The Incredible Black Canadian Women You Should Know

For years, I’ve had a complicated relationship with Black History Month.
 This year, “complicated” isn’t strong enough of a word. It’s more like I’m prematurely exhausted and annoyed. I’m mentally preparing myself for 28 days of #BlackoutTuesday, aka performative, hollow gestures masquerading as allyship. At the same time, I’m also — call it naive optimism — hopeful. 

My boss, Chelsea Sanders, the VP of Unbothered, described her feelings on this month as “anxiety-tinged enthusiasm” and I think that perfectly sums it up. 


On one hand, as a Black woman in media, I’m never more in demand than I am in February. I’m asked to speak on panels (now, it’s the virtual kind). I’ve been asked to give talks to impressionable teenagers at my old high school, where I was once a confused young girl surrounded by kids who didn’t look like me. In the moments when I’ve gotten to look out at a 16-year-old Black teen and make her feel less alone, I’ve loved Black History Month. 

But this year, after a worldwide racial reckoning, the brutal killing of Black men and women by police, and terrifying displays of white supremacy, I just know this Black History Month is going to hit different. For better or for worse. 

The month has almost always been about paying tribute to the history of Black people in this country — a history that is full of pain or stories of extraordinary human beings whose contributions to the fabric of this nation are overlooked and ignored (Black trauma or excellence — no in between). So, in the past, while it was nice to feel wanted every February, I wondered why I didn’t feel as wanted every other month. I wondered why I wasn’t worthy enough to speak to Black girls who were just like me in September or October. I wondered why the achievements of Black people, specifically Black women, weren’t lauded every month. They should be, but the truth is that in many classrooms and publications, they still aren’t. Every February, Black women take on the emotional labour of making sure the women who came before us are recognized because the Black women who have shaped this country — and are moulding its future — have been continually discounted for the stories of problematic old white men. 

This is where the hope comes in. I hope all the “listening and learning” and feigned wokeness of last summer starts to pay off in tangible ways this month. This is the time for allies to prove they’ve actually been listening. It’s their time to pick up the burden. I hope this month is different not just because non-Black people are promising to do better, but because they are actually following through. 

This Black History Month, we’re showcasing Canadian Black women who deserve to be known — past and present. And I’m asking, and hoping, that as we make sure we continue to celebrate the achievements of Black women long after February 28, you do too. 

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Mary Ann Shadd Cary

If you’re sick of seeing slavery stories in movies and pop culture, I feel you. Black pain has been used for entertainment, as the only depiction of Black history, for too long. I get it. But the reality in this country is that not enough people know the history. Slavery wasn’t just an American problem. The Underground Railroad reached its peak in the 1850s, after The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed, and that’s when Mary Ann Shadd Cary moved to Windsor, ON. She sought refuge in Canada like so many other free Blacks and escaped slaves, opened a school, and established a newspaper with the still-relevant motto, “Self-Reliance is the True Road to Independence.” BRB, getting that tattooed on my face. Shadd Cary went on to become an anti-slavery feminist activist and Canada’s first Black newspaper publisher.
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Mairuth Sarsfield

"Mairuth was a door-opener." That’s how Mairuth Sarsfield’s friend Rita Deverell described her to the Globe and Mail after her death in 2013. As diplomat, author, and activist, Sarsfield opened the door for so many of the Black women still to be featured on this list. She was born in Montreal, and in her 88 years of advocating to tell the stories of Black Canadians, there are many moments that prove why she’s a woman you should know. I could go on about her gorgeous autobiographical novel No Crystal Stair, or her epic response when the book was criticized for its hopeful depiction of life in her black Montreal neighbourhood: "Being Black is a lot of fun – or can be. You don't have to bellyache to write a good book." Sarsfield was pushing for #blackjoy before it became a hashtag.

But, there’s a Sarsfield story I want to tell you because it’s one Black women know too well. When she was working for the Department of External Affairs at the Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan, a Japanese official asked the Canadian delegate to come forward at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. As the Globe tells it, the official looked past Sarsfield as she advanced, not believing a Black woman could be the Canadian representative. Sarsfield ignored the slight and stepped forward to do her job. This story makes me think of all the Black women, every day, who are doing their jobs in spite of these kinds of microaggressions. Mairuth Sarsfield came before us, banging down doors and staying unbothered in the fact of prejudice. If she could do it, so can we.
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Kathleen "Kay" Livingstone

