Black History/Black Futures Month

Ontario News Association

Ontario Nurses Association January 19, 2023

Each February, ONA celebrates Black History/Black Futures Month and honours Black Canadians whose achievements have shaped who we are today.

In December 1995, the Parliament of Canada officially recognized February as Black History Month, following a motion introduced by the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, the Honourable Jean Augustine. The motion was carried unanimously by the House of Commons.

In February 2008, Senator Donald Oliver, the first Black man appointed to the Senate, introduced the Motion to Recognize Contributions of Black Canadians and February as Black History Month. The motion received unanimous approval and was adopted on March 4, 2008.

In 2018, the ONA Board of Directors voted unanimously to designate Black History Month as one of our key human rights and equity observances. Last year, ONA launched an ambitious four-year action plan that will help guide our union in addressing the ongoing racism and oppression that exists for so many of our members and staff, and within our communities. The Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression (ARAO) Action Plan is the direct result of a call to action from our members, leaders and staff with lived experiences of intersectional forms of racism, including anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, discrimination and acts of exclusion.

Black nurses have played a vital role in the history of nursing in Canada. During World War 1, Black women – who were denied the chance to participate in Canada’s war efforts – formed the Black Cross Nurses (modeled on the Red Cross) to aid wounded soldiers and work in the Black community, providing health care, first aid, nutrition and child care.

Toronto-born, US-educated nurse Bernice Redmon broke the barrier nation-wide when she worked for the Nova Scotia Department of Public Health in Sydney in 1945. Redmon had been refused entry to Canadian nursing schools and instead earned her nursing diploma in Virginia. She went on to become the first Black woman appointed to the Victorian Order of Nurses in Canada.

As a result of the pressure put on the provincial Ministry of Health and nursing schools by such groups as the Hour-A-Day Study Club of Windsor and the Toronto Negro Veterans Association, Black women were finally admitted for training and gradually employed in hospitals across Ontario by the late 1940s and early 1950s.

In 1948, Ruth Bailey and Gwennyth Barton became the first African Canadians to earn their diplomas from a Canadian school of nursing.