Black Canadians in the Health & Human Services

BHM Health and Human Services

Throughout the month of February we will be celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of Black Canadians as they relate to the schools at Assiniboine, this week we did some research on Black Canadians in the Health & Human Services.

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).

Want to learn more about Anne Cools?

  • 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 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 (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 became Canada’s first Black police chief in 2012 after serving the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) since 1987. During his time with the WPS, he served in many areas of the organization, progressing through the ranks until he was the first black Canadian to be appointed as a Chief of Police, a role he held from 2012 until his retirement in 2016. Clunis's leadership philosophy is "people first" and he consistently sought to create a healthy work environment for those he was privileged to lead. During his tenure as Chief, Clunis understood the need to do things differently and to challenge organizational norms with a strong focus on community policing and cross-cultural integration. In addition to serving in numerous volunteer roles over the years, Clunis was a member of the Poverty Reduction Council of Winnipeg and participated in mentorship programs. He was a recipient of the Police Service's Award of Excellence in 2002 for his outstanding police and community work. Clunis continues to serve as a member of the board of directors of the Canadian Police Knowledge Network.

Even in retirement, Clunis continues to serve the community in different ways. In 2017 Devon and his wife, Pearlene, started Clunis Consulting Group, an organization which strives to build a culturally diverse and inclusive society. On February 7, 2017, Clunis was awarded the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the Advancement of Interreligious Understanding by the Lieutenant Governor. A multi-skilled team, Clunis and his wife have authored two children’s books, “The Little Boy from Jamaica: A Canadian History Story” and “The Little Girl from Osoyoos”. Assiniboine awarded an honorary diploma to Clunis in 2020, an award which recognises an individual which demonstrate high standards of excellence in their personal and professional achievements and whose involvement in the community is widely recognized. 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.

Don't forget about our Library's Black History Month Library Guide and book display!


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.