I swear I didn’t pick this woman just because we share a name. I am bursting with pride to have the same name as someone as influential and integral to the advancement of Black Canadian women in this country as Kathleen“Kay” Livingstone. She devoted her life to empowering and networking with Black women so, of course, I stan. Livingstone went from being one of Canada’s leading Black actresses in the 1940s (when the Oscars were still SO WHITE) to becoming a popular broadcaster, humanitarian, and community organizer. In the 1950s, Livingstone worked to ensure Black students received scholarships, and after moving to Toronto from London, Ontario, she joined a social club of Black middle-class women living their best life drinking tea and throwing garden parties. (Um, can someone please make this movie?) But Livingstone wasn’t satisfied sitting around socializing. She quickly changed the club’s name to the Canadian Negro Women’s Association, went to work, and shifted the focus to educating Black youth and fighting for the wellbeing of visible minorities. She’s even credited as coining the term “visible minority.”

In the ’70s before her unexpected death, Livingstone formed the Congress of Black Women (CBW) of Canada. She did all that while being a wife and mother of FIVE.

I’ll leave you with one of Livingstone’s favourite phrases, which became the CBW’s mantra and sums up her legacy: “Onward and upward lifting as we climb.”
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Marci Ien

Marci Ien has been gracing our television screens for almost three decades. Full disclosure: for a few of those years, I worked with Marci on the daytime talk show The Social. Before I was her producer, I was a just a little girl who believed in my dream to work in television a little harder because Marci Ien made it seem possible for a Black woman to excel in that space.

She’s an award-winning broadcast journalist who started as a reporter for local news, went on to cover a diverse array of important Canadian stories for CTV, and found the perfect balance between hard-hitting journo and charming morning-show host on Canada AM before landing at The Social. Ask anyone who has had the privilege of spending more than a second in Marci’s orbit and they’ll tell you that she has about a million special qualities, but the most impressive one to me is her empathy.

When she was reporting on the tragic story of the school shooting in La Loche, Saskatchewan, which devastated the mostly Aboriginal community, Marci set up a GoFundMe and organized a four-day trip to Toronto for the students. She used her platform to help a community in need.

This year, Ien took that commitment to community a step further when she left her job at The Social to become the Liberal MP of the Toronto Centre riding. She's the first Black woman to hold this position. From speaking out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, to organizing for Indigenous students in La Loche, to sharing her own story of “driving while Black,” Ien has never been afraid to pull up for the causes that need her. 

Marci Ien is one of the most inspiring people I’m fortunate to know, and this month especially, I think her incomparable influence on broadcasting, and on this country, should be celebrated.
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Carrie Best

Print media is going through an interesting time. It seems like we’re just counting down the days until newspapers become something we tell our grandchildren about, like cassette tapes or Blockbuster. But even if physical newspapers die, technology can never kill the importance of journalism and telling the truth, no matter what iteration of the iPhone we’re on. Before smart phones and even VHS, Carrie Best founded The Clarion, the first Black-owned newspaper in Nova Scotia. She fought to share the truth at a time when the voices of Black women were suppressed and ignored.

In 1941, after finding out that a group of Black teen girls had been forcibly removed from a movie theatre, Best went to the movies to stand up for those girls. Best and her son were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace for sitting in the “whites-only” section of The Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, N.S. Yes, the same theatre Viola Desmond defiantly sat in protest of segregation. After Desmond was arrested, Best featured her on the cover of The Clarion. The Halifax Examiner calls Best pivotal “in bringing Desmond’s saga out of the shadows.” Best is the reason this country remembers and is finally celebrating a trailblazer like Desmond.

A pioneer herself, Best started her own radio show, The Quiet Corner, in 1952 on CBC Radio. The show amplified the music and poetry of Black Canadians and was on the air for 12 years. The other Black female journalists I have featured on this list, and those who are still to come, owe so much to Best. We all still do. Even when the future of print journalism feels bleak, let’s remember Carrie Best. Her legacy lives on through the tireless work of journalists today.
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Lucie Blackburn

If you know anything about the Blackburns in Canadian history, you probably know Lucie’s husband, Thornton. Lucie Blackburn’s name is rarely mentioned without her husband’s beside it. That’s why I wanted to honour Lucie — because we know that if there was a movie about the Blackburns made today, it would be Thornton’s story, with Lucie relegated to the typical “wife” secondary trope. From what I’ve read, Lucie doesn’t seem like a secondary character in this narrative. While the Thorntons were fleeing slavery in Michigan (via Kentucky), they were captured and imprisoned. Lucie was smuggled out of her jail cell by a woman from her church who swapped clothes with Lucie during a routine visit, allowing her to sneak out unnoticed. In other words, Lucie Blackburn was a badass.

