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THE COLOURED WOMEN'S CLUB

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The Coloured Women’s Club

The oldest Black women’s organization in Canada, the Coloured Women’s Club of Montreal was founded in 1902, by a group of American women whose husbands worked, as porters.

Montreal, at the turn of the century, was marked with the advent of capitalism and the replication of solidarity groups. These groups were created, in part, to counter the social and negative consequences of industrialisation. They consisted mainly of religion-oriented women from the community and the well-to-do. Black women, themselves living in difficult conditions were excluded from these charity groups. These ladies of colour, who worked as domestics or labourers, were the wives of railroad workers so it was quite natural for that time, that they be left out of these cloistered circles. It was in response to specific needs of their community (St. Antoine district, today called ‘Little Burgundy’) that the Coloured Women’s Club was created. This was to be an organization dedicated to mutual aid and the fighting of poverty and social exclusion.

Over the many decades, these dedicated women have welcomed and helped many Black families in difficulty with such deeds as providing winter clothing for newly arrived families from the Caribbean. With their insight they have responded to the spiritual, material and emotional needs of the community as a whole. With the guidance of their very first President, Anne Greenup, they organized temporary shelters for the soldiers coming back from the Boer War. During that time they took care of the injured, made bandages and organized soup kitchens. It was also at that time of the epidemics in 1902 and 1904 that the Coloured Women’s Club emerged from being a social club to a self-help organization.

In 1907 The Coloured Women’s Club contributed to the inception of the Union United Church (Montreal’s oldest Black Church) and in conjunction with the church has put together scholarships for Black students. These women have done voluntary work in the Montreal area hospitals, counselled unwed mothers and helped the homeless and the unemployed. The C.W. C. has even purchased burial plots at a cemetery so that the needy could be buried with dignity.

The Coloured Women’s Club of Montreal is a beacon in the Black community. Their benevolent and charitable work was recognized in 1997 by the Ministere des Relations avec les Citoyens et de L’Immigration du Quebec. The "Anne Greenup Award" handed out by the Quebec Government was named in honour of the club’s first president. This recognition underlined the exemplary contribution of these women to help to eliminate social and economic ostracism, to fight for the equality and to bridge the gap between all communities and social gatherings. Each year the Quebec Government's awards the Anne Greenup Award - fight against racism citizenship prize to individuals or organizations who are instrumental in building support networks to prevent and combat prejudice, discrimination and intolerance, racism and exclusion based on an individual's skin colour, ethnic or national origin and cultural or religious affiliation., establishing a strong solidarity between generations and reinforcing citizens belief in belonging to the national community.

Social conditions and exisiting programs do not warrant the same sort of need that brought these women together so many years ago, but in keeping with the theme of helping out in the community the club decided to concentrate their focus on education and the raising of funds to help struggling Black students. In 1999, the group of mostly senior citizens, the oldest being 93 years old, compiled and published a cookbook ‘The CWC Millennium Cookbook’ which has sold over 1200 copies to date. This  added much needed capital to their scholarship fund.

The club continues to be instrumental in the dynamic teachings of the Black experience in North America. Since 1999, they have conducted African Canadian/American Heritage Tours to southern Ontario, Nova Scotia and the United States, following the path and visiting sites along the route of the Underground Railroad. These trips have been very insightful and informative and have helped to broaden everyone’s knowledge of the Black Diaspora in Canada.

On June 9th, 2000 the president and the vice-president went to Ottawa, where at Rideau Hall, Governor-General, Adrienne Clarkson opened Canada’s official ‘Centennial Rose Garden’ with its Bench, inscribed in honour of the Montreal Coloured Women’s Club’, founded in 1902. They have been featured in the Montreal Gazette and on Global TV. In 2002, during Black History Month they were awarded the ‘Trailblazers Award’ from the Black History Month Round Table.

As part of their centennial celebrations the club hosted a banquet and ball on September 14th , 2002 at the Omni Hotel and in november of that same year, the President, Mrs. Shirley Gyles was awarded Woman of the Year by the Montreal Council of Women. In 2003 and 2004 as part of their heritage tour, they went to the United States and the Bahamas where at that time they visited as the southern states such as Atlanta Georga, Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery Alabama, Memphis and Nashville Tennessee, and Charleston South Carolina.

Although the club started out with American women, it now boasts and on October 11, 2004 they hosted a dinner and dance in honour of Dr. Oliver Jones.  women from various backgrounds from all parts of the Caribbean, Canada and the U.S. Today, we are a group of nineteen active members.

