Black History Month: Recognizing the Contributions of Rosemary Brown

Originally from Jamaica, Rosemary Brown was the first Black woman in Canada to be elected to a provincial legislature, and also the first woman to run for the leadership of a federal political party.

Born in 1930, she immigrated to Canada in 1951, specifically to British Columbia. Her primary goal was to study social work at McGill University and the University of British Columbia. It was from the moment she entered the school system that she was confronted with instances of racism and sexism. Indeed, there was a scarcity of housing or even jobs accessible to women of an ethnic minority. Her integration in Canada proved much more difficult than she had anticipated.

She became involved in social groups, including the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, and Voice of Women. In addition to her contributions to these groups, she worked briefly with the Children’s Aid Society and served as a counsellor at Simon Fraser University. Despite her busy schedule, Rosemary Brown still managed to find time to participate in the nationally televised series, People in Conflict.

In 1960, during the Women’s Movements, racism and sexism were challenged. Rosemary Brown quickly positioned herself as a Black woman to stand up for those discriminated against such as herself. In 1972, she entered provincial politics as a candidate for the New Democratic Party (NDP) and was a founding member of the Vancouver Status of Women Council (VSWC).

On August 30, 1972, Rosemary Brown made history by being elected to the British Columbia Legislature as the first Black woman, in the riding of Vancouver-Burrard. A few years later, in 1975, she decided to enter the NDP leadership race with a slogan, “Brown is beautiful”. She finished second, behind Ed Broadbent.

Although her political career ended in 1988, this did not mean the end of her fight for the oppressed. She became passionate about national advocacy, specifically the advocacy group, Match International Women’s Funds. After three years as President and CEO of Match International Women’s Funds, Rosemary Brown helped found the Canadian Women’s Foundation. As a result of these accomplishments, in 1993 she was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, a position she held until 1996.


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