In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed in the United States.

In the same year, in Montreal, a woman named Gloria Baylis was taking the Queen Elizabeth Hotel to court in the first case ever in Canada to allege employment discrimination based on race.

She won.

There are few Canadians who don’t know about Martin Luther King Jr. And yet there are very, very few Canadians who know the name of Gloria Baylis. Gloria’s victory might have been quieter, but her legacy is no less significant.

In Halifax, where her daughter Françoise Baylis (a member of the Order of Canada) works as a bioethicist, recent news of an explosive ruling about racism at Halifax Transit shows that more than 50 years after Gloria first challenged racial discrimination, Black people are still fighting the same battles using the same legal avenues.

In the last few years, due largely to the efforts of her sister Wanda Robson, Viola Desmond has become a civil rights icon in Canada. Viola’s image is on the soon-to-be released $10 bill, and we can now walk on streets named after her. But for a long time before that, Viola’s story was unknown and ignored outside of the African Nova Scotian community.

We now celebrate Viola Desmond, but the stories of other heroic Black women who led the struggle for human rights in this country are forgotten. Like Viola, Gloria took her case to court and persevered through long years of injustice.

So who was Gloria Baylis?

Born in Barbados, Gloria trained as a nurse in England. In a move that suggested the fearlessness she would later show, as a teenage girl she saw an ad in the back of a book encouraging women to start a career in nursing; without telling her parents, she applied. When she was accepted, her parents had no choice but to allow her to go.

Before she even left Barbados, when she was 16 years old she fought an employment case, demanding fair wages. Not only was she still a young girl when she stood up to her employer; additionally, this was in a colonial country still under British rule. Gloria would show this kind of courage throughout her life.

She emigrated to Canada in 1952. Before changes to the Immigration Act in the 1960s that removed bias against non-white immigration, only highly qualified Black immigrants were granted entry to Canada.

Gloria began her career in Canada working in hospitals. But after difficult pregnancies and with young children, she was looking for a position that would allow her to work part time and to ease back into the workforce.

The Queen Elizabeth Hotel seemed like the perfect place.

Postcard of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.

A large hotel owned by the Hilton chain, the Queen Elizabeth was advertising for a nurse to assist the guests. Gloria decided to apply for the position, planning to split the hours with a white friend. They agreed that they would both go to the hotel and submit an application.

When Gloria went, however, she was informed the position was filled. She thought nothing of it until her friend called to ask her if she had applied. When Gloria told her friend that she had tried earlier in the week but the hotel had already hired somebody, her friend was surprised. After all, she had just returned from handing in her application.

It was then that Gloria realized that her application was refused because she was Black.

In 1964, the Quebec Act Respecting Discrimination in Employment was passed. It was the first piece of legislation in Canada to define discrimination, and the first that explicitly made reference to race. The Act came into effect on September 1, 1964. It was on the following day, September 2, that Gloria Baylis went to apply for the job at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.

Gloria was a highly qualified nurse who had been in charge of managing other nurses. Not only did she speak English and French, she also was an expert at sterilizing medical instruments, an important asset at a time when these tools were reused. She was outraged at this obvious injustice, not only for herself, but for the growing community of Black immigrants. Gloria realized that she was a test case for employment discrimination, and with the support of the Negro Citizenship Association, she filed a complaint under the new Act.

The case began in 1965.

Brought to court, the hotel denied any discrimination had taken place. They argued that Gloria was rejected because she was not qualified, and because she did not speak French. Proven wrong on those points, they argued that they couldn’t be discriminating based on race because they had no idea that Gloria, a light-skinned woman, was Black!

This led to a key moment in the case.

Called onto the stand, Gloria’s lawyer asked her directly: “Are you a Negro?” “Yes,” declared Gloria. “I am a Negro!”

Françoise Baylis recognizes this statement as a “political act” by her mother. As a woman from Barbados, she would not have used that language — from the United States — to describe herself. But, as she knew, the case hinged on that public claiming of her race, and of her visible Blackness.

To understand the significance of this statement, we can turn to Frantz Fanon’s 1952 essay, “The Fact of Blackness,” which opens with the words “Look, a Negro!” These words describe how Fanon experiences his Blackness through the eyes of white people — the fear and disgust white people feel, and dehumanization experienced by Black people. For Gloria to announce that she was a Negro in court was to openly claim her Blackness and to show that her race was not a source of shame, but a site of pride.

In October, 1965, Gloria won her case. In an published article in the Star, the judge was quoted saying that “Mrs. Baylis had been treated differently from other applicants who had been told they would be interviewed. Mrs. Baylis was told only that the job had been filled.” The prosecutor, Gerald N. Charness, said the case was “without precedent, not only in Quebec but also in the entire country.”

But the case didn’t end there. The hotel was fined $25. They refused to pay.

Over the next 11 years, the hotel fought the ruling, even considering seeking leave to have the case heard in the Supreme Court. Astonishingly, the lawyers stopped arguing about whether or not the hotel was racist, and instead made the argument that Gloria had no right to bring the case under the Discrimination Act because the Act itself was unconstitutional and should not have been passed!

