From the archives: The Coloured Women’s Club of Montreal (Herstory 2007)

Coloured Women's Club

Coloured Women’s Club, via Some Missing Pages: The Black Community in the History of Quebec and Canada, unit 6.

As the Boer War ended, industrialization was intensifying in Montreal – also the social ills it brought with it. Charities, usually women either religious or well-to-do, arose to addres society’s new needs; Black women, genearlly excluded from these, formed their own, its mandate “mutual aid and the fighting of poverty and social exclusion.”1,2 The Coloured Women’s Club of Montreal (CWC), founded formally in 1902, has become a self-help organization bringing together Black women from around the world.

The club has cared for the material, emotional and spiritual needs of its community, providing for immigrants, counseling unwed mothers, helping the homeless and unemployed, volunteering in hospitals, even purchasing a burial plot. Throughout the Depression the club ran soup kitchens, “assisting Black people in Montreal in every way it could.”3

In 1907 the CWC helped form the Union United Church (the oldest Black congregation in Montreal) and began establishing scholarships for Black students in conjunction with the Church and the Negro Community Centre. Books furnished over the years to the Centre’s Black Studies Library have aided Black youth to learn about and take pride in their heritage.

In the 1970s CWC members attended national congresses with the goal of establishing a permanent national body to address the welfare of Black women and to provide a network of solidarity.

Over the CWC’s lifetime, community needs have changed and the club’s mandate has a renewed focus: education and fundraising for it through such projects as the CWC Millenium Cookbook. Raising consciousness of Black history and culture includes tours to sites along the path of the Underground Railroad and to places of significance in Canada and the US.

In 1997 Quebec recognized the Club’s work by the Anne Greenup Solidarity Prize, named for the CWC’s first president, to be awarded annually to groups or individuals “instrumental in building support networks, establishing a strong solidarity between generations and reinforcing citizens’ belief in belonging to the national community.”4

A bench in Canada’s official “Centennial Rose Garden” in Ottawa bears the club’s name. Montreal selected Shirley Gyles, club president, as one of its two Woman of the Year recipients in 2002.

Sources:
Thanks to Carrie Schmidt and Mary Houde, McGill University Archives, and Shirley Gyles, Montreal, for assistance.
Braithwaite, Rella (comp., ed.). The Black Woman in Canada. Drawings by Edna St. Rose. [Ottawa]: Contract Publications, 1976.
“The Coloured Women’s Club: The next 100 years.” Coloured Women’s Club web site: http://colouredwomensclub.tripod.com/index.html
Some Missing Pages: The Black Community in the History of Quebec and Canada. Unit 6: “Life between the wars: New sources of strength and awareness: The Coloured Women’s Club of Montreal.” A joint project of the Quebec Board of Black Educators, the Provincial Association of Social Studies Teachers and the Minstere de l’Education. Quebec, 1977?
1. “Coloured Women’s Club….”
2. The original spelling of the club’s name was “colored.”
3. Braithwaite, 59.
4. “Coloured Women’s Club….”

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