Legacies and institutions

Through nearly four centuries in what is now Canada, women of African and Caribbean descent shaped their own identities while taking decisive actions to help ensure the survival, preservation and growth of families and communities. As advocates and catalysts for change, women of African and Caribbean descent have created many important organizations that have advanced equality and human rights.

Midwives of the African Nova Scotian Communities

People of African descent have been in Nova Scotia since the early 1600's. Larger migrations came during the late 1700's to the early 1900's. Through the early days of struggle, they had to be self-reliant. By helping to bring new generations of babies into the world, the Midwives were an essential part of the African-Nova Scotian existence.

Midwives left their home at any hour of the night under many conditions to aid in the safe arrival of sometimes hundreds of babies in their lifetime. Arriving with satchel in hand; their tools were clean cloths, scissors, and usually something to assist in making a meal. These ladies came not only to help with labour, they also came to help to keep the family home and to stay until the Mothers were back on their feet.

Their experience, courage, and ultimately their faith guided them through regular deliveries and challenging birth situations. Their goal was to ensure babies took their first breath, and to not give up; even when the Doctor present had given up on a baby. Midwives went where they were needed; which sometimes took them into the surrounding white communities to assist with deliveries when the Doctor could not make it. Within the Black Communities of Nova Scotia, Midwives delivered generations of babies well into the 1960’s.

Ladies Auxiliary of the African United Baptist Association of Nova Scotia

Between 1824 and 1891, a network of African Baptist churches were organized in Black communities throughout Nova Scotia. In 1854, these churches were regrouped into the African United Baptist Association (AUBA). Black women were key members, organizers and teachers within the AUBA. The Ladies Organization (Auxiliary) was born in 1917 during the AUBA’s Annual Session in East Preston, Nova Scotia, 12 years before women were declared persons under Canadian law. The first President was Sister Maude Sparks from Cherry Brook.

The Provincial Freeman

The Provincial Freeman was co-founded by Mary Ann Shadd Cary, who became the first Black female publisher in North America and the first female publisher in Canada, when this paper was launched in Windsor, Ontario. Dedicated to Anti-Slavery, Temperance and General Literature, this weekly newspaper was published from March 24, 1853, to September 20, 1857, and covered the activities and issues relevant to Blacks in Canada.

Coloured Women's Club, Montreal

The Coloured Women’s Club of Montreal was founded in 1902 by a group of Black women who, because other groups were not open to Black women, formed their own social club. From the beginning, members of the Club were focused on the need of their community in the St. Antoine (Little Burgundy) district of the city. The Black women who formed the Club were following the examples of African American women, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell, among others, who had created the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs founded in Washington, DC on July 21, 1896.

During the First and Second World Wars and the Great Depression, the Coloured Women's Club helped to organize, feed, shelter and care for community members in need. Their benevolent and charitable work was recognized in 1997 by the Ministère des relations avec les citoyens de l'immigration du Québec. The Anne Greenup Solidarity Prize is named in honour of the club's first president, and is given to individuals or organizations that contribute to networking, generational solidarity, civic engagement, and belonging.

The Hour-a-Day Study Club in Windsor, Ontario

Founded in Windsor, Ontario, in 1934, the Hour-A-Day Study Club was originally called ‘The Mothers’ Club’ but changed their name to The Hour-A-Day Study Club. Their pledge to study for one hour a day had a tremendous influence on the community as members of the Club became encouraged by school achievements and provided support for parents. Each year, students who excelled in their studies received the Hour-A-Day Study Club scholarship awards. The Club also organized many social and cultural events such as the Parents’ Dinner and Mothers’ Day worship services and the Spring Musical.

The Club was very active in promoting the rights of young women of colour in Canada. When young women were being prevented from entering nursing, the Hour-A-Day Study Club petitioned the provincial Minister of Health and the University of Toronto to have Black nurses admitted. Through the late 1940s to the early 1950s, Black women were gradually accepted as nursing students and eventually employed in hospitals in various centres across Canada. Study Club members also took up various social causes, including helping to plan Emancipation Day festivities.

Canadian Negro Women’s Association

Based in Toronto, Ontario, the Canadian Negro Women’s Association was originally formed in 1951 under the name Canadian Negro Women’s Club. The Association was dedicated to public education about the Black experience, providing scholarships to deserving Black students, and eventually organizing the Calypso Carnival (forerunner of the Caribana Festival) as a fundraiser for other service projects. The Association was a key player in the creation of the Congress of Black Women of Canada.

Congress of Black Women of Canada

The Congress of Black Women of Canada (CBWC) was first convened in Toronto, Ontario in1973 under the sponsorship of the Canadian Negro Women’s Association (CANEWA), which was organized in 1951. (Its original name was the Canadian Negro Women’s Club and was founded by President, Mrs Kay Livingstone, Executive Recording Secretary, Mrs Aileen Williams; Treasurer, Mrs Audrey Grayson). Through their discussions, it became apparent that there was a need for a national organization that could address issues facing Black women in Canada. In 1974, the Montreal Regional Committee was founded (eventually becoming the first chapter of the Congress of Black Women of Canada). Two years later, the delegates at a conference in Halifax set up a national organization, and in 1977, in Windsor, a National Steering Committee was established to build a communication network, and draft a constitution and an organizational structure. It was in Winnipeg, in 1980, where the national organization was launched, the constitution ratified and a national executive council was selected.

The Congress of Black Women remains dedicated to improving the lives of all Black women and their families in their local and national communities.

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