This is what happens when a Black woman asserts her rights.

Finally, in 1977, 12 years after she had first brought the case to court, the original conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal. As Gloria’s biography in Black in Canada notes:

This decision stands as a moral victory for all Black people in Canada, and is a testament to Gloria’s tenacity and willingness to stand up for her rights regardless of the circumstances.

It was only then, when media showed up at the house to photograph Gloria for the papers, that her children found out that she had been fighting in court all these years. Gloria had protected her children from knowing about the case, and had continued to work and raise her family, all while the hotel dragged her from court to court to avoid paying such a small fine.

Gloria’s accomplishments do not end with her victory in court. At her kitchen table, she started a small medical instruments company. Françoise remembers helping to wrap the instruments which her brother would drive to deliver.

That company, Baylis Medical Company, has grown into a leading developer and manufacturer of medical products, employing hundreds of people.

Image from cardiacvascularnews.com

Gloria Baylis’ four children are all incredibly professionally successful. Frank Baylis is currently an MP representing the riding of Pierrefonds-Dollard in the House of Commons, and Françoise’s sister is a medical doctor, while her other brother holds a PhD in social work. But more than professional success, they all believe in an ideal of service to others, a value instilled in them by their mother. Says Françoise:

I think what makes you successful is having those strong core values and being brought up to believe that you have to use your talents not just for yourself but for others. And I think when you’re using them for others it gives you that extra push because there’s no sense that this is about me and it’s selfish, it’s about making the world a better place.

So then you can bear all kinds of setbacks because you’re working for a cause. It’s amazing what people can put up with when they’re working for a cause —  things they wouldn’t put up with if they thought they were just working for themselves.

Gloria is remembered as a woman who would very literally take the shirt from her back and give it away. She is beloved as a woman who took into her house children who needed a place to stay, who sat at the bedsides of the sick, and who worked tirelessly for others. She believed that when community sticks together, it can accomplish amazing things.

At a recent event, a friend tells me, Françoise was on a panel. In question period, an audience member asked what experience the panel members had in thinking about issues of race. After the other speakers addressed the question, Françoise spoke. I might pass as white, she told the audience, but I claim my Blackness. And I claim it because my mother fought and won the first case of employment discrimination based on race in Canada. “Yes, I am a Negro.”

When we look at the human rights case brought against Halifax Transit, we can see many parallels with Gloria’s case. In both cases it took 12 years to get any kind of justice. And as in Gloria’s case, lawyers argued everything they could to prevent a ruling acknowledging racism. This is why knowing about Gloria Baylis is such an important part of Canadian history as we go through the same struggles over and over again.

And yet, the transcripts from Gloria’s case have disappeared. Her daughter Francoise has searched through archives, through court records, contacted law firms, checked with universities – but the transcripts have been lost. What remains are newspaper accounts, and quotations from the original ruling in judgements as the case wound its way through appeal. The first case in Canada to address racial discrimination, and the record is largely gone.

And so, even as people fight to preserve the names and statues of men like Edward Cornwallis, the history of Black women in this country disappears, and is forgotten. Without Gloria’s children speaking about her, her story would have been lost to us with her death in 2017.

When we pay with the new $10 bills, we should ask ourselves every time: what other Black women should I know about? What other Black women sacrificed, and struggled, and fought injustice? Who else has been erased, is not being taught, or has not been recognized?

Gloria Baylis is another Black women we should all honour. And there are many, many more.

Read a summary of Gloria Baylis’s case here.

Read the Star article here.

An Interview with Francoise Baylis

El: Tell me about your mother.

Françoise: I think the most important thing about my mom is that she was a strong powerful person. What you need to think about is she left Barbados at age 16 or 17 to get on a boat and travel what would have been a couple of weeks to go to a foreign country, not knowing if she’d ever be able to ever come back. I don’t think there’s many people that would have that sort of fortitude to sort of do this.

And I think what’s particularly interesting is that she applied for training to do nursing. She had said to us that had it been a different time, she would have been a doctor. But the reason she ended up doing that is because she went to a library and in the back of a book saw one of those little ads: you know, apply for nurse training in England, tore it out and applied without telling her parents. She got accepted and then it would have been at that time, in those days, embarrassing and shameful for them not to send her. So that’s how the original move kind of happens.

But what’s interesting is that prior to that she had already fought an employment issue in Barbados because she hadn’t been given fair wages. So again, think of somebody not even 16 standing up to authority and saying you haven’t paid me my wages.

El: So she went to England to study nursing?

Françoise: That’s correct

El: And then how did she come to Canada?

Françoise: She worked in England for about 10 years, she got her Registered Nurse and she also trained as a midwife and basically was making not very much money because while you were in training you got room and board and no money to live off. When she started doing midwifery she was using that as a way to earn funds to be able to leave and come to Canada. She came to Canada and got a job in one of the hospitals.

El:   When did she come to Canada, do you remember the year?

Françoise: This is when Canada is actively recruiting professionals. My father actually comes to Canada at the same time, they don’t know each other and he’s coming in as an engineer and she’s coming in through nursing.

