Jul 14, 2021
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Rosemary-Brown-Black-and-White-Image-Rosemary-Sitting-on-ChairRosemary Brown was, in today’s terms, a ‘changemaker’, a leader in the true sense of the word, someone who cared deeply about social justice and acted on it. As a Black woman who began her public career the 1960s, she pushed back against sexism, racism and stereotypes at every step.

During her career, Brown was known for several insightful quotes, including: “We must open the doors and we must see to it they remain open, so that others can pass through.” The one I find particularly compelling is: “Until all of us have made it, none of us have made it.” Sadly, the last year has brought into sharp relief how relevant her wisdom remains.

As a university student, Brown experienced discrimination in housing and employment. After her graduation, she became an advocate against racism and sexism in these areas and beyond, initially through her involvement in the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and the Voice of Women. She was also a founding member of the Vancouver Status of Women Council.

Brown went on to international work, leading the MATCH International Women's Fund. She also served as Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission from 1993-1996. In 1972 when she was elected to the British Columbia legislature, she was the first Black woman to be elected to a provincial legislature in Canada. This was almost 50 years ago.  

In 1975, she ran for the NDP’s federal leadership position and came a close second to Ed Broadbent, using the slogan “Brown is Beautiful”. Outspoken and dedicated, she remained in provincial politics until 1988 when she retired and became a professor of Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University.

Her awards are many, including the Order of Canada. She died in 2003, leaving a legacy of activism that contributed to significant progress and left us with guidance for the continuing struggle to end discrimination.

For more on Rosemary Brown, see:

Brown, Rosemary.  Being Brown: A Very Public Life, (1989: Random House of Canada)

Special thanks to Cynthia Crysler for her assistance in preparing this feature.

About this feature: The Cavalluzzo LLP features series, Reflections: Labour, Human and Civil Rights, highlights some of the leaders, events, and milestones that are historical underpinnings to the current landscape of Canadian human rights and labour rights. Reflections may reference abhorrent historical realities: as we bear witness to those, we also recognize with gratitude the courage and commitment of the changemakers who continue to inspire strides in social justice. Each instalment in this series has been authored or contributed to by Cavalluzzo LLP staff, articling students or lawyers. 

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