150+Canadians Day 84: Rosemary Brown

Image: Rosemary Brown, 1990 (Barbara Woodley/Labatt Breweries of Canada/National Archives of Canada/PA-186871)

Rosemary Brown, MPP contributed to peace through her advocacy work for the black community and women everywhere. #Canada150

Rosemary Brown (d. April 26, 2003) has the distinction of being Canada’s first Black female member of a provincial legislature and the first woman to run for leadership of a federal political party.

Brown was born in Jamaica to a politically minded family. She immigrated to Canada in 1951 to pursue post-secondary studies in social work at McGill University (BA) and the University of British Columbia (Masters of Social Work). Following graduation, Brown became involved with the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and Voice of Women. She also worked briefly with the Children’s Aid Society and as a counsellor at Simon Fraser University.

During the turbulence of the 1960s Brown found renewed purpose in her role as a political advocate against both racism and sexism. She brought that level of awareness to her role as Ombudswoman and founding member of the Vancouver Status of Women Council (VSW). In 1972 Brown entered provincial politics as a New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate, becoming the first Black woman to sit in the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.

During her 14 years as MLA, Brown created a committee to remove sexism in British Columbia’s educational material and was instrumental in the formation of the Berger Commission on the Family.

Brown retired from the provincial legislature in 1988 and turned her attention to international advocacy. She became the CEO of the advocacy group MATCH International Women’s Fund, serving for three years and holding additional positions thereafter. In 1993, Brown was named chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, a position she held until 1996, all the while continuing her work with MATCH.

In recognition of her exceptional life of public service, Brown was awarded numerous national and international distinctions, including a total of 15 honorary doctorates from Canadian universities, the Order of British Columbia (1995), the Order of Canada (Officer, 1996), and in 1973 the United Nations’ Human Rights Fellowship.

“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…We must open the doors and we must see to it they remain open, so that others can pass through.”

Got a name in mind? Contribute to the list! Send us your suggested names on the Contact Us page.

Want to get 150+ Canadians straight to your inbox? Subscribe here.