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In honour of Black History Month last week at IRCOM, we would like to introduce you to George Ivan Henry Atwell. 

He was born in Winnipeg on August 14, 1959, and was the son of Gerry Atwell (1925-2017) and Frances Helen Brown (1923-2015). 


Gerry Atwell was the student council president in his last year at high school in St. Norbert. He was also active in the Navy League and Sea Cadets, playing trumpet in their marching bands. He was widely known for his on-stage performances as a keyboard player and vocalist with bands such as Eagle and Hawk, Ministers of Cool, Rockalypso, the Boogie Nights band, and Voice of Boom. In 2002, he won a Juno Award with Eagle and Hawk.


Gerry Atwell served as the President and Artistic Director of the St. Norbert Arts Centre. He was also a Musical Director for Sarasvati Theatre and Rainbow Stage. Moreover, he was a writer for theatre, television, radio, and film, with such works as The Hands of Ida (1995), Soul on Ice (1996), The Last Stop (2001-2002), Life of the Party (2002), Barbara James (2003), Hotel Babylon (2005), New Beginnings (2018), and the CBC radio drama Soul Games. 

Unfortunately, Gerry Atwell died of a heart attack in Winnipeg on November 23, 2019. However, his legacy lives on through the Gerry Atwell Memorial Mentorship Fund.

This article came from Gordon Goldsborough at Manitoba Historical Society https://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/people/atwell_g.shtml
Today, in honour of Black History Month at IRCOM, we would like to introduce you to Violet King who was born on October 18th, 1929, in Calgary, Alberta. She was a descendant of black settlers from the USA who moved to Alberta from Oklahoma. Violet grew up in Calgary with her working-class parents and three siblings. From a young age, Violet knew she wanted to be a lawyer. She had seen the unequal treatment of people of colour and experienced racism firsthand. In 1948, Violet attended the University of Alberta where she was one of three women in the Faculty of Law. She was the only woman in her graduating class (1953) and the first black person to graduate from Law school in Alberta. She completed her articling at Edward J. McCormick law firm where she worked on 5 murder trials. In 1954, Violet was called to the Bar, officially becoming the first black female lawyer in Canada. 


In a speech delivered at a Calgary University sorority in 1955, Violet stated: “It is too bad that a Japanese, Chinese or coloured girl has to outshine others to secure a position.” She expressed hope that future generations would focus on a person’s ability and less on one’s race or gender. After some years, Violet changed her lawyer status to non-practicing and decided to take on a different role as an executive assistant at Canadian Citizenship and Immigration. In 1963, she moved to New Jersey and became the executive director of the YMCA’s community branch, where her primary role was to assist black applicants with employment opportunities. In 1976, Violet was appointed executive director of the National Council, YMCA’s Organizational Development Group. This made her the first woman to hold an executive position in a national organization.

Source: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/violet-king
Happy Louis Riel Day! 🎉 Today, we honour the legacy of a visionary leader who fought for the rights and recognition of the Métis people. Let’s remember his courage, resilience, and dedication to justice as we strive for a more inclusive and equitable future. Please note that IRCOM is closed today in observance of this stat holiday.
Love knows no boundaries, just like IRCOM’s commitment to building a community of belonging. 💖 From humble beginnings to empowering newcomer families, we have been on a journey of growth and solidarity. This Valentine’s Day let’s celebrate the love, hope, and resilience that unite us all. #IRCOM #CommunityLove #valentinesday
Today, in honour of Black History Month at IRCOM, we would like to talk about Dionne Brand who was born in Guayaguayare, Trinidad and Tobago in 1953. In 1970, she moved to Ontario to pursue her education. Brand received a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy from the University of Toronto, followed by a Master’s degree from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Throughout her life, Brand has excelled in numerous fields, including poetry, teaching, activism, essay writing, documentary filmmaking, and novel writing. Her work often addresses issues of sexism, racism, unfair labor practices, and stigmas related to sexuality. Brand’s written work has earned her numerous awards, including the Order of Canada and Fellowship of the Royal Society of Canada. She has also served on the board of the Shirley Samaroo House, providing support to immigrant women in Toronto, and has been an advisor to the Toronto Immigrant Women’s Centre. Additionally, Brand was the chair of the Women’s Issues Committee of the Ontario Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. As part of the Black Women’s Collective in Toronto, Brand co-founded “Our Lives”, Canada’s first black women’s newspaper, and was involved in the Women’s Coalition Against Racism and Police Violence. Many of the issues that Brand writes about and advocates for are still relevant and significant in Canada today, and she has been shedding light on these vital topics for decades.

Today, in honour of Black History Month at IRCOM, we would like to introduce you to Mary Ann Shadd, a notable black Canadian figure.
She was the first Black female newspaper publisher in Canada and was known as an educator, publisher, and abolitionist. Mary Ann Shadd was born on October 9, 1823, in Wilmington, Delaware, and passed away on June 5, 1893, in Washington, DC.

Mary Ann was an activist for various causes such as abolition of slavery, temperance, and education. She became a women’s suffragist and advocated for women’s rights. She played a significant role in giving Black people a voice and advocating for women’s rights. Mary Ann also spoke about these issues on lecture tours and promoted them in her newspaper, The Provincial Freeman.

Not only was she a newspaper publisher, but she was also a teacher who established a racially integrated school for Black refugees in Windsor, Canada West. She wrote educational pamphlets promoting settlement in Canada, one of which was A Plea for Emigration; or Notes of Canada West, written in 1852.

After her time in Canada, Mary returned to the United States, where she became a recruitment agent for the Union Army during the Civil War. She also pursued a law degree at Howard University and became one of the first Black women to complete a law degree in 1883, becoming a civil rights lawyer. Among her other accomplishments, she was the first Black woman to vote in a national election. In 1994, Shadd was designated a Person of National Historic Significance in Canada.

Sources: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/mary-ann-shadd and https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/black-history-month/black-canadians.html