Thornton was being held elsewhere and also managed to escape before they were returned to their masters in Kentucky. The Blackburns’ imprisonment started the "Blackburn Riots of 1831," the first race riots ever in Detroit, over pushback to state laws that allowed runaway slaves to be returned to their masters (Michigan was a free state; Kentucky wasn’t). The Blackburn Riots caused a major migration of Blacks to Canada, and, according to the Toronto Star, Canada's refusal to allow the Blackburns to be extradited to the United States set the tone for cross-border relations on the issue of fugitive slaves for decades to come.

The Blackburns settled in Toronto in 1834 and were hailed as leaders in campaigning to end slavery and providing refuge to Black people fleeing the United States. That could have been the end of Lucie and Thornton’s story, and it would still be worthy of recognition, but it’s not. Together, they started Toronto’s first cab company (like Uber, but with “muck-free carriages”). Thornton is credited in many places as starting the company on his own, but The Star called Lucie, who handled the finances of the business, “an excellent money manager.” She also took care of the domestic work in the six houses they owned by 1847, which provided room and board to former slaves.

It’s hard to find any information on Lucie as a person independent of her husband, and Thornton may get more glory in their story, but today, let’s celebrate Lucie’s achievements as a Canadian who changed this country for the better. She wasn’t just a “wife.”
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Stella Meghie

The Globe and Mail has hailed Stella Meghie as “Canada’s most powerful cultural export.” That’s not an exaggeration. Meghie is a Toronto-born writer/director who made her TIFF debut in 2016 with Jean of the Joneses, a dramedy about grief and family dysfunction, starring an all-Black cast. In 2017, she helmed the YA blockbuster Everything, Everything starring Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson. That year, according to The Globe, she was the only Black female director of a widely released studio film. In 2018, IndieWire reports that of the theatrically released films in the U.S., just five were directed by Black women and the only studio film was Ava Duvernay’s A Wrinkle In Time. This is where Meghie’s power comes in. Duvernay shouldn’t be the only Black woman we can name that’s making big-budget films. Meghie is putting in the work to tell the stories that Black women want to see on screen that feel like they were made for us, but also appeal to everyone. She told Essence that her “purpose is to tell contemporary stories about young Black women.” Insert praise hands emoji.

I’ve seen Meghie's Everything, Everything (starring Amandla Stenberg) and The Photograph (starring Issa Rae) more times than I should admit and every time I watch these Black women fall in love, it makes me sob. It makes me PROUD that the woman responsible for this film not only looks like me, but that we were born in the same city. An underrated Meghie hit is the indie comedy The Weekend, starring Sasheer Zamata as a funny and flawed heroine. She was mess. Black women never get to be full, complex, messy humans on screen. That’s because it’s rarely Black women telling these stories.

Next, Meghie will be taking on the life and legacy of Whitney Houston in the biopic I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Um, inject it directly into my veins.

Watching Black women fall in love and live real lives onscreen is my favourite pastime. I am so grateful for Meghie’s work. When we talk about diversity and representation in Hollywood, these are the voices that are going to change the game. Stella Meghie is the future we’ve been waiting for.
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Violet King

In her Grade 12 yearbook, Violet King wrote down a simple dream: to become a criminal lawyer. Except in the 1940s, when King was in high school in Alberta, a Black woman becoming a lawyer was not a simple dream. If she was going to do it, she would be the first. King didn’t have anyone to look to as a model of how to accomplish her dream. King’s ambition didn’t have precedent. In many cases, that fact deters a dream. As the old adage goes: “If you can see it, you can be it.” King didn’t have to see her goals to believe she could achieve them. To me, that’s inspiring as hell.

King enrolled in the University of Alberta in 1948, becoming the only Black female student of her class. During school, she became an advocate for other live-in students and even chased off a group of 40 men playing bagpipes who were wreaking havoc on campus (seriously, there’s a great account of the ordeal in this Twitter thread). She was also the VP of the school’s student union. When King graduated, she became the first Black person in Alberta to graduate law school and be called to the bar. With that achievement, she became the first Black female lawyer in Canadian history. An impossible dream, realized.

