Part 2 - African Canadian Women

Canada’s Leading Ladies

As I reflected on the auspiciousness of the occasion, I could not help but recall the role played by other Black women across Canada.  Here are five prominent ladies.

The Honourable Mayann E Francis

(Photo: Mike Dembeck/CP)

(Photo: Mike Dembeck/CP)

The Honourable Mayann E Francis, former Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia 2006-2012. She was the first African Canadian female to hold such an office. This was significant and groundbreaking.

Ms Francis presence at Government House made it possible for many of us to visit, attend garden parties and “pour tea”, a tradition and feature of the summer party.

The government of Nova Scotia gave an officially rear posthumous pardon to Viola Desmond for the injustice she endured in 1946. Ironically, the Honourable Mayann E. Francis finalized the pardon and signed the most historic document in 2010.

Pondering on the irony of this it did not escape my attention that at the time of Ms Francis tenure as Lieutenant Governor there were three portraits of African Canadian Women hanging in Government House alongside Queen Elizabeth II. They were The Honourable Mayann E. Francis, The Right Honourable Michaelle Jean and Viola Desmond.

During her tenure as Lieutenant Governor, Ms Francis was very generous in her treatment of her “Sistahs” as she called us, and women generally.  She created a roster of women, especially the wives of serving officers to accompany her on official visits and functions.  We were honoured and privileged to meet Nova Scotians from all walks of life as well as the occasional Royal Visitor including Queen Elizabeth II. These were very special and memorable moments. Thank you for bringing us along with you.

Viola Desmond

Viola Irene Desmond ( 1914- 1965) was a Black Nova Scotian businesswoman who was arrested for sitting in a white’s-only section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow in 1946. Desmond’s arrest was as a result of racial segregation in Canada. This also occurred nine years before Rosa Parks.

Viola Desmond  was a successful business woman and beautician and developed her own line of beauty products for black people. Inspired by the first female Black millionaire Madame C J Walker, Viola opened her own beauty schools. Viola is often referred to as Canada’s Rosa Parks.

On April 15, 2010, the province of Nova Scotia granted a free pardon to the late Mrs. Viola Desmond who was wrongfully fined and jailed for sitting in the white people’s section of a New Glasgow movie theatre in 1946.

The Honourable Jean Augustine

Meet the Honourable Jean Augustine, born in St. George’s, Grenada. She was a qualified schoolteacher but when she arrived in Canada in 1959, she had to work as a domestic and shoe clerk before earning her Ontario Teacher’s Certificate.  On completing her Masters in Education degree Ms. Augustine became a school principal.  In 1993, Ms. Augustine became Canada’s first Black woman elected to the Parliament of Canada. Among her accomplishments as an MP, Ms. Augustine introduced a motion in 1979 to have February proclaimed at Black History Month in Canada.

The Honourable Michaelle Jean

Her Excellency, The Right Honourable Michaelle Jean, former Governor General of Canada 2005-2010.  She was a Refugee from Haiti – coming to Canada in 1968 and was raised in the town of Thetford Mines, Quebec. She is now serving as the 3rd Secretary-General of the Organization International de la Francophone.

Rosemary Brown

The Vancouver Sun 

The Vancouver Sun 

Our final Leading Lady is Rosemary Brown (1930- 2003); she was the first Black woman to hold public office in Canada when there were very few women of any colour in positions of power. She was also the first Black woman in Canada to be a member of a Canadian parliamentary body. In addition she was the first Black woman to run for leadership of a Canadian federal party (and only the second woman ever). She finished second a strong second of five candidates. Her slogan “Brown is beautiful”.

Ms. Brown emigrated to Canada in 1951 from Jamaica. She studied at McGill University and at the University of British Columbia and entered into provincial politics in 1972. She served in the BC government until 1986.

Authored by Ann Divine, CEO Ashanti Leadership & Professional Development Services