The Career Foundation is commemorating Black History Month by celebrating some of the many notable Black individuals who have made and continue to make vast contributions to all sectors of society in Canada.
Each week during the month of February, we will highlight different inspirational Black individuals that have made and continue to make Canada the prosperous and culturally diverse nation it is today!
Featured in this week’s spotlight: Barbara Howard and Dr. June Marion James!
Barbara Howard was born and raised in Vancouver. It was during her high school years that she demonstrated a remarkable and unprecedented speed in running. She became a member of the Canadian Track Team in 1938, and was the first black woman to represent Canada at the British Empire Games in Sydney Australia. Howard was one of the fastest female sprinters in the British Empire!
After attaining a B.Ed. from the University of British Columbia in 1959, she became the first member of a visible minority hired by the Vancouver School Board. Her teaching career spanned more than 40 years. Howard remained active in the community volunteering as a peer counsellor as well. She was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 2012 and then inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.
Her other awards and recognition include receiving a Remarkable Woman Award in 2010 from the Vancouver Park Board for “her passionate dedication to inspire others to make a positive difference in their community.” In 2018, the City of Vancouver renamed 15 public spaces to commemorate the work of prominent local residents, and this included renaming the Cambie Street Plaza to the Barbara Howard Plaza.
Dr. June Marion James, O.M, Hon. Dip (RRC) BSc, BSc (med), M.D. FRCPC, FAAAAI, was born In Trinidad and Tobago and came to Canada in 1960 where she aimed to attend university in Manitoba to study Medicine. She was accepted to Medical schools in both the United States and Canada after she completed her Bachelor Degree of Science in just 3 years.
Dr. James broke new ground by being the first woman of color admitted at the University of Manitoba School of Medicine, which led to her decision to remain in Winnipeg. She graduated in 1967 and did her residency training in Paediatrics before becoming a Paediatric Fellow in Hematology /Oncology. When an immunoglobulin was discovered in Japan and Sweden that was found to play a pivotal role in Allergy and Asthma, she changed to that new medical sub-speciality entering in 1972 as a Clinical Fellow. Dr. James was named a Fellow of both the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons (Canada) and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. She continues to practice today in the Department of Allergy and Immunology at the Winnipeg Clinic.
Dr. James was also one of the founders of Manitoba’s Family Allergy College. In addition, she has served as a councillor for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, and became its president. Having served on over 20 boards and committees, she has been involved with organizations such as the Caribbean Canadian Association, the Winnipeg Foundation, United Way, the Congress of Black Women, and more. Dr. James also played a pivotal role in founding the Harambee Housing Co-op, which provides social housing at an affordable cost to a culturally and racially diverse population in Winnipeg.
Dr. James has been a recipient of numerous awards for her work, including YMCA’s Woman of the Year (1981), the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (2002), the Order of Manitoba (2004), and the Volunteer Centre Award for Outstanding Community Leadership (2005).
Featured in this week’s spotlight: Viola Desmond and Sylvia D. Hamilton!
Viola Desmond was born in 1914 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. On November 8, 1946, in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, the then 32-year-old Desmond had some time to spare while waiting to get her car fixed, so she decided to catch a movie at a local movie theatre, Roseland Theater. She sat in an implicitly whites-only section and when asked by an usher to move to the balcony seats, she refused. When told that the seat she was in was also more expensive, she tried to pay the difference but was denied the upgraded ticket.
The usher came again and threatened to get a manager, to which Desmond responded that she was not doing anything wrong. The manager dragged her out of the theatre and she was arrested. She spent a night in jail and was released after paying a $20 fine and $6 in court costs. The charge against her was attempting to defraud the provincial government because of the one-cent difference in the amusement tax.
Although Desmond lost in court after appealing the charge, her story helped start the Afro-Canadian civil rights movement in 1946, and her vigilance through the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People was an important factor in the eventual abolition of Nova Scotia’s segregation laws in 1954.
Desmond had initially studied to be a teacher, but after marrying her husband she switched careers and began working in a barbershop with him. At a time when opportunities were extremely limited for women and black people, Desmond set out to establish a career in business. She eventually became a beautician and established the Desmond School of Beauty Culture to help other black women in Nova Scotia realize their goals of becoming beauticians. Now a civil rights icon that helped change the course of Canadian history, Desmond is also the first civilian woman ever commemorated on the face of a Canadian banknote (others having been featured on the back). Her face graced the Canadian $10 bill beginning in 2018.
Sylvia D. Hamilton is an award-winning writer, filmmaker, and educator. She attended a segregated school as a child in Beechville, Nova Scotia. She was one of the only Black students in her high school. She was also the first high school graduate from the Black community of Beechville. She received her bachelor’s degree from Acadia University in 1972, and her master’s degree from Dalhousie University in 2000.
After joining Halifax’s Reel Life Film and Video Collective in 1975, Hamilton co-created the New Initiatives in Film program in 1990 for the women’s unit of the National Film Board. She has held the Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies at Mount Saint Vincent University (Halifax), and was the Chair of the Women in Media Foundation. Hamilton’s films include Black Mother Black Daughter (1989), Speak it! From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia (1992), Portia White: Think On Me (2000), and The Little Black School House (2007).