Throughout her career, King advocated for immigrants, the less fortunate, and for workplace rights for women. She worked for the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in Ottawa before moving to New York, then Chicago with her husband and daughter to become the first woman named to a senior executive position with the YMCA. Until her death in 1982, Violet King bulldozed the way for the Black women who came after her to have a path to follow and to have a precedent to believe in so their yearbook dreams could maybe, one day, be simple.
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Jean Augustine

"Being the first Black feels good, yes, but more than that, it says to others and to ourselves that Blacks can be in every place in society." The Honourable Jean Augustine gave that quote to The Globe and Mail in 2002, right after she was appointed Canada's Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women, making her the first Black woman in Cabinet. She would go onto achieve a few more firsts, including becoming the first Black woman elected to Canada’s House of Commons, where she pushed forward a motion to acknowledge February as Black History Month. Augustine is a big reason we have a month dedicated to celebrating Black history in this country at all. She’s built her career on not only being the first but uplifting the Black community so there could be a second, a third, and so on. She hasn’t just climbed the ladder, she’s sent it back down so others could climb, too.

She’s retired from politics now, but as an immigrant who was raised by her grandmother, Augustine supports multiple scholarship funds that assist single mothers with their post-secondary education. Two schools in the GTA have been named in her honour. In 2009, she was made a Member of the Order of Canada “for her distinguished career as an educator, politician and advocate for social justice in Canada," and on her 80th birthday, she celebrated with a low-key party for 650 guests that raised money for education for marginalized youths. No days off. This is the kind of birthday queen I aspire to be. It wouldn’t feel right to showcase Black Canadian trailblazers during this month and not recognize someone as integral to the advancement of Black people in this country as The Honourable Jean Augustine.
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Amanda Parris

When it comes to the arts, we’re constantly looking south of the border. Especially when it comes to art made by Black people, the most famous Canadian names (the Drakes, the Daniel Caesars) have to make it big in the U.S. before anyone seems to give a damn here in Canada. Amanda Parris has been giving a damn about Canadian artists for years. She writes a column every week for CBC Arts that consistently highlights the work of under-appreciated Canadian talent and tells stories that everyone in this country should know. It's had such an impact that it’s been co-signed by Ava DuVernay on Twitter, the highest endorsement a Black creator on the platform could receive in my opinion.

Parris hosts THREE television shows on CBC: Exhibitionists, From The Vaults, and The Filmmakers, the latter which won a Canadian Screen Award. All three celebrate pop culture and highlight voices that are often overlooked. She's also the host of the CBC Music radio show Marvin’s Room, one of the only spaces you'll hear the best in R&B in this country.

I’m not done. When Parris isn't hosting multiple shows that each, in their own way, celebrate art in this country, she is creating art herself. She’s a formidable playwright whose debut, The Other Side of The Game, was a love letter to the strength of Black women and won the coveted Governor General's Literary Award. She’s also a former community organizer who has spoken at UN conferences in Durban, South Africa and Naples, Italy.

Whew. You tired yet? Parris’s tireless commitment to Black representation in art is why she’s a Black Canadian woman you should know. Her work isn’t relegated to Black History Month. Year round, she grinds for the culture. Her passion for entertainment shines in every one of the countless jobs she has, including how effortlessly she handles live interviews with Hollywood’s brightest, like that time she got Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali to rap onstage, on cue, no rehearsal. That takes skill. Get to know Amanda Parris, Canada’s gatekeeper of Black art and a woman who makes me proud to work in this industry alongside her.
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Rosemary Brown

The campaign slogan of the outgoing president of the United States stood for hatred and bigotry, and was used as a tool for both. In 1975, when race relations were supposedly way worse than they are now, Rosemary Brown ran for the leadership of the federal NDP with the slogan “Brown is Beautiful.” Now *that* is a campaign slogan. Around the same time, Brown said this: "To be Black and female in a society which is both racist and sexist is to be in the unique position of having nowhere to go but up." Decades later, Brown’s quote is still painfully relevant. In a racist and sexist society, Brown became the first Black woman elected to a Canadian legislature and the first woman to run for leadership of a federal political party. She spent 14 years as an MLA for the NDP in British Columbia, working to remove sexism in school curriculum.

