CBWC | Ontario Region

CBWC History


We pay tribute to a proud history dating back to the Canadian Negro Women’s Association (CANEWA) which was founded in 1951 by a small group of Black women in Toronto. In recognition of the importance of cultural and racial pride to Black people, CANEWA’s goal was to expand Black consciousness in Canada and beyond. The Calypso Carnival, the brainchild of CANEWA, and a fore-runner to Caribana and the current Caribbean Carnival celebrated in Toronto, was one of the first public celebrations highlighting Black and Caribbean culture.

CANEWA also focused on providing scholarships to young Black students. As early as 1951, a program was implemented to award scholarships. It was Kay Livingstone, a founding member of CANEWA who inspired the other pioneers to participate in the scholarship-awarding venture. Their objective was two-fold: To keep Black students in school and to equip Black people with the tools necessary to pursue equality.

Kay Livingstone

Kathleen Livingstone was the first president of CANEWA. In recognition of the significance of self respect and self esteem to Black people, CANEWA’s chief goal was to expand Black consciousness in Canada and beyond. CANEWA’s members hosted and participated in various events that impacted the Black community. One which continued throughout the group’s existence, was the provision of scholarships to deserving Black students.

The Calypso Carnival, the brainchild of CANEWA–and a fore-runner to Caribana–was one of the first public celebrations highlighting Black and Caribbean culture. Other events included: The First Negro History Week (1958), which later grew into Black History Month; the 1962 Martin Luther King’s Speech at Holy Blossom Temple, Bathurst Street; Coretta Scott King’s performance at Massey Hall; the 1994 Picketing/Protesting outside Maple Gardens, against Alabama’s Governor George Wallace’s speech. CANEWA’s members also engaged in registering their objections to press reports that dared to portray Black people in a negative light.

Kathleen Livingstone organized CANEWA’s most public success, the first National Congress of Black Women, which was held in Toronto from April 6 to 8, 1973. The event brought together 200 women from across Canada. Workshops were held on subjects such as education, single parents, and senior citizens, and resolutions on many subjects were passed. The Congress inspired delegates to maintain close ties with each other, leading to further conventions at Montreal in 1974, Halifax in 1976, Windsor in 1978, and Winnipeg in 1980 when the organization became the Congress of Black Women of Canada.

Through her political activities and participation in a wide range of advocacy and volunteer organizations, Kay Livingstone worked tirelessly to break down prejudice and to promote the equality of individuals of diverse origins, contributing to the development of a more tolerant society. Among Kay’s notable accomplishments were interests in Women’s issues, racial issues, music, horseback riding and devotion to raising a family. Kay was well loved and respected by individuals from all walks of life.

She served as president of the United Nations Associations, as regional chair of the National Black Coalition, as a moderator for Heritage Ontario and as a member of the Appeal Board of Legal Aid. Mrs. Livingstone is credited with first using the term “visibility minority”. In 1975 she was working as a consultant for the Canadian Privy Council, helping to organize a national conference for visible minority women. Kathleen Livingstone died at a very early age in 1975.

In March 2011, the Historical Sites and Monument Board of Canada designated Mrs. Kathleen Livingstone a person of National Historical Significance. On September 24, 2017 a plaque in recognition of that status was unveiled at a library in Toronto. This plaque was installed at the Bedford Parkette in North York where Mrs. Livingstone and her family last resided.

Picture: Parks Canada

Historical Header

The Congress of Black Women of Canada evolved from the Canadian Negro Women’s Association (CANEWA) which was founded in 1951 by a small group of Black women in Toronto.

Under the sponsorship of the CANEWA, the Congress of Black Women of Canada (CBWC) first met in Toronto in 1973 at the Westbury Hotel. This first meeting was chaired by the President of CANEWA Mrs. Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone. This was the first time in history that Black women (African, West Indian, African-Americans) from across Canada met to discuss issues of relevance to Canadian Black women.

As a result of the common concerns highlighted in the discussions, the idea of a national organization for Black Women was born. A subsequent conference was held in Montreal in 1974. In 1976, a conference was held in Halifax where delegates passed a resolution to set up a national organization. In 1977, Windsor, Ontario was the venue for the meeting at which a motion was adopted to set up a National Steering Committee. At the conclusion of the fifth National Congress of Black Women in Winnipeg (1980), delegates launched the Congress of Black Women of Canada (CBWC).

Kay Livingstone’s message on opening the first Congress Meeting

“Black Women have, over the past 300 years, made a viable contribution to the grown and prosperity of this country. The knowledge, the courage, the unshakeable faith and determination of these women, our pioneers, has been the bulwark of the development of our life style.

These characteristics are strongly evidences in the overwhelming response to the call to the “Congress”, to engage in an exchange of ideas, a communication of points of view and to undertake the serious consideration of issues vital to the Black community.

On behalf of the Canadian Negro Women’s Association Inc. I extend to all a very sincere “welcome” and express our hope that each of you will be an active participant. The success of the Congress can only be measure by the input of the delegates.”

Historical Header and Kay Livingstone’s Message

Source – Kathy Grant

The Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone Award

This award is given in recognition of a Black woman who exemplifies the qualities of Kay Livingstone; in particular, her belief in Black women, her commitment to serving the Black community, volunteerism within the wider community, commitment to the philosophy of the Congress of Black Woman of Canada, and her vision of unity among Black Women across Canada. The first award was granted to the Hon Jean Augustine in 1987. 

Background on the design of the Award

The triangle represents the past, the present and the future success of Black Women in Canada. 
Each side of the triangle, complete in itself, yet together forming one connected whole.

The two traditional styled heads represents the wisdom of Black Women in Canada. 
We honour the wisdom of all Black women and their contribution to this great country.

The circle of success represents the honoured woman who has travelled the same path as Kay Livingstone and contributed in her own unique way. 
Black Women, we recognize your accomplishment, and we thank you as a community.

Image designed by artist, Donna-Lee Bolden-Kerr, Oakville, Ontario