October is Women’s History Month in Canada

The 2022 Theme is Woman Making an Impact … and we remember and celebrate these women who blazed and are blazing the trail for us to do so … “If we stand tall it is because we stand on the shoulders of many ancestors.” African proverb

Sherry Edmunds-Flett, an historian and one of our members writes “ One hundred and forty women of African descent were identified as immigrating to Vancouver Island and neighboring Saltspring Island during the first decade of settlement 1858-1868. The majority were under the age of 35 years; many were single emigrating with their families. Many were in their late thirties or early forties; only four women were 50 years of age or older (Hannah Estes, Rebecca Gibbs, Emma Stewart; and Ellen Copeland, at age 56 was the oldest female immigrant).”

Sherry also notes “these women existed at the intersection of gender, race and class in the nineteenth century.” Today we recognize this “intersectionality” creates overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.

Kimberlé Crenshaw, lawyer, activist and scholar in relationship to Black women and the law in the United States. “The legal system fails Black women because it did not acknowledge, or address, systemic inequalities linked to the intersections of racism and sexism.” Olena Hankivsky, a professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy, notes, “according to an intersectionality perspective, inequities are never the result of single, distinct factors. Rather, they are the outcome of intersections of different social locations, power relations and experiences.”

Here is a selection of 10 women who made and are making an inpact.
Black and white professional studio portrait woman upper torso standing in long sleeved formal dress, hair parted in the centre, pulled back into a bun

Nancy Alexander, Community Leader and Matriarch. Nancy worked alongside her husband, carpenter Charles Alexander feeding the crews to build the first Shady Creek Church in Central Saanich and the first public school in South Saanich. In July 1995 the Alexander family gathered for a reunion in Victoria with an estimated 200 descendants. Today more than 100 descendants of the Alexander family still live in British Columbia.

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!” Rosemary Brown. Advocate for Social Justice and gender equity, politician; Canada’s first Black female member of a provincial legislature and the first woman to run for leadership of a federal political party.

Rosemary Brown Commemorative Stamp

Rosemary Brown also served as the Ruth Wynn Woodward Endowed Chair in Women’s Studies at SFU during 1986-7.
She has received numerous awards and recognition including Order of BC, Order of Canada and this commemorative stamp issued in 2009; and The Rosemary Brown Award for Women was established in 2004 and is awarded annually recognizing and honouring a BC based woman or organization that promotes the values and ideals which Rosemary Brown championed.

Eleanor Collins. More than a century of Black History, her contributions are recognized, honoured, and celebrated on a commemorative stamp issued in January 2022.

eleanor collins standing left hand on poster of commemorative stamp

Eleanor Collins has fostered the values of equality and acceptance; is recognized as a civic leader and pioneer in the development of British Columbia’s music industry. She is celebrated for her extensive career as a jazz singer; one of the first black artists in North America to host a national, weekly television series.

Sydna (Dandridge) Francis: Suffragist, abolitionist, devoted daughter, wife and mother.

Sydna Edmonia Robella (Dandridge) Francis was born in 1815 in Virginia. This story tells of her becoming President of the Ladies’ Literary and Progressive Improvement Society of Buffalo; her family struggles in Oregon; her early days on Vancouver Island and how she persevered against the backdrop of her husband, Abner Hunt Francis’s political and financial troubles; and how to her death continued to demonstrate compassion in her community.


Rebecca Gibbs, One of Canada’s first Black female poets

One of her poems “The Old Red Shirt” written in 1869 tells the story of the sometime dashed hopes of a miner. This poem is on her grave marker.

Barbara Howard

Barbara Howard, Athlete, Teacher, Advocate for Youth. First black woman athlete to represent Canada in an International competition and the first person from a visible minority to be hired as a teacher by the Vancouver School Board.

Studio portrait upper body middle aged woman in formal dress with collar, facing camera hair parted and pulled back

Nancy Lester, Abolitionist, Community Leader. Nancy Lester was born in 1810 in New Jersey. She arrived in Victoria with her husband and teen-aged children. In June 1858 prior to arriving in Victoria, Nancy wrote to her abolitionist friend, William Still “… it seems a providential provision for us who are so oppressed. I feel somewhat encouraged to believe that ere long we may find a home for our children in the right place”

Ruby Sneed

Ruby Sneed an accomplished pianist, singer and teacher. She Introduced the Suzuki Teaching Method for Piano to the Vancouver Academy of Music in 1973.

sepia photo, senior woman seated at table looking out a window, hands cupped around a mug placed on a newspaper open on the table

Marie (Stark) Wallace, Family Historian
Marie was born on Salt Spring Island circa 1868. By 1901 she was living in the Vancouver, Burrard District with her husband Joseph Wallace and there raised 5 children. When Marie was in her nineties she wrote the history of her family. “The history of the Stark family is a moving chronicle of the first negro settlers on Salt Spring Island. In her manuscript Marie traces her routes back to a town in Missouri where her father, Howard Estes, bought the family’s freedom from slavery.”

After her death, her manuscript was published in The Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper as an 11-part series that ran for 4 months from November 1979 to February 1980. This photo was taken in 1966, age 98. Marie is buried with her younger sister Louise at the Ganges Community Cemetery on Salt Spring Island.

The History of Women’s History Month in Canada

In 1992 the Government of Canada designated October as Women’s History Month in Canada.

After a successful lobbying campaign initiated by Lyn Gough of Victoria, British Columbia. The goal was to encourage greater appreciation of the notable contributions of women to Canadian history. October was selected because it was on October 18th, 1929 that Canadian women were first declared to be legally considered as ‘persons’, and therefore eligible to join the Senate of Canada.

The Project Team: Project leaders were Lyn Gough, Katherine (Kay) Armstrong, and Kathy Blasco; all from Victoria, B.C. Other Victoria women involved in the campaign were Sylvia Bagshaw, Catherine Draper, and Avis Rasmussen. Lyn Gough is a historian and author of a book about pioneers in the Women’s Temperance Movement. Kay Armstrong was a recipient of the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case, and Kathy Blasco was a school teacher. Women of Impact in Canada

Additional Sources:
* Sherry-Edmunds Flett PHD thesis on the history of African Canadian women in British Columbia from 1858-1938. Chapter 3 (draft) “A Home for our Children in the Right Place”
*Maria (Stark) Wallace “The History of the Stark Family”
Image Credits
*Nancy Alexander: From the studio portrait of Charles and Nancy taken for their 60th wedding anniversary
*Rosemary Brown. Canada Post Black History Month Commemorative stamp issued Feb. 2, 2009
*Eleanor Collins, Michael Marmur Photographer, Canada Post
*Rebecca Gibbs Grave marker. BC Black History Awareness Society Collection
*Barbara Howard is being inducted @BCSportsHall (2012) in the Pioneer category. She is a LEGEND!” by miss604 licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
*Nancy Lester. Image A-01627 Courtesy of Royal BC Museum and Archives
*Ruby Sneed. Courtesy of the personal collection of Theresa Lewis
*Emma Stark. Image 989024024 Courtesy of Salt Spring Island Archives. Professional Photographer.
*Marie Wallace. Salt Spring Island Archives/Gulf Islands Driftwood Archives, August 19, 1965
*Post Photo of woman writing by RF._.studio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-woman-writing-on-notebook-3059749/