For over 400 years, Black Women of African Descent came as immigrants to Nova Scotia, Canada. They were women from the African continent, British, Caribbean, American born of Caribbean heritage and have made their Nova Scotia their home, some by force others by invitation. Yet very little is documented about their contributions and journey of Black Nova Scotians or Black Canadian Women’s history.
During the 50s and 60s a group of women came to Nova Scotia. Many of these women left their country of birth, ventured out on their own. Others joined their husbands who were invited to Canada to work in different professions such as engineers, doctors, dentistry, teaching etc. They like many immigrants to Canada left their families, children, event their professions and came to Nova Scotia to work in schools and health profession. They did this while raising their children also. They were pioneers and trailblazers too.
These Black Canadian Women encountered resentment from both black and white people on account of their professional standing. They were seen as privileged. They faced racism and systemic discrimination in all its insidious forms, and endured sexism in their professions. Even though many were invited to come and train others Canadian staff in different professions, when no longer needed, they were demoted or forced out of their jobs to create room for a new breed of white professionals, the very people they taught. They were highly qualified and sophisticated women who held positions of leadership in their diverse professions.
I call these women my Diamond Queens (on account of their graying hair). Even though many of them are now over 70s and 80s, they are no push over. Trust me they are still feisty, and energetic. Full of fun and can hold you down on their own on the dance floor. They were also pioneers of their day. They also helped to pave the difficult terrain so that I can be bold enough to speak because they spoke up. They had no mentors, no advocates; they flew on their own.
“A force to be reckoned with” These Black Canadian Women fought back with quiet defiance, fortitude and dignity using their education as their secret weapon, they were resolute.
Today, many of these ladies are either widowed or live on their own. Some of their children have out-migrated into other parts of Canada and are holding successful professions across the country. Now in their golden years, our Diamond Queens are still determined and not held back by age or infirmity. They’re very active in their communities, churches, and Church choirs, hosting fundraising events. Some are busy raising funds for grandmothers of children with aids in Africa by making and selling arts and crafts. In 2013, the women raised over $60,000 for the Steven Lewis Foundation for Grandmothers in Africa. Today our Diamond Queens are still new forms of fighting racial injustices and discrimination.
I cannot claim to know all of the women personally, but I have been privileged to learn of their history and contributions. But as a newcomer to Nova Scotia many of them embraced, mentored and shown me love and respect.
Sylvia Wedderburn (retired), American born to Jamaican parents. Sylvia was a Nursing Co-ordinator at IWK, and Head Nurse at the Infirmary Maternity Department. Also, one of the first Black Woman featured on Nova Scotian TV for her captivating voice. Sylvia sang at our son and daughter-in-law’s wedding in 2012, in Bermuda. At the end of the evening she had booking requests because of her illustrious voice. She is fondly known as “Aunt Sylvie” to the extended Divine family, around the world for her love and beauty.
Walking the streets of Halifax with my big Sis, I have meet some very prominent Nova Scotians who would call out to her because she helped to bring them into the world. She can still give a tip or two on obstetrics and if followed, they are often accurate.
Doreen Crick, BSc (retired), born in the Caribbean Island of St Kitts, came to Nova Scotia via England. Doreen worked as a Psychiatric Nurse in Camp Hill Hospital. Doreen would not call herself a trailblazer but in my opinion she was a pioneer of her day on account of her profession that was dominated by white males.
Ann Edward (retired), born in Trinidad via England, a linguist, she spoke four languages fluently and became the principal of the first fully French Emersion School in Nova Scotia. Best know for her generosity. She is well known in her community. In recent years she moved to the Clayton Park area and I can tell you she is loved and cared for by her community.
Merrie Milles (retired), born in Trinidad and sister to Ann, She was a Registered Nurse in charge of the Neurology Department. This lady can engage the youngest person in the room on any topic of conversation. She has a warm and inviting presence. And she drives a stylish vehicle too.
Professor Josephine Muxlox (retired), Dalhousie University in the Faculty of Health Professions. Best known for mentoring those in our health professions. She is generous in sharing her knowledge and expertise.
Sybil Bryant (retired) A qualified physician, she came to Canada from Jamaica but could not practice but has a tremendous standing in her community. Sybil is full of wisdom and always has encouraging words to offer the young people in her company.
Olive Phillips (retired), wife of the late Reverend Trevor Phillips and community activist. Olive’s energy makes me feel tired. She is a fantastic event planner. Olive is very busy championing for the memory of Reverend Trevor Phillips. Olive also ensured that the best Jamaican Independence Day celebrations occur annually.
Mary Mohamed, (retired) born in Nova Scotia and of Chinese heritage, recently celebrated her 85th birthday. She was adopted by the women from the Caribbean as their sister. Mary was a businesswoman, and for decades she owned Mary’s Bread Basket in the old Farmers Market in Halifax. Mary still bakes the finest cookies, cooks and feeds everyone.
Professor Lynette Mensa (retired), born in Guyana, taught at the Faculty of Health Professions at Dalhousie University. She would probably take issue with me for calling her a Diamond Queen but it’s worth the risk. She is an amazing woman.
Dr. Agnes Calliste, (retired) born Grenada, taught at St. Francis Xavier University in the Department of Sociology. She is fondly spoken of as a caring professor who mentored thousands of students with love, care, and compassion. Dr. Calliste is highly regarded by students of all races who know and love her.
Stay tuned as we hope to hear more from our Diamond Queens by setting aside an afternoon of storytelling at the Halifax Central Library in the spring.
Written by Ann Divine, CEO, Ashanti Leadership & Professional Development Services