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Throughout the month of February we will be celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of Black Canadians as they relate to the schools at Assiniboine.

Black Canadians in the Trades

Joseph Thompson

Joseph Thompson, founder and CEO of Tommy’s Welding Ltd. in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and notably the uncle of Assiniboine’s School of Business Chair, Rennais Gayle, got his start in Manitoba as a journeyman welder who worked extensively with the pipefitter unions throughout the province. In 1979, Tommy began working for himself. In his black GMC truck, with his welding machine, Tommy started talking to companies to find work. It took Thompson six months to earn enough funds to add another truck to his operation. In 2019, Tommy’s Welding Ltd. celebrated 40 years of quality work including some of the largest construction jobs in Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan (Tommy's Welding Ltd., 2019).


Elijah McCoy

Elijah McCoy was an African-Canadian mechanical engineer who revolutionized industrial lubrication. Black and white portrait photograph of Black Canadian Elijah McCoyThroughout his career, McCoy registered over 50 patents for his inventions. Prior to his innovative discoveries, McCoy worked as a locomotive fireman, manually lubricating mechanisms on the steam-powered engines. On July 23, 1872, McCoy filed his first ever patent for his “oil-drip cup,” an automatic mechanism that distributed lubricant through a spigot. Other inventions for both locomotive and ship engines significantly influenced the efficiency of the transport industry (Block, 2019).



Lee Williams

Lee Williams dedicated his time as Chairperson of Winnipeg Local 130 to the reformation of discriminatory clauses in the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway Transport and General Workers (CBRT) collective agreement. Prior to 1964, two groups of employees existed: black men who were almost solely employed as sleeping car porters meaning they held subservient, low-wage, and low-status positions and white men in the higher paying positions. Under Canada’s Fair Employment Practices (FEP) Act, in July of 1963, Williams successfully filed an official discrimination complaint that resulted in the amalgamation of the two groups. By 1964, black employees became eligible for promotions and to work in occupations other than sleep portering (Calliste, 1995). A short documentary, “Sleeping car porters and black immigration to Manitoba”, produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in 2000, showcases Williams and the plight of many black immigrants to the Canadian prairies.

We’ll share more mini biographies throughout the month! In the meantime, don’t forget to stop by the Library and check out their book display for Black History Month. You can also visit the Black History Month Library Guide.



Block, N. (2019). Elijah McCoy. In The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Calliste, A. (1995). The Struggle for Employment Equity by Blacks on American and Canadian Railroads. Journal of Black Studies, 25(3), 297-317.

Tommy’s Welding Ltd. (2019). Our History.

Photo credit: Canadian Encyclopedia

Black Canadians in Health & Human Services

Senator Anne C. Cools

Anne Cools contributed to Canada’s rich history in a number of social service capacities and ended her career as a senator after serving for more than three decades; Cools was the first Black Canadian to be named to the Senate. Cools was an active member of the National Parole Board of Canada and the founder of Women in Transition, one of the first domestic violence shelters in Canada for women. As a young post-secondary student at Sir George Williams University in Montreal in 1969, Cools co-lead a group of 200+ students in a peaceful occupation of the university’s computer lab. The protest spurred when allegations of a professor’s racism toward Black students were discounted as being absurd. After 14 days and the breakdown of negotiations, university administration called in the Montreal riot police to forcibly remove the students from the computer lab. Cools was one of 38 Black students arrested and imprisoned; she spent four months in prison for her role in the Sir George Williams Affair. In 1981, Cools was pardoned of these offences. Following the Sir George Williams Affair, many organizations formed to advocate for the rights of Black Canadians in Montreal (Hawthorn, 2021; Lambert, M., 2016).  

The Canadian Encyclopedia has a short video profile of Senator Anne C. Cools.

You can watch the feature film, Ninth Floor, that premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival through the National Film Board of Canada. Contact the Library for more extensive access to the NFB’s streaming service.


Dr. June Marion James

Dr. June Marion James was the first Black woman admitted to the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Manitoba. After achieving her M.D. in 1967, Dr. James completed Specialist Certificates in Paediatric and in Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Throughout her career, Dr. James has served as the president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, assisted in founding Manitoba’s Family Allergy Program, and contributed to over 20 boards and committees. She is most proud of her involvement in the founding of the Harambee Housing Co-op, an affordable, market-driven housing unit for a diverse population (100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women, 2018; Manitoba Status of Women; 2021).


Mattie Mayes

Mattie Mayes (born Martha Jane Warner) immigrated from Oklahoma to Saskatchewan in April of 1910. Revered for her midwifery skills, Mayes is often referred to as “the matriarch – the mother of that part [Maidstone] of Saskatchewan” (Mayes-Stringer as cited in Vocke, 2021). Mayes had a keen knowledge of medicinal herbs and is fondly recalled as a woman of wisdom despite having very basic formal education. When doctors were unavailable, Mayes often walked considerable distances to deliver babies in her community (Saskatchewan African Canadian Heritage Museum Inc., 2021; Vocke, 2021).