Rosemary Brown was a staunch feminist who fought for intersectionality before it became a buzzword. After she retired from politics in 1988, she taught women’s studies at Simon Fraser University, educating the next generation of black feminists. Until her death in 2003, she worked vigorously for the rights of women — specifically Black women — in this country and around the world. Black women still have nowhere to go but up in a society that continues to be unfortunately sexist and racist, but we’ve got Rosemary Brown’s legacy and her words to inspire us to keep going up. Brown IS beautiful, and right now, it’s the only campaign slogan I acknowledge.
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Jennifer Hodge de Silva

The Ontario Human Rights Commission released a report in 2018 that proved something many Black people in this country already knew: Black people are more likely than white people to be injured or killed by Toronto Police officers. The tensions between the Black community and the police in Toronto is nothing new, but police brutality is still often seen as an American problem. In 1983, Jennifer Hodge de Silva shed light on what is definitely a Canadian problem with her documentary Home Feeling: A Struggle for Community, about the tension between law enforcement and the predominately African-Canadian Jane and Finch neighborhood. The film features raw and revealing interviews with police and members of the community. Thirty-five years later, the film is still being taught in schools and universities and Black people are still suffering at the hands of police. The relevance of Hodge de Silva’s work lives on in the stories she chose to tell through her films.

Hodge de Silva was raised by a family of social activists (her mom was another woman featured on this list, Mairuth Sarsfield) and it showed in her work. Her filmmaking explored complex social issues and gave voices to marginalized communities in Canada. She was the first Black filmmaker to work regularly with the National Film Board and the CBC. She was a pioneer in Canadian film, who influenced future activists before she died of cancer at 38. In her short life, Hodge de Silva made a timeless impact, and even though the problems she tackled in her documentaries persist today, she broke barriers and started vital conversations in this country.
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Portia White

“First you dream. And then you lace up your boots.” And lace up her proverbial boots, she did. Portia White started singing at age six in her church choir. That’s where the dreaming began. At 30, her big break came when she performed at Toronto's Eaton Auditorium, making her the first Black Canadian singer to gain international acclaim. White had to deal with the systemic racism of the '30s and '40s, like being denied performance space because she was Black and travelling through America when hotels would say they had “no room for Blacks” and restaurants had “No Negroes” signs. Through all of that exasperating blatant bigotry, White laced up her boots and went to work.

In 1942 and 1943, she toured across Canada. In 1944, she performed at New York City’s prestigious The Town Hall (she was the first Canadian ever to sing there) and officially infiltrated the classical music world, a genre that is still notoriously lacking in diversity and discriminatory to Black people. White would go on to tour the world, and in one of her final performances, she sang for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. Imagine a Black woman, who started her career not being able to eat food in certain establishments because of her race, ending it by performing for British royalty. It’s a beautiful story of resilience and what happens when dreams, hard work, unparalleled talent, and opportunity meet. White’s final days included teaching music and there are now numerous scholarships awarded in her name, such as the The Portia White Prize, given by the Nova Scotia Arts Council to an outstanding Nova Scotian in the arts.
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Michelle “Michie Mee” McCullock

It’s hard enough being a female fan of hip-hop, a genre that has notoriously demeaned and degraded Black women, so imagine how hard it was to be one of the first women in hip-hop, period. Michelle “Michie Mee” McCullock is the Jamaican born, Toronto-bred MC who put a crack in rap’s seemingly impenetrable glass ceiling back when Aubrey Graham was in diapers. At 18 years old in 1988, during the early days of the genre, Michie Mee became the first Canadian hip-hop recording artist to sign a major record deal. She was discovered just three years prior while performing in Toronto by Boogie Down Productions, a pioneer hip-hop group consisting of rap legend KRS-One.

When people think of hip-hop in Toronto in 2020, there are maybe a couple of names that come to mind. Kardinal Offishall? That other guy who doesn’t go by Aubrey anymore? Drake is the Canadian rapper dominating the charts now, but he may not have become the 6 God without his 6 Godmother, Michie Mee. (That was corny but I have no regrets.) The First Lady of Canadian rap was among the first to marry hip-hop with a Jamaican dancehall sound inspired by her roots. Her influence can be heard in both Kardinal’s work and Drake’s. They both have Michie to thank for opening that door in hip-hop but also for exposing the genre to the talent north of the border. As the CBC put it, Michie Mee “became a known Canadian hip-hop name when the idea of hip-hop artists hailing from Canada was almost unthinkable.”

In 1991, she released her debut album Jamaican Funk–Canadian Style, which is still considered a classic. She appeared in the music video for Queen Latifah’s feminist anthem “Ladies First,” which is a testament to her life-long commitment to lifting up other female MCs. She was friends with Roxanne Shanté, the groundbreaking artist who got the Netflix biopic treatment last year with the doc, Roxanne Roxanne; no one promoted her friend’s story harder than Michie Mee.