Some Interesting Facts

  • 1902 Formation of The Women’s Club of Montreal.
  • 1904 Name changed to The Coloured Women’s Club of Montreal.
  • 1907 Helped with the inception of Union United Church.
  • 1908 Organized and supervised clothing depot for immigrants.
  • 1914 Purchased seven burial plots at Mount Royal Cemetery for the needy.
  • 1916 Organized volunteer baby-sitting and home care for mothers.
  • 1925 Inaugurated New Years Day matinee/dance.
  • 1929 Donated Baptismal font to Union United Church.
  • 1933 Operated and maintained beds at Grace Dart Hospital.
  • 1950 Joined The Montreal Council of Women.
  • 1952 Celebrated 50 years of service with an ‘open house’ at Prince Albert Hall featuring the Rainbow Revue.
  • 1973 Organized 160 women from across Canada to attend first Congress of Black Women at Westbury Hotel, Toronto.
  • 1974 Hosted second Congress of Black Women at Sheraton Mount Royal Hotel.
  • 1976 Participated and assisted in third National Congress held in Halifax.
  • 1977 Celebrated 75th Anniversary with banquet/dance featuring the Rainbow Revue.                                                                                                                    Attended fourth National Congress held in Windsor.
  • 1982 Co-hosted revival of matinee/dance at Negro Community Center.
  • 1983 Had racist text book removed from school curriculum.
  • 1988 Supported International Day for elimination of racial discrimination.
  • 1989 Participated annual conference of Congress of Black Women, Halifax.
  • 1990 February 11th held first service for Black History Month at Union United Church.                                                                                                                   Received donation from Quebec Chapter of National Association of Japanese Canadians, recognizing our work in the community.
  • 1991 Helped sponsor luncheon honouring Judge Juanita Westmoreland- Traore.
  • 1993 Honoured by the City of Montreal with $1000. donation. (Given to Reverend Este Scholarship Fund and Negro Community Center.)                                 Received fax machine and scrolls from the Quebec Government, recognizing club as a viable force in the Black community.                                                      Supported fund for sick child in Caribbean.                                                     Contributed part of mosaic quilt for 100th anniversary for The Montreal Council of Women.
  • 1994 Interviewed on CBC morning radio.                                                        Participated in conference for Congress of Black Women, Winnipeg.          Sponsored dinner for seniors of Pioneer Club.                                                    Joined the Montreal Council of Women celebration International Day, prepared and shared foods from our culture.                                                               Contributed to fund to assist family out of Zaire.
  • 1995 First year for new scholarship fund for Black students.                              Black History Month Service now officially part of annual calendar.       Sponsored dinner for Pioneer club of Union United Church.                          Hosted luncheon meeting for The Montreal Council of Women, gave special presentation about The Coloured Women’s Club.                                     Contributed to hurricane disaster victims.
  • 1996 Black History Month Service at Union United Church.                      Sponsored dinner/banquet for Me. Esmeralda Thornhill.
  • 1997 Honoured at Assemble National in Quebec City by Minister Andre Boisclair Ministere des Relations avec les Citoyens et de L’Immigration du Quebec. Citizenship prize named ‘Anne Greenup Solidarity Prize’ named after club’s first president.
  • 1998 Anne Greenup and club given citation acknowledging clubs accomplishments.  Solidarity prize given to Father Jean (dans la rue) - Presented by Premier Lucien Bouchard.
  • 1999 Four club members: Sheila Barrow, Evelyn Braxton, Maisie Dash and Iris Ess honoured by the City of Montreal appeared on Black History Month Calendar. Hosted luncheon Montreal Council of Women.                                           Underground Railroad Bus Tour- Ontario and Detroit.                                 Published Millillenium Cookbook -fund raiser
  • 2000 Featured article in Gazette.                                                                         Attended opening of Rose Garden at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, bench engraved in recognition of Anne Packwood and the Coloured Women’s Club.      Underground Railroad Bus Tour- Ontario and Detroit.
  • 2001 African/Canadian Bus Tour Halifax, Cape Breton, P.E.I.
  • 2002 Seven senior members: Blanche Baird, Evelyn Braxton, Thryphenia Collins, Maisie Dash, Doris Haynes, Sylvia Warner and Ernesta Wharton given long time service certificate from Union United Church.                                                 Awarded Trailblazer Award from The Black History Month Round Table Canadian American Heritage Tour, New York, Boston, Niagara Falls.        Featured Global TV with article and year-long running commercial.            President awarded Woman of the Year by the Montreal Council of Women.
  • 2003 Hosted Tribute (Dinner and Dance) for Dr. Oliver Jones.                       Heritage tour to southern United States and the Bahamas
  • 2004 Civil Rights Heritage Tour

Copyright  2005 The Coloured Women's Club (Quebec)-Updated March 15, 2005

sagyles@sympatico.ca

sagyles@sympatico.ca