Devon Clunis

Devon Clunis became Canada’s first Black police chief in 2012 after serving the Winnipeg Police Service since 1987. On the day of his retirement, Clunis ate his first doughnut since becoming a member of the police force! In 2020, Clunis began a new role as Ontario’s first Inspector General of Policing. A champion of the belief that one person can make a difference, Clunis is a member of the Speakers Bureau of Canada (CBC News, 2016; DePatie, 2020; Speakers Bureau of Canada, 2021).

CBC has a short radio clip of Clunis discussing life growing up in Winnipeg’s North End and a brief video of Clunis eating that doughnut!



100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women. (2018). Dr. June M. James.

CBC News. (7 July, 2016). Police Chief Devon Clunis celebrates last day with 1st doughnut. CBC.

DePatie, M. (3 October, 2020). Former Winnipeg police chief Decon Clunis named to new role in Ontario. CTVNews.

Hawthorn, T. (2021). Anne Cools. In The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Lambert, M. (2016) Sir George Williams Affair. In The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Manitoba Status of Women. (2008). Dr. June Marion James. Taking the Lead: Women Who Have Made a Difference in Manitoba.

Saskatchewan African Canadian Heritage Museum Inc. (2021). Mattie Mayes.

Speakers Bureau of Canada. (2021). Devon Clunis.

Vocke, M. (2 February, 2021). Black History Month: Saskatchewan’s Mattie Mayes leaves impact decades after her life. GlobalNews.

Black Canadian Contributions in Agriculture & Culinary Arts

Tony Payne

Tony Payne is the man responsible for the first rural Black settlement in Alberta. Junkins, Alberta, known as Wildwood after 1928, is 139km west of Edmonton. Payne, and many others, left Oklahoma after Jim Crow law came into effect in 1907. Despite the racist sanctions placed on Black immigrants by the Canadian government, Payne led a group of 20 Black settlers, including his siblings, to build homes in the Junkins area. With only a shovel to break the ground, folks in Junkins attempted to grow wheat, barley, oats, and peas. The group of Black settlers recognized the need for a place of worship and so built a small church; when the first pastor left the area, Payne took over preaching the service every Sunday (Bailey and Soda Films, 2018; Winks, R.W., 1997).

The feature length film, We Are the Roots: Black Settlers and their Experiences of Discrimination on the Canadian Prairies, provides a rich recollection of Tony Payne’s life and the lives of many others like him who settled in Alberta. Dr. David Este collaborated to write, direct, and produce this film.


Mildred Lewis

Mildred Lewis Ware helped her more-recognized husband, John Ware, run their ranches – first with 200 head of cattle and later with 1000 head – in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Alberta. Lewis Ware was the bookkeeper for the ranch and the family educator, teaching her family to read and write. Born in Toronto in 1871, Lewis Ware lived a short but full life before succumbing to pneumonia in 1905. In the 1950s, the Brooks Kinsmen Club relocated the weather-worn Ware family cabin – where Mildred and John spent the last five years of their lives, to Dinosaur Provincial Park. Parks Canada began restoring the cabin in 1998 by separating the logs and leaving them to dry and shrink for one year. The logs were then chinked (filling the space between the logs) and the Ware cabin was completed and equipped with interactive displays. Dinosaur Provincial Park is located 48km northeast of Brooks, Alberta and 18km from the village of Patricia (Collections Canada, 2001; Alberta Parks, 2017).


Leticia Deawuo

Leticia Deawuo is the Director of the Black Creek Community Farm in the Jane-Finch Community of Toronto. Deawuo is also the founder of Black Creek Food Justice Network, a member of the Toronto Food Policy Council, and chair of SeedChange (USC Canada previously). In 2018, Deawuo and Black Creek Community Farm were given the Canada Community Food Hero Award from the Arrell Institute. Deawuo is known for her ability to bring people together for social and economic justice, including food security and food justice in one of Toronto’s most heavily populated and impoverished communities, Jane-Finch (Deawuo, n.d.)


Rob Rainford

Rob Rainford is a Jamaican-born, Canadian chef, author, and former television host. License to Grill aired on the Food Network Canada, Discovery Home (in the United States), and Asian Food Channel (across Asia). The five-season series is now hosted on Gusto Worldwide Media. Rainford received his culinary training from George Brown College in Toronto. In his book, Rob Rainford’s Born to Grill (2012), Rainford reveals The Rainford Method, his signature style, along with 100 plus recipes and 20 international menus, that can be prepared on a typical charcoal or gas barbeque (Gusto Worldwide Media, 2021; Penguin Random House Canada, 2021).

Take a look at, and even try, out some of Rainford’s recipes!



Alberta Parks. (2017). John Ware.

Bailey and Soda Films. (2018). We Are the Roots: Black Settlers and their Experiences of Discrimination on the Canadian Prairies [Video]. Vimeo. Retrieved 23 February, 2021,

Collections Canada. (2001). Mildred Lewis Ware, 1871-1905.

Deawuo, L. (n.d.) Leticia Deawuo. Linkedin. Retrieved 23 February, 2021,

Gusto Worldwide Media. (2021). rob rainford.

Penguin Random House Canada. (2021). Rob Rainford.

Penguin Random House Canada. (2021). Rob Rainford’s Born to Grill.

Winks, R.W. (1997). The Blacks in Canada: A History (2nd edition) [eBook edition]. McGill-Queen’s UP.