March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD). In celebration of that day, G98.7FM is showcasing five Canadian Black women.
The beginnings of International Women’s Day date back to the early twentieth century. It emerged from the activities of labour movements in North America and Europe and reflected a growing call for women to participate equally in society.
The first IWD was observed on March 19, 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland.
In 1975, the United Nations began celebrating IWD on March 8, and recognized 1975 as International Women’s Year. The U.N. later adopted a resolution designating March 8 as International Women’s Day.
In 2018, when Bernadette Clement was elected Mayor of Cornwall, Ont., she became Canada’s second Black female Mayor.
Daurene Lewis, was elected Mayor of Annapolis Valley, N.S., in 1984.
Clement is the first woman and first person of colour to serve as mayor of Cornwall. She is also the first Black Canadian woman to serve as a mayor in Ontario.
Prior to being elected mayor, Clement served as a Cornwall City Councillor for 12 years.
Born in Montreal, Clement studied law at the University of Ottawa. She moved to Cornwall and worked as the executive director of the city’s SDG (Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry) Legal Clinic.
Clement said she hopes her conversations with women and girls will inspire them to one day run for office.
“What I hope is that there are all sorts of young people out there who are watching this [her election] and understanding that this is just part of our history now.”
Esi Edugyan, a Ghanaian-Canadian author, was born in Calgary in 1978.
She calls herself a “historical novelist” and is the first Black woman to win the prestigious Giller Prize.
In her early 20s, she wrote her first novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne.
Her 2011 book, Half Blood Blues, won the 2011 Giller Prize, the 2012 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.
She again won the Giller Prize with Washington Black in 2018, becoming only the third writer to win the award twice.
Washington Black also made Barack Obama’s Best Books of 2018 list.
Michelle “Michie Mee” McCullock
Michelle “Michie Mee” McCullock is a Jamaican born, Toronto-bred MC, who was discovered by Boogie Down Productions at the age of 15.
At the age of 18, she became the first Canadian hip-hop recording artist to sign a major record deal. She is called The First Lady of Canadian rap.
She was one of the first artists to mix hip-hop with the Jamaican dancehall sound.
Her 1991 debut album, Jamaican Funk–Canadian Style, is considered a classic.
She also appeared in the music video for Queen Latifah and Monie Love’s feminist anthem Ladies First and got a shout out on their 12-inch single.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary
Mary Ann Shadd Cary was born to free parents in Delaware, a slave state.
She moved to Windsor, Ont. in 1850. There, she opened a racially-integrated school that was open to all who could afford to attend, as education was not free.
Shadd Cary published The Provincial Freeman, a weekly newspaper in March 1853. The newspaper’s motto was, “Self-Reliance Is the True Road to Independence.” She publicized the successes of Black persons and promoted women’s rights. Shadd Cary was the first Black woman in North American to edit and publish a newspaper.
Portia White’s motto was, “First you dream. And then you lace up your boots.” And lace up her boots she did. White was the first Black Canadian singer to reach world-renowned status.
Born in Halifax in 1911, a six-year-old White was singing in her mother’s choir at the Halifax Baptist Church where her father was minister. At eight, she was able to sing the soprano parts of Italian operas.
At the age of 30, in 1941, White got her big break when she performed at Toronto’s Eaton Auditorium.
In 1942 and 1943, she toured across Canada. In 1944, she performed at New York City’s prestigious The Town Hall and became the first Canadian to sing there.
Yet she had to deal with the systemic racism of the ‘30s and ‘40s while travelling in the U.S. White would go on to tour the world, and in one of her final performances, she sang for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip.
In 1995, White was named a person of historical significance by the Government of Canada.
There are now numerous scholarships awarded in her name, such as the The Portia White Prize, presented by the Nova Scotia Arts Council to an outstanding Nova Scotian in the arts.
Portia White died at age 56 in Toronto on February 13, 1968.
SOURCES: BBC.COM, CBC.CA, CFC-SWC.GC.CA, DAL.CA, REFINERY29.COM, RONFANFAIR.COM, THECANADIANENCYCLOPEDIA.CA