February 2021

Inspirational Black Canadian Women in History

Inspirational Black Canadian Women in History

The origins of Black History Month in Canada date back to the 1970s, when the Ontario Black History Society was established. The founders of the Ontario Black History Society petitioned the City of Toronto to proclaim February as Black History Month. Following the success of establishing Black History Month in the provinces of Nova Scotia and Ontario in 1988 and 1993, respectively, the Honourable Dr. Jean Augustine introduced a motion to establish Black History Month across Canada. The motion was unanimously passed by the House of Commons and in December 1995, Black History Month was officially recognized across the country.i

The Hon. Dr. Jean Augustine is a pivotal figure in social justice reform and Black Canadian history. As the first Black woman elected to The Parliament of Canada in 1993, Dr. Augustine championed legislation to support disadvantaged Canadians, recognize Black historical figures and helped establish Black History Month. Fittingly, Dr. Augustine is this year’s “Maclean’s Lifetime Achievement” winner.ii  Dr. Augustine credits helping to establish Black History Month in Canada as one of her proudest achievements, along with legislation that allowed for the commemorative statue on Parliament Hill of the ‘Famous Five’ women who fought for political equality in the ground-breaking “Persons Case”.iii  This is the only statue on Parliament Hill featuring women.iv 

In 2007, Dr. Augustine was appointed Fairness Commissioner for Ontario, a new role in which she established impartial and fair regulatory standards for foreign trained professionals seeking to become licensed in Ontario.v Throughout her career, Dr. Augustine garnered many prestigious awards including Member of the Order of Canada, Commander of the Order of the British Empire and the Order of Ontario, as well as receiving Honourary Doctorate degrees from several Canadian universities. She retired in 2015 but her work and legacy continues. Dr. Augustine gives back to the community through funding three scholarships and through her continued involvement in the Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment as well as the 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women recognition and

Like Dr. Augustine, Rosemary Brown was a trailblazer in Black Canadian history. Ms. Brown was the first Black woman to be elected as a member of a provincial legislature in 1972 (Legislative Assembly in B.C.) and the first woman to run for leadership of a federal party.vii  Throughout Ms. Brown’s political career in British Columbia, she fought against discrimination and sexism particularly in educational material, and worked on legislation pertaining to affirmative action and protection for victims of sexual assault.viii  She also sought to enact improved services for marginalized and disadvantaged Canadians. Ms. Brown retired from politics in 1988 and remained active in promoting social, economic and political advancement of women in Canada and internationally. Notably, Ms. Brown served as Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and as member of the Judicial Council of British Columbia.ix  She also served as CEO of MATCH International Women’s Fund, advocating for women’s rights around the world. Sadly, Rosemary Brown passed away on April 26, 2003,x  however her legacy will live on.

Even before her political career, Ms. Brown was instrumental in social justice, helping launch the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (BCAACP) in 1956.xi  She also established the Vancouver Status of Women in 1971, an organization dedicated to working with women towards the goal of equality in the “social, political and economic life of their communities”.xii  As a result of her significant contributions, Ms. Brown has received Honourary Doctorates from several Canadian universities and was presented with the prestigious Order of British Columbia, the Order of Canada and the United Nations’ Human Rights Fellowship, among many other awards and distinctions.xiii

DAS Legal Protection Inc. honours and celebrates the achievements of Jean Augustine and Rosemary Brown, alongside many more inspirational Black Canadians that persevered and fought for social justice and equality. We hope their stories inspire the next generation to continue to push boundaries and overcome obstacles in the pursuit of justice. The fight for equality is not over yet.

i Government of Canada. (n.d.). About Black History Month. Canada.Ca.
ii Proudfoot, S. (2021, January 12). This year’s Maclean’s Lifetime Achievement winner: Jean Augustine. Macleans.
iii Ibid.
iv Biography | Jean Augustine. (n.d.). The Honourable Jean Augustine Official Website.
v Ibid.
vi Ibid.
vii Pioneers 1900 - Present. (n.d.). BC Black History Awareness Society.
viii Rosemary Brown - RBSC / OSC Archives. (n.d.). University of British Columbia Library Rare Books and Special Collections.
ix Rosemary Brown | Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Encyclopedia.
x Ibid.
xi Bollwitt, R. (2020, June 5). Awesome Women in Vancouver History: Rosemary Brown. Vancouver Blog Miss604.
xii Vancouver Status of Women: UBC Archives. (n.d.). Vancouver Status of Women.
xiii Snyder, L. (2010, January 27). Rosemary Brown. The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Posted: 2/22/2021 3:38:34 PM by Joanna Milnes

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