Throughout this list, I’ve shared quotes from these incredible women that are still just as poignant today. I’ll leave you with my favourite of Michie Mee’s: "No one wants to hear what this rapper girl has to say. They want to know, 'Okay, who is the Black guy in charge of her and then who is the white guy in charge of him?'"
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Marie-Joseph Angélique

There are many stories in Black Canadian history that make me mad I didn’t learn about them sooner. I also get upset that some of these stories haven’t been made into Oscar-worthy films because if the protagonists were white, I know they would be. Marie-Joseph Angelique’s life is one of those stories. She was a Black woman enslaved by a woman named Thérèse de Couagne de Francheville in Montreal. Yes, white women owned slaves in Canada too. The Canadian Encyclopedia posits Angélique was first sold into slavery in Portugal, then bought by a French Merchant at age 20. When that horrible French dude died, he left his slave to his wife, the aforementioned horrible French woman who renamed her “Marie-Joseph Angélique” after their dead daughter. The repulsive details don’t stop there. Thérèse de Couagne de Francheville then forced Angelique to have three children, who all died as infants, with another slave, Jacques Cesar. Angélique is said to have been in a relationship with a white indentured labourer from France named Claude Thibault.

In 1734, after Angélique asked for her freedom and was denied, de Francheville was planning to sell her to another slaveowner in Quebec City, who was then going to sell her to the West Indies. When Angélique found out this news, she threatened to burn down de Franchville’s house (this is the part in the movie where I would yell at the screen, “BURN THAT SH-T DOWN, MARIE!”). Together, Angelique and her lover Thibault tried to run away but were caught en route to Portugal via New England. Angélique was returned to her owner but was still loudly threatening to burn sh-t down. We stan a fearless queen. In April 1734, there was a mass fire in Montreal, destroying 46 buildings. Angélique was charged with arson for allegedly starting a fire that led to the damage in the city though she denied the accusation —until she was brutally tortured into confessing. She refused to give up Thibault’s name even though the judges argued that they set the initial blaze together.

Angélique was executed by hanging after days of torture where she swore she set the fires herself and begged for mercy (Thibault fled, leaving Angelique to face the trial alone). Angélique has been hailed as a symbol of Black resistance and a painful reminder that this country is not absolved from the atrocities laid against Black bodies during that era. But Angélique’s legacy is complicated. Some still believe that she did not start the fires (there were no witnesses) but that she was used as a scapegoat since she was an outspoken Black woman. Others attest that the burning of Montreal in 1734 was Angélique’s final act of defiance against a life she didn’t deserve. Whatever you believe, Marie-Joseph Angélique’s strength and resilience in spite of unspeakable circumstances is undeniable.
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Beverly Mascoll

“Buy Black” isn’t just a catchy alliteration or a hashtag. It’s also nothing new. Encouraging Black people to build wealth in their community by contributing to Black businesses is what elders have been preaching for years. Black entrepreneurs, such as Beverly Mascoll, deserve to be celebrated and supported. In 1970, Mascoll started her business with a problem: She couldn’t find hair products for Black women. She saw a hole in the hair industry so, naturally, she invested $700 into incorporating her own company called Mascoll Beauty Supply Ltd. As we know now, the Black hair industry is a multi-billion-dollar business, and for too long (and still today), it’s an industry built on the buying power of Black women by white-owned companies.

Mascoll wanted to change that. So, with no connections and no family ties in the business, she did her own thing. By selling products out of her car at first, she convinced Johnson products (just one of the biggest manufacturers in the word, no big deal) to give her the rights to be the sole Canadian distributer, making her a one of the biggest contenders in the beauty industry. She distributed products across the country and also opened retail outlets that are said to have been provided a sense of community and identity for many Black Canadian immigrants. I can confirm that getting lost in a Black beauty supply aisle is the best form of self-care. Mascoll didn’t just uplift her community through her entrepreneurial spirit, she invested in its education. She organized trade events and seminars for her costumers and founded multiple scholarships.

