The first part of Jean Augustine’s life in Grenada arguably set the tone for establishing her amazing legacy. Her encouraging grandmother instilled in her “that through education, you can get yourself into places and into a lifestyle and, financially, not only helping yourself, but helping the rest of the family”.
When she immigrated to Canada in 1960 through the Canada-Caribbean Domestic Program, Augustine worked as a nanny, but attended Toronto Teachers’ College and earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto. She then earned her Master’s of Education while working as an elementary teacher on the Metropolitan Separate School Board, eventually becoming Principal, then Supervisory Officer.
Some of her many notable achievements in her career were developing and launching the official multiculturalism policy in Canada, and achieving further legislation to protect disadvantaged, low-income individuals. She also helped pass historical motions that designated February as Black History Month in Canada and erected the only statue on Parliament Hill—the Famous Five Monument—to feature women.
She sat on boards at York University, The Hospital for Sick Children, Stephen Lewis Foundation, and Harbourfront Corporation; served as National President of the Congress of Black Women of Canada; chaired the Metro Toronto Housing Authority; and became the first African-Canadian woman elected to Canada’s House of Commons as a Member of Parliament. Her incredible political career included Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Minister of Multiculturalism and the Status of Women, as well as Chair of the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee, the Human Rights Committee, and the National Women’s Caucus, then Deputy Speaker.
Over the years, Augustine has earned the YWCA Woman of Distinction, Rubena Willis Special Recognition, UNIFOR Nelson Mandela Lifetime Achievement, and University of the West Indies’ Luminary awards (among others), and was named one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network. She also received honorary doctorate degrees from the Universities of Toronto, York, McGill, Guelph, Windsor, Trent and Ryerson. Further, she is a Senior Fellow at Massey College and a Fellow of Centennial College.
Augustine was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 2009, received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2014, and appointed to the Order of Ontario in 2020. Although she professionally retired in 2015, she continues working through the Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment. She also co-chairs the 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women recognition and database, and the Jean Augustine Centre for Young Women’s Empowerment. She also funds annual scholarships for single mothers and young entrepreneurs at George Brown and Centennial College, respectively, and for students in the community studies program at Humber College.
In her personal life, she raised two daughters as a single mother and later became a grandmother of two grandsons. She has inspirationally noted, “My whole career has been such that I try to make it possible that others could walk along something that I would say I mowed and paved the way for.”
Robyn Karmazyn | Contributing Writer
Photo Credit: The Honourable Jean Augustine Official http://www.jeanaugustine.ca/