6 Prominent Canadian Black Women You Should Know About

February 26, 2021

6 Prominent Canadian Black Women You Should Know About

With another Black History Month ending, it’s important to highlight inspirational Black women in Canada to recognize how much our country has been enriched by its multicultural makeup. 

While Wotever Inc. continues to support justice and equality in our times, we’d like to honour those who came before us and made it possible to progress the fight for equality.

Below, we’ll take a quick look into the lives of six inspirational black women in Canada. While by no means exhaustive, this list is a good primer on just some of the great deeds accomplished and the monumental struggles undertaken by Canadian black women in our country.

Viola Desmond

A successful Black entrepreneur in the early 1940s, Viola Desmond made Canadian history when she purchased a ticket for a movie on the ground floor of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia on November 8, 1946—a place exclusively reserved for white moviegoers.  

After refusing to sit on the balcony—where segregated black moviegoers were required to sit—Desmond was forcibly removed from the theatre and later charged, convicted, and fined for attempting to defraud the provincial government by avoiding paying the amusement tax (a one cent extra cost for having a ground floor seat versus a balcony seat). 

Desmond has always maintained that she would have paid the extra tax for the ground floor. Nonetheless, she was fined $26. 

Her powerful story has helped inspire many to continue to fight against racial justice. Today, you can find Desmond’s stoic expression gracing the Canadian $10 bill.

Marie-Joseph Angélique

Born in Portugal and eventually enslaved and sold to a family living in Montreal, Angélique

reportedly threatened to burn her slaver’s house down many times if she was not granted her freedom. 

In 1734, when a large fire engulfed much of Montreal, Angélique was accused of starting the fire. A “trial”, which consisted of no defence, lawyers, or jury, found Angélique guilty and sentenced her to torture and death. 

An appeal was successful in somewhat limiting the torture, but in the end, Angélique was doomed to suffer in jail before being hanged. 

Angélique and her resistance to slavery came to be a rallying cry for black Canadians struggling against oppression. To this day, she is considered an icon of resistance.

Lucy Blackburn

After having escaped American slavery twice, Lucy Blackburn eventually found herself in Toronto in the 1850s. Alongside her husband, Thornton, the pair developed the first taxicab in Toronto, called “The City.”

The business grew so successful that Lucy and Thornton were eventually able to build six homes in Toronto. Lucy also played a pivotal part in the Canadian segment of the Underground Railroad. By leasing her homes to hundreds, if not thousands, of escaped slaves over the years, Lucy and her husband became racial justice icons. 

The two were later designated as “persons of national historic significance” by the Government of Canada in 1999.

Rosemary Brown

Rosemary Brown has had a large impact on both Canada and British Columbia’s history as a politician, feminist, writer, and educator. 

In 1956, she founded the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (BCAACP), an organization that helped to open up housing and employment to black people in British Columbia. 

Brown was also the first black woman elected to a Canadian Provincial Legislature in 1972 and ran for the leadership of the Federal NDP Party in 1975. She is also a founding member of the Vancouver Status of Women Council. 

In recognition of her human rights activism and public service, Brown received many national and international distinctions, including 15 honorary doctorates from Canadian universities, the United Nations' Human Rights Fellowship in 1973, the Order of British Columbia in 1995, and the Order of Canada in 1996. 

Anne Cools

Anne Cools is a prominent black Canadian activist, administrator, community worker, and senator. 

In 1974, she founded Women in Transition, one of Canada’s first shelters for female victims of violence and, in 1984, she became the first black Canadian to be named to the Senate, where she served as a senator for more than 30 years.

In 1969, she participated in a sit-in occupation at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University) to protest against the supposed racist treatment of six black students. When things escalated and a fire broke out in the computer room, she and several other protestors were arrested and convicted of willful obstruction. Cools was sentenced to six-months in jail and a fine of $1,500. She was later pardoned in 1981.

Portia White

Born in 1911 in Truro, Nova Scotia, Portia White was the first black Canadian concert singer to win international acclaim after she performed at New York’s Town Hall on March 13, 1944.

Throughout her career, she faced many obstacles obtaining bookings due to the colour of her skin. As such, the Nova Scotia Talent Trust was established in 1944 to help White concentrate on her professional career. 

White was the first Canadian to perform at New York’s Town Hall. Subsequently, she was given the opportunity to perform at two more Town Hall concerts in 1944 and 1945.

In 1995, she was named a “person of national historic significance” by the Government of Canada and she was also one of the women considered by the Bank of Canada to be featured on a new $10 bill. The honour, however, went to fellow Canadian Viola Desmond. 

To this day, White is considered to be one of the best classical singers of the 20th century.

How Wotever Inc. Is Supporting Black Women

As a proud, independently owned, women-led business, Wotever Inc. is committed to supporting women and POC within our community. Given that one of our co-founders was born and raised in South Africa during the Apartheid, we know first-hand how important it is to empower women of colour.

At Wotever Inc., we specialize in sustainable and ethically sourced products for the general public, and part of our mandate is to promote Canadian brands, especially those run by women and people of colour. 

We are also stout supporters of the arts and understand that one of the best ways to express stories of resistance, struggle, and justice throughout our history in on stage or film.

That’s why we have a wealth of supplies to help bring your show to life. We specialize in wardrobe rentals and costume supplies in Toronto for the film, TV, and theatrical industry, as well as sell craft supplies and outdoor gear. 

To learn more about our products and our company values, contact us at (416) 461-1033, email us at info@wotever-inc.com, or follow us on social media!