Her films have been seen at festivals in Canada and abroad, telecast on CBC TV, Bravo, VisionTV, and TVO, and used as educational tools in schools and universities across Canada. Hamilton has received many accolades, including a Gemini Award, The Portia White Prize, the CBC Television Pioneer Award, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, and three honorary degrees from Nova Scotian universities.
Featured in this week’s spotlight: P.K. Subban and Dr. Daniel G. Hill III!
Pernell-Karl Sylvester “P. K.” Subban is a Toronto-native and one of the most dynamic athletes and personalities in sports. Subban made his debut in the NHL in 2011 and finished his rookie season ranked among the top 25 defensemen. He was awarded the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 2013, and named to the NHL All-Star team in both 2013 and 2015. After being traded by the Montreal Canadiens to the Nashville Predators, Subban led the Predators to their first-ever appearance in the Stanley Cup finals in 2017.
Currently part of the New Jersey Devils, Subban remains one of the premiere players of the NHL. He also famously became the cover athlete of EA’s NHL ’19 game, with one of the most iconic covers in the company’s history. In addition to his NHL success, Subban won the Gold medal representing Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He has also become a global ambassador for many brands including Adidas, Bridgestone, Red Bull, and others.
Subban is also a philanthropist who has a passion for enriching the community through charitable initiatives. He established the P.K. Subban Foundation from his desire to support families who are affected by illness. His most recent pledge resulted in a $10 million dollar donation to the Montreal Children’s Hospital—the largest donation ever made by any Canadian athlete. As part of their gratitude, the hospital named their renovated atrium after him, where he continues to surprise staff and patients with his visits.
Although Doctor Daniel Grafton Hill III was born in America, he played a pivotal role in pioneering the human rights movement in Canada. After graduating from Howard University and serving in the highly segregated American Army during World War II, he decided to move to Canada. In 1950, Dr. Hill attended University of Toronto to obtain a PhD in sociology. Soon after, he became a prominent writer and historian in the field of the history of Blacks in Canada. In 1960, he published his ground-breaking dissertation called Negroes in Toronto: A Sociological Study of a Minority Group, which served as his PhD thesis for UofT.
He was later appointed the first director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission—the first of its kind in Canada that went on to become a major public agency in the Province of Ontario! In 1978, along with his wife and a few close friends, Hill founded the Ontario Black History Society, which was also the first organization of its kind in the country. He said one of the main reasons he founded the organization was because “Black children from the islands, from the United States, from Africa have been told that they have no heritage” in Canada. He believed they would relate to the exhibit because they would “know that their Black ancestors who came from Africa and who came to Canada and the United States did indeed contribute to the life and to the community and to the building of this country.”
Notably, Ontario Black History Society was the organization responsible for initiating the formal celebration of February Black History Month at all levels of government in Canada, due to their yearlong efforts to extend the celebration (i.e. the first formal declaration of February as Black history month with the City of Toronto in 1979; and with the Province of Ontario in 1993).
Hill’s famous book, The Freedom Seekers: Blacks in Early Canada found a broad readership after publication in 1981 and remains available in Canadian libraries.
Featured in this week’s spotlight: The Honourable Jean Augustine and Perdita Felicien!
The Honourable Jean Augustine was born in St. George’s, Grenada in 1937. In 1960, she immigrated to Canada on the Canada-Caribbean Domestic Program. Soon after graduating from Toronto Teachers’ College, she became a teacher and was later promoted to Supervisory Officer, where she helped shape the lives of a number of young students. She contributed to and expanded many social causes through her involvement on community boards, and served as the National President of the Congress of Block Women of Canada.
Her capacities and work ethic were recognized by political leaders who sought her advisement on the launch of Canada’s official multiculturalism policy in 1971. In 1993, Jean Augustine made history as the first African-Canadian woman to be elected to Canada’s House of Commons as the Member of Parliament from the Greater Toronto Area constituency of Etobicoke-Lakeshore. She served with distinction winning four consecutive elections.
Amongst her notable achievements was legislation to protect disadvantaged low-income individuals including single mothers raising children, and securing unanimous legislative support to pass a historic motion designating February as Black History Month in Canada.
In 2007, she was appointed the first-ever Fairness Commissioner for the Province of Ontario, a role in which she would set new regulatory standards for clarity, openness and more streamlined access to employment conditions for foreign trained professionals until her retirement in 2015.
Perdita Felicien is a two-time Olympian (2000 and 2004) and a 2003 world champion in the 100m hurdles. She is also the first Canadian woman to win an individual track medal at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships, and is a 10-time Canadian champion.
In 2004, she also set a national record in the 100m hurdles with a time of 12.46 seconds. In 2003 and 2007, Felicien won silver in the 100m hurdles at the Pan American Games. She was inducted into the Athletics Canada Hall of Fame in 2016.