If that wasn’t enough, at 55, Mascoll went back to school and received a Bachelor in Arts from York University. Beverly Mascoll is what happens when you buy black, and she’s also what happens when you refuse to accept the paths that are supposedly prescribed for you.
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Emily Mills

This entire series has been about showcasing the stories of Black Canadian women and it wouldn't be complete without Emily Mills, a woman who has dedicated her life to the same thing, as well as connecting Black Canadian women with each other. Imagine what it would have meant for Violet King and Jean Augustine to have had each other when they were conquering their fields as the only/the first Black women to do so? We know how important networking is for career advancement, and the reality is that many industry networks are a white boys' club. That’s why in 2010, Mills created How She Hustles, a network for women of colour to connect over social media and through various special events. How She Hustles now hosts sold-out brunches, panels, meet-ups and other events for thousands of women, who get to celebrate and uplift each other, as well as discover new career opportunities and open up their own work networks.

Mills also created HERstory in Black, an inspired digital series turned CBC documentary featuring 150 black women that earned the attention of the prime minister and won the CBC President’s Award. This is how Mills describes HERstory in Black: “It made young women see new possibilities, it made older women understand the value of their trailblazing work, and it made Black women from my generation understand the critical role we play in bridging the past and the future.

Emily Mills is creating a better future for the next generation of Black women at work. She hustles for the betterment of Black women and today, we celebrate that transformative determination.
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Esi Edugyan

Esi Edugyan is a once-in-a-generation kind of author. She’s a writer whose name will never be forgotten and one whose words are so affecting they weave their way into your subconscious and stay there forever. There are words Edugyan has written that have made me think differently about this country’s history and humanity as a whole. That’s her gift, and her aptitude for peeling back the light under the darkness of the past is why she’s a two-time Giller-Prize award winner before her 42nd birthday. Edugyan wrote her first novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, at 24 and by her second, Half-Blood Blues, she’d been awarded just about every prize you can win, including the most prestigious honour in Canadian literature, a decoration most authors don’t receive in a lifetime. She won the Giller Prize again for Washington Black, a story about an 11-year-old boy enslaved on a Barbados sugar-plantation who strikes up an unlikely friendship and embarks on an unforgettable journey to freedom.

“In a climate in which so many forms of truth-telling are under siege, this feels like a really wonderful and important celebration of words,” Edugyan said of Washington Black’s Giller Prize win, according to the National Post. The celebration of Edugyan’s words is not only deserved (she made Barack Obama’s Best Books of 2018 list), it’s revolutionary. Edugyan, a self-described “historical novelist” was the first Black woman to win the Giller Prize and the accolades she has received in Canadian literature are honours rarely afforded to people who look like her. Her achievements have inspired a new generation of Black writers. Edugyan told CBC Books a story about a Black teenager who approached her and told her that her work gave her the courage to write herself: "The visibility allowed by the prize had made the choice less impossible for her.” Edugyan is making a lot of dreams seem less impossible.
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Angela James

The “Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey” is Black. Angela James may not be a household name in Canada like Gretzky, but she should be. In 2010, James was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and became the first Black woman and first openly gay player to receive the honour. Like so many other women on this list, being the first came with accolades, but also with discrimination. James has spoken of the racist comments she had to face on the ice, and from fans, when she played in the ‘80s and ‘90s. If you’ve been following the stories of other Black players in hockey, that fact shouldn’t come as a surprise. It also wasn’t shocking to me that James — despite leading the Canadian women’s hockey team to four world championships and being the most dominant player in her sport — was excluded from the first-ever Canadian women’s Olympic hockey team in 1998. The rejection (there has never been a proper reason given for James’s exclusion, but I can think of a couple) hit hard for James, but she persevered. James is credited as propelling women’s hockey in Canada and globally with her unmatched skill and extraordinary talent. 

Depending on who you ask, hockey is as Canadian as beavertails and Tim Hortons, but so is the casual racism that has become synonymous with the sport. James overcame insurmountable odds to prove that her existence as a Black gay woman in hockey is also purely, and undoubtedly, Canadian. And she’s continuing to clear the ice for the next generation of athletes as the senior sport coordinator at Seneca College in North York, Ontario. “Being a trailblazer is remarkable,” James told the Windy City Times. “And hopefully I can help the hopes and dreams of other young girls in the game.”
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Trey Anthony

Trey Anthony changed the face of Canadian scripted television. That’s not an overstatement or a cliche. Anthony literally changed what Canadian TV looked like in 2007 with her groundbreaking Global TV sitcom, Da Kink In My Hair, based on her play of the same name about the hilarious happenings at a salon in Toronto's Caribbean community. It became the first primetime series created by and starring a Black woman in the country and the only one starring a predominantly Black cast on mainstream network TV of that era. 

