Portia White


We recognize and celebrate the equality movement and trail-blazing Canadian women whose resilience, hard work, creativity, and sacrifices continue to set the pace for all women around the globe in honor of Black History Month.

1. Jean Augustine

The Honorable Jean Augustine became the first Black woman in a federal Cabinet as well as the first African Canadian woman appointed to Parliament. She was appointed Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Secretary of State, and went on a victorious campaign for legislation to acknowledge of Black History Month in Canada in February 2002.

She was re-elected to the new Cabinet as Minister of State in 2003. Also, she was elected Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees, ranking her as the first Black woman to be the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Commons in 2004.

Black Canadian Feminists
Honorable Jean Augustine

2. Zanana Akande

In 1990, Zanana became  the first woman of color to be appointed as a member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and the first woman from the African Diaspora to serve as a cabinet minister in Canada. Zanana Akande channeled her energy on community schemes like the Chair of Black Legal Action, a non-profit in Toronto, after leaving politics.

Black Canadian Feminists
Zanana Akande | Image- Lawrence Kerr Photography

3. Angela James

Angela helped Canada win gold at four Women’s World Championships and was known as one of the top players in women’s hockey. In 2000, she quit her skates but embarked on coaching and later became second Black athlete to be enlisted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.

Black Canadian Feminists
Angela James

4. Emily Mills

Emily Mills dedicate her life to connecting Black Canadian women. In 2010, Mills launched her network ‘How She Hustles,’ a platform for black women to connect online and via organized events. She founded HERstory,  a creative digital series turned CBC documentary starting over 150 women of color that attracted the attention of the prime minister and were awarded by the CBC’s President.

Canadian Feminists
Emily Mills | Image – Julia Park Photography

5. Dr. Wanda Thomas

In 2016,  Dr. Wanda became  the first Black Nova Scotian to be elected to the Senate. She is the first Black Canadian to have an academic term, emerging fill professor at Dalhousie University with a research centered on diversity and oppression. Dr. Wanda is the President and founding member of the Association of Black Social Workers. In 2005 she was given the Order of Canada and in 2014 the Order of Nova Scotia.

Black Canadian Feminists
Dr. Wanda Thomas

6. Portia White

Portia White became the first black Canadian singer to acquire International recognition at age 30. Despite the severe racism and inequality treatment she became the first Canadian to perform at New York City’s prestigious Town Hall in 1944 and thrived in the classical music space, a genre with a little number of Black people. Portia embarked on a world tour where she sang for Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth.

Several scholarships were awarded to her name like the ‘Portia White Prize, awarded by the Nova Scotia Arts Council to an exceptional Nova Scotian in the arts.

Canadian Trailblazer
Late Portia White

7. Dr. Afua Cooper

Dr. Afua is an Associate Professor at Dalhousie University, with research centered and expertise in African Canadian Studies. Dr. Afua is acknowledged as a leading authority on the Black Diasporic experience in Canada. She created exhibitions on Black slavery and history. Between the 2018-2020 , she performed as Poet Laureate of the Halifax Regional Municipality. She has a local connection, as the SFU Ruth Wynn Woodward Endowed Chair, between 2008-2009.

Canadian Female Trailblazer
Afua Cooper

8. Kathleen Kay Livingstone

Kathleen Kay Livingstone made a life commitment to empowering and networking with women of color. In the 1940s Kay moved, from being one of Canada’s top Black actresses to emerging as a famous broadcaster, community organizer, and humanitarian. Kay put in the effort to see Black students obtain scholarships in the 1950s and after relocating to Toronto from Ontario, London she became part of a social network of Black middle-class women enjoying their best life but soon discovered a better purpose for the club so she changed the name to Canadian Negro Women’s Association for educating black youths and working for the welfare of the minorities.

Canadian female broadcaster
Kathleen Kay Livingstone

9. Mary Ann Shadd

Mary founded a racially integrated school and opened Provincial Freeman in 1853, an anti-slavery newspaper that highlighted the stories of leading Black people in Canada to promote settlement. She is the first Black woman to land a law degree in 1893 and the first woman to release a newspaper.

Black people who made history in Canada
Mary Ann Shadd

10. Viola Desmond

Viola is a pacesetter and beautician to young Black women. She is popularly known for declining to sit in the appointed Color section of a Nova Scotia movie theatre in 1946. Viola was charged with extorting the government for the one-cent difference in tax between the two tickets and was arrested. She disputed this charge but her conviction stood until 2010 when she was finally exonerated.

Black Canadian who made history
Viola Desmond

11. Rosemary Brown

Rosemary was a notable politician, social activist, and educator, who fought for gender and racial equality. Rosemary launched the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1956, to assist people to obtain access to employment, housing, and legislation resources. She was the first Black woman appointed to political office in Canada in 1972.

After a few years, she advocated under ‘Brown is Beautiful’ and campaigned to be the leader of the NDP, winning second place. She was recognized as a recipient of a YWCA award in 1989.

Canadian Trailblazer
Rosemary Brown, a feminist and NDP member of the British Columbia legislature, was keynote speaker at the opening of the first national conference of Women of Political Action in Toronto June 16, 1973. She said women elected in the past contributed little to the struggle for the liberation of women. (CP PHOTO/John Goddard)

12. Violet King

Violet King as a young girl had the dream of becoming a criminal lawyer which came with gender and racial opposition in the 1940s. In 1948, She enrolled in the University of Alberta and became the only Black female student in her class. When Violet graduated, she became the first Black person to graduate from law school and to be called to the bar in Alberta. With that accomplishment, she became the first Black female lawyer in Canadian history; Her dream came true.

Canadian feminists
Violet King

Violet utilized her influence as a lawyer to fight for the less privileged, immigrants, and workplace rights for women. She worked for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in Ottawa before proceeding to New York. She is the first woman named to a senior executive position with the YMCA.

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