Celebrating Black History Month – Beverley Salmon

Written by Brian Omran, Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections practicum student

The Clara Thomas Archives holds a number of fonds that document the lives of Black Canadians. In this last week of Black History Month, we’re highlighting the work of Toronto politician and activist Beverley Salmon.

Beverley Noel Salmon was born in Toronto in the 1930s to a Jamaican father, Herbert McLean Bell Sr., and a Canadian mother, Violet Bryan. In the early 1950s, she trained in nursing at Wellesley Hospital and received her public health nurse certification in 1954 from the University of Toronto. She began her nursing career in earnest in 1956 in Detroit. During this period, she became involved with the civil rights movement, and this experience inspired her to continue her work as an activist when she returned to Toronto in the 1960s.

Salmon sought to improve race relations through her involvement with anti-racism training and initiatives, first as co-founder of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations and later as co-founder of the Black Educators Working Group. In 1985, she became Toronto’s first Black female city councillor, representing North York until her retirement from municipal politics in 1997. She was also the first Black woman to serve as an Ontario Human Rights Commissioner. Salmon worked with the Race Relations Committee for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, served on the Toronto Transit Commission Board from 1989 to 1994, and was a member of the Ontario Status of Women Council and a board member of the Obsidian Theatre Company (the Obsidian Theatre Company’s archives are also housed here at the Clara Thomas Archives).

For her lifetime of civil rights activism and public service, Salmon received many awards and honours over the years, including the African Canadian Achievement Award for Excellence in Politics (1995), Federation of Canadian Municipalities Roll of Honour recipient (1999), the Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), the Order of Ontario (2016), and the Order of Canada (2017).

The Beverley Salmon fonds here at the Clara Thomas Archives contains information about her work as an activist and politician, including records pertaining to her role as North York and Metro Toronto councillor and her work with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Records include correspondence, meeting materials, reports, conference materials, and newspaper clippings. These records document Salmon’s commitment as an activist and public servant as well as her contributions to the anti-racism movement in Toronto and beyond.

More about Beverley Salmon:

CityTV Black History Month profile on Beverley Salmon

David V.J. Bell on trip to family homestead in Jamaica [article]

Beverley Salmon’s appointment to the Order of Canada by Ron Fanfair [article]

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