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4 Black Canadian Women That Changed History

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"I used to want the words "She tried" on my tombstone. Now I want "She did it." - Katherine Dunham

Black History Month (BHM) was created to celebrate the contributions and achievements of black Canadians. Every year the Government of Canada dedicates a theme to the month. The 2020 theme for this month is Canadians of African Descent: Going Forward, Guided by the PastIn order to honour this theme, we curated a list of four women whose contributions to Canadian society continues to impact the lives of Canadians today. Share the videos below with your students to help keep the legacies of these incredible women alive. 

The Honourable Jean Augustine

Canadians now celebrate Black History Month in February thanks to Jean Augustine. Augustine made Canadian history when she became the first African Canadian woman to be elected to Canada's House of Commons. In Parliament, she represented the needs of women, people of colour, and low-income Canadians through legislation to protect their rights. Her devotion to social justice led to her appointment as a Member of the Order of Canada. Check out this video to learn more!

Viola Davis Desmond

When Viola Desmond refused to change her seat in the whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre in Nova Scotia, she unknowingly began a nationwide movement to end segregation in Canada. Although she was charged with tax evasion for not paying the additional 1 cent tax of the main-floor (whites only) movie ticket (amounting to 1 cent), with the support of her church, family, and friends, she went to the Supreme Court to challenge it. Watch this video to learn more Viola Davis' legacy.

Senator Anne C. Cools

Senator Anne Cools was the longest-serving member of the Senate and the first female black Senator in North America. While attending university in Montreal, Cools was an active student activist, participating in sit-ins to challenge racial bias within the academy. Since then, her work has helped grow women shelters in Canada and support marginalized people throughout the country.  

Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Mary Ann Shadd Cary played a huge role in Canadian education. Her family helped in the underground railroad. As an adult, she founded a racially diverse school and went on to become the first black female newspaper editor in North American when she published the The Provincial Freeman. Her advocacy helped earn black men the right to vote, but she continued fighting for the rights of black women to vote. 

These women all contributed to bettering the lives of Canadians. And their legacy continues to live on today.

Are your students passionate about issues on social justice? Take your class to New York and learn about the lives and challenges of immigrants with a visit to the Tenement Museum, participate in workshops about influential female filmmakers, and more!

Learn more about our educational tours to New York City!