s Most Inspiring Women by Post-City (2018)
- Named a Local Hero of Toronto Film by Now Magazine (2018)
- Namesake of the 2018 Student Arts Award at the African Heritage Educators Network (AHEN)
- Received the Rising Star Award from AfroGlobal Television (2019)
- Panelist at United Nations Habitat conferences in Durban and Naples.
For the third week of Black History Month, we are highlighting two Canadian athletes.
First is Phylicia George, who is a Canadian dual season Olympian. George is the first Black Canadian woman to compete in both Winter and Summer Olympics - she competed in track and field in London 2012 and Rio 2016 and in bobsledding in PyeongChang 2018. At the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018, George won the bronze medal – her first Olympic medal.
Born in Scarborough in 1987, George began running at the age of 15 and immediately loved the feeling of competing at a high level. George was awarded a full academic scholarship to the University of Connecticut after high school and graduated summa cum laude honours in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences with a focus in Physiology and Neurobiology. When faced with the choice of pursuing track and field or a medical career when she graduated, George decided to devote her life to becoming an Olympian.
After making the 2012 Olympic team, George placed 6th in the 100m hurdles in London, achieving a personal best time of 12.65 seconds. After competing in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 and the PamAm Games in Toronto in 2015, George competed in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. She was a finalist in the 100m hurdles again and also advanced to the finals with the 4x100m relay team. After Rio, George was approached by Kaillie Humphries about trying bobsledding. Shortly after, she began her training in Calgary. In 2017, George competed in the North American Cup circuit for bobsledding, and later finished 4th in the World Cup. George and Humphries won the bronze medal in PyeongChang 2018. As of 2019, George returned to racing hurdles.
In 2018, George walked her first runway - the Pascal Labelle show at Toronto Women’s Fashion Week.
The second Athlete we will be featuring this week is Angela James.
James was born in Toronto in 1964. Because it was rare for girls to have their own league at the time, James had to register and play in boys leagues. It was only after her mother threatened legal action that James was permitted to register, however. At eight years old, James was so skilled that she advanced to play with eleven- and twelve-year-old boys. After one year, however, James was not allowed to continue to play in the boy’s league. The closest women's league was a long bus ride away from Flemingdon Park, where James’ family lived in subsidized housing. Despite being a young girl playing with adult women, James dominated the ice. At the age of 16, James joined the new Central Ontario Women’s Hockey League. James also played hockey for Seneca College, where she led the league in scoring and was voted the OCAA’s most valuable player (MVP). In the 1984-5 season alone, James scored 50 goals in 14 games.
In 1987, James played in the first Women’s Ice Hockey World Championships with Team Canada, which was an unsanctioned event. In 1990, she joined Canada’s National Team at the IIIHF World Women’s Championship, the first of its kind. Here, she set records by scoring 11 goals in 5 games and won the gold medal with her team. James subsequently won the gold medal at the IIHF World Women’s Championship in 1992, 1994, and 1997. She was controversially cut from the Canadian women’s Olympic team in 1998. In that same year, however, James played for the Toronto Aeros in the newly formed National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL). She was named the league’s MVP in its first year, and won the championship the following season.
James’ awards and honours include:
- Inducted into the Seneca Varsity Hall of Fame (1985)
- Named Youth of the Year (1985)
- Recognized by the City of Toronto as one of its Women in Sport Enhancement (1992)
- Seneca College retired her number 8 (2001)
- Received the Seneca College Distinguished Alumni Award (2004)
- Honoured by Hockey Canada with the Female Breakthrough Award for her efforts in promoting/developing women and girls’ hockey (2005)
- Inducted into the Black Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame (2006)
- Inducted into the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) (2006)
- The Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) named the award for the highest-scoring player the Angela James Bowl (2008)
- Inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Hall of Fame (2008)
- Flemingdon Park Arena was named the Angela James Arena (2009)
- Inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (2009)
- Became the second Black player, the first Black woman, and the First openly gay player to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame (2010) after the by-laws changed to allow women in 2009
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