Celebrating Black History Month

Feb 26, 2022

Three Black Women Who Transformed Canadian History

This February, we celebrate Black History Month by honoring all Black Canadians. Many incredible Black women across Canada make their unique contributions, yet not all Canadians know their spirits. This month we are pleased to introduce three amazing women who transformed Canadian history in a variety of ways.

Mary Ann Shaddy Cary

Born in Free Delaware, Mary Ann Shaddy Cary moved to Windsor, Ontario for refuge. There she founded a school for Black refugee children in an effort to provide them with opportunities to improve their futures. Mary Ann was also the first Black woman who published a newspaper in Canada.

In her earlier life, she dedicated herself to empowering Black people and giving them opportunities to demonstrate their voices and knowledge in Canadian society.

Mary Ann held a firm belief in lifetime education – that one should always be continuously learning. Later in life, she studied at Howard University, she obtained her law degree and became a civil rights lawyer. She was an excellent role model to inspire all Black women in Canada.


Violet King

Born and raised right here in YYC Violet King was very clear about what she wanted in life: since high school, she was determined to be a lawyer. In her grade 12 yearbook, she wrote: “Violet wants to be a lawyer”, and she became one!.

She was a legendary figure because of these achievements:  

          • The first Black person who graduated law school
      • The first Black person who was admitted to the Alberta bar, and
      • The first Black woman who became a lawyer in Canadian history.
      • She also became the first woman named to a management position with the US national executive of the YM/YWCA.

It is not difficult to imagine how many hardships she had experienced in pursuing her dream. All her hard work and efforts shattered glass ceilings and the rewards are being seen in the areas of racial equality, immigrant rights, and women’s workplace rights still to this day.

Viola Desmond

Viola Desmond was a Canadian businesswoman, she was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. After receiving professional beautician training in Montreal, she went back to Halifax to open her beauty salon and then established her Desmond School of Beauty Culture, from which many Black women graduated each year.

One day in November 1946, Viola went to a theatre to watch a movie and chose to sit on the main floor, which was reserved for white people. Refusing to move, she was arrested and fined $25 for the“crime” of entering a reserved space.

Although her husband persuaded her to accept it, she decided to fight and appealed the case. Although she failed to win the case, her lawyer refused to charge her and donated the money to Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP).

Viola went on to become a spiritual leader for the civil rights movement in Nova Scotia. Seventy years later, in 2016, a Canadian banknote with the figure of Viola was issued to recognize and honor her fight for racial equality.


All these women, and many more, made unique contributions to transform Canadian history. We are proud to share their remarkable voices and stories with you and hope you share them further as well.

this year, the theme of TEDxYYC is “Transformative”, and we are confident women in today’s Canadian society will be as transformative as these brave Black women!

In honor of these women and Black History Month check out these  inspiring TED talks:

  1. The trauma of systematic racism is killing Black women. A first step toward change…https://www.ted.com/talks/t_morgan_dixon_and_vanessa_garrison_the_trauma_of_systematic_racism_is_killing_black_women_a_first_step_toward_change
  2. How the US medical community fails Black mothers https://www.ted.com/talks/wanda_irving_how_the_us_medical_community_fails_black_mothers
  3. The Black history of twerking — and how it taught me self-love https://www.ted.com/talks/lizzo_the_black_history_of_twerking_and_how_it_taught_me_self_love

    For more information about the history of Black people in Canada, you may also want to watch BLK: An original story documentary: https://blkoriginstory.com/

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