Over a decade later, after writing for Comedy Central, OWN, W Network, and delivering another award-winning play How Black Mothers Say I Love You, Anthony spoke to Refinery29 about how far the industry still has to go. “[After Da Kink In My Hair] I thought here we are finally, this shit is happening, we’re going to start to really give Black comics their due, and that it would open other doors,” she said. “That just never happened.” There hasn’t been a Canadian show of its kind since Da Kink In My Hair and Black women are still woefully underrepresented on Canadian television — in front and behind the camera —and in comedy clubs. But Anthony is still doing the work to change that, and standing peerless in the industry as a beacon of hope. 

She’s now a development producer at Bell Media (the highest ranking Black woman at the company) in charge of bringing unscripted content to Canada, and she’s the author of Black Girl In Love (With Herself), a self-care guide and memoir released in January, aimed at helping Black women be our best selves, despite the obstacles in our way. Anthony is leading by example. “Every single work that I have done has always been met with resistance from mainstream theatre, from television networks and publishing houses’ agents,” she told community newspaper Excalibur recently. “I had to fire my agent because they said, ‘I can’t sell this book, it’s too niche’ ... What they’re basically saying is, ‘it’s too Black.’ So, for me, I’m very unapologetic about it and I had the attitude I think a lot of Black women have — it’s like, ‘fuck it, I’ll do it myself.’”

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Eugenia Duodu Addy

At a time when the validity of scientists and their work is inexplicably up for debate, Eugenia Duodu Addy is using science to save the world. Raised by a single mother in social housing in Toronto, Addy grew up watching Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy, sparking her love of the field and motivating her to pursue it as a career. She attended the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine's Summer Mentorship Program for students of Indigenous and African ancestry in high school and was able to shadow scientists and envision a career path for herself. By her fourth year of her undergraduate degree in medicinal chemistry (she also has a PhD) at UofT, Addy was looking for a way to connect her community with her passion. “I looked at my textbooks and wondered, where are the Black people? When studying science, I’d think, so no Black people contributed here?” Addy wrote in Toronto Life. As she continued with her studies, she was often the only Black person in her classes and she often experienced microaggressions. She also saw firsthand that racism was a barrier to Black people in STEM, and that when brilliant Black minds did contribute to the field, they wouldn’t be credited. 

Addy’s determination to create a safer space in STEM for Black people and build opportunities for kids in the community where she was raised led her to join Visions of Science, a non-profit that teaches STEM to low-income students. Addy started out as a volunteer at Visions of Science and now she’s the CEO. When she started at the organization in 2015, she and her team were working in six communities in the GTA. Now, they serve 1,500 students from 29 communities across Ontario providing support and opportunities to kids in neighbourhoods often overlooked by the education system and who otherwise wouldn’t have access to extracurricular activities. And even in the midst of a pandemic, Addy’s work continues. “Despite the upheaval, we still have our community,” she said in Toronto Life. “Community isn’t cancelled...We’re resilient. We’re still out here… Even in a pandemic, our youth are contributing in amazing, meaningful ways.” 

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Kayla Grey

Kayla Grey is the youngest living woman on this list. I wanted to end on someone who gives us hope for the future. Grey is a 28-year-old sports broadcaster and radio personality. In 2018, when she co-anchored TSN’s Sports Centre, Grey became the first Black woman to anchor a national sports show in Canada. That may seem late given that Sports Centre has been around for almost 35 years, and that athletics in this country have been around a lot longer than that, but we know that women are woefully underrepresented in sports broadcasting around the world and especially in Canada. We know that female athletes make significantly less than their male counterparts. We know that the few women holding their own in this male-dominated field have to deal with sexist comments on the job, discrimination over their voices, and being relegated to the sidelines. And that’s the white woman. Now imagine how much worse it is for Black women.

If you grew up watching sports like I did, you know it would have been easy to assume that a Black woman could never anchor a national sports show. Grey worked towards her dream anyway, like so many women on this list, without a role model or a road map. She shattered expectations with her hard work and resolve to thrive in a position that, for 35 years, made it clear it wasn’t for her. Now, she’s a co-anchor on Sports Centre. She’s also a contributor to CTV’s Your Morning, eTalk, and a fill-in co-host of The Social.

Grey has kicked off her career with determination and poise beyond her years, whether she’s advocating for women in sport or getting real about her struggles as a new working mom on Instagram. Grey may be the first, but she’s making sure she won’t be the last. Little Black girls growing up watching sports now know that their dreams are valid too, and that their future can be whatever they want it to be.
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