HerStory campaign celebrates Toronto’s inspirational women

HerStory celebrates women who helped shape the city of Toronto. Faiza Amin shares some of the untold stories of those who have paved the way.

By Faiza Amin

A city-wide campaign is paying tribute to women who have helped shape the City of Toronto.

The HerStory campaign celebrates inspiring women “who have woven together a more equitable future for us all.”

The portraits and stories of the five women aren’t only online, but can also be seen on vacant storefronts along Toronto’s iconic Yonge Street.

“This did not happen overnight and this was built on the backs of all the early people and especially women who really didn’t have a voice, even going into the seventies,” said Arlene Chan.

“These are untold stories that are being brought to the forefront.”

Chan’s mother, Jean Lumb, is the first Chinese-Canadian woman and restaurateur inducted to the Order of Canada. Chan tells CityNews her mother, who was the owner of Kwong Chow Restaurant with her husband, was passionate about advocating for the removal of immigration restrictions.

Lumb also made history working in a number of critical roles, including serving on the boards of Women’s College Hospital, Mt.Sinai Hospital and the University Settlement House.

“She was a woman, she was Chinese-Canadian, and for her time in the 50s and 60s, there was not a voice for the Chinese community and so many other underrepresented groups that are in the city and across Canada,” Chan said.

Mural describing Jean Lumb, part of the HerStory campaign. CITYNEWS/Walter Korolewych

The campaign refers to E. Pauline Johnston – also known by her Mohawk name Tekahionwake – as an unbridled spirit who “challenged dominant ideas about race, gender, and Indigenous rights in Canada.”

Born in 1823, Mary Ann Shadd Cary was a voice for progress, and “devoted her life to fighting sexism within the abolitionist movement, and racism within the feminist movement.”

Verna Patronella Johnston was known as the unconventional fighter because of her fight for equity.

“Her houses – first on Blythwood Road, then McGill Street and later on The Danforth – provided sanctuary for many Indigenous youth who sought community and support in the city,” according the campaign biography of the Anishnabe author.

Salome Bey, described as an unparalleled talent, is known as Canada’s first lady of jazz and blues. She’s an award winning, Grammy nominated singer, songwriter and actor.

“Her work supported a lot of young Black artists,” said Cheryll Diego, with the Downtown Yonge BIA. “We wanted to have a representation of women, that’s also how we see women today.”

Chan, a proud Torontonian and China Town historian, is hoping Canadians will help elevate these stories, saying there are also many more inspirational women we need to learn about.

“They really paved the way for what we have in Toronto and in Canada, as being very diverse,” said Chan.

The campaign runs throughout the month of April.

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