El: And she came to Montreal?

Françoise: She came to Montreal and was working as a nurse and very quickly became quite senior and one of her areas of specialization was sterilization techniques. She ended up training a whole generation of nurses in OR and sterilization through various hospitals.

El: We’re talking about sterilizing the instruments? Not people?

Françoise: Yes, sterilizing the instruments! Not people. Those were the days when you would autoclave everything and reuse because it wasn’t plastic and disposable. It was metal and you needed to properly clean stuff.

One of the things that becomes really important there is that she learned French at that time so late in her life in order to be successful. Not very good French, but she was able to do that and to work in French: so able to be understood. And that becomes important because in the court case that was one of the ways in which they tried to say she wasn’t qualified and she was able to counter that claim.

I think one of the things that’s really important about that situation is she has children. Her first child dies shortly after birth and she is unwell after that and she claims that it was a bad delivery, and she was a midwife so she would know. She claims that she knew that the child was in the birth canal for too long and things weren’t going well.

Then I am the next born and then my brother is born and it’s after my brother’s birth that she’s going back to work and looking for part-time employment

A number of people have asked, why is she looking for employment outside of a hospital setting? What happened is that she and a friend had agreed that they would both try to get the job and be able to work part time, and that was going to suit my mom’s lifestyle choice at that time because she had two young kids to care for at home.

And the short version is that they’ve seen the ad and they’re both going to apply. My mom goes down and applies and is told, sorry there’s no job. Then later on her friend calls her and says, “Gloria, have you gone down and applied?” and my mom says, “oh no the jobs are taken.” And her friend says,  “that’s not possible because I just went down there and filled out an application.” That’s how my mother actually finds out that there’s a problem. If it hadn’t been that from the beginning her and a white friend were both applying for a job with the idea that they were going to share this, she would never had known because she would have gone down to apply for the job, they would have told her it was filled,and she would have accepted that at face value.

And that’s when she realizes that there’s something wrong.

El: So the job’s in a hotel.

Françoise: Yes it’s at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, which is part of the Hilton chain.

El: Can you explain that to me?

Françoise: Yes, so what would have happened is at some of the big hotels you always had to have a Doctor and a staff in case anybody in the hotel gets sick. This would have been a fairly big hotel chain at the time. It’s the Queen Elizabeth. And it’s owned by the Hilton chain so it’s not under the name of Hilton, it’s the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. But that’s what it would have been: a physician with a nurse assisting them. That was the job she was applying for so it wouldn’t have been back in a hospital with those kinds of hours and that kind of stress — she would have been a manager with people under her having to report so it would have been a stressful job. She wanted to get back into the workforce and be able to control and manage the scheduling.

El:  So after she finds out from her friend about the job what made her decide to take that up legally?

Françoise: The story that I was told is that she was actually on a bus talking to a friend and complaining that she had found out that there had been discrimination involved and the friend said, well look, we’ve been looking for a test case and you’re it, let’s take this further. So my mom agrees to allow herself to become the test case to go forward under the human rights code that Quebec had just passed.

El: What year is this?

Françoise: I think the court case starts in ’64.

El: This case is similar in a lot of ways to Viola Desmond taking her case to court, and in how long that story was neglected in Canada.

Françoise: Well that’s how I feel only because it feels like it’s a really important story for people to understand. She wins and the Queen Elizabeth is fined $25 and they refuse to pay the fine and because of that the court case goes on for 12 years. So imagine how much money has been spent and how much energy has been spent over 12 years fighting this case because they refuse to spend $25 as a penalty.

El:  And do you remember this? You would have been seeing this as a child.

Françoise: I don’t remember any of the court case at all, and I think in part it’s because my mom protected us from that through our whole upbringing. What I remember is that the case is finally settled, and how do I know this? Because photographers come to the house. By this time we’re living in Toronto and they’re taking a picture of my mom in the house and I can even remember the clothes that she was wearing. Now I’m a teenager and I’m saying, “what’s going on, why are these people here?” And that’s the first time I learn my mom’s story.

I am a young teenager and this has been going on since I’m a little two-, three-year-old kid but has never been part of our family’s story. It’s not like we’re getting updates or my mom’s telling us we’re having this fight or whatever — it’s in the background and she and my father are the only people that know what’s going on until as I said I happened to be home when there are photographers in the house from the newspaper.

After that I actually look for documents and for me the most powerful document was there was an article that was written by her lawyer, who took the first case.

El: And this was a white lawyer?

Françoise: Yes this was a white Jewish lawyer. Because they also had issues of discrimination, so you find allies in interesting places. But anyway, he wrote up the case and in that case he talks specifically about at some point on the stand him specifically as part of putting it into evidence, asking my mother, “are you a Negro?” and that’s the language used. And my mother responds, “yes I am a Negro.”

And I’m reading this, now we’re talking the mid 70s to late 70s and this is not language that we use anymore or would accept or understand and it is certainly never the way I heard my mother self-describe. So for me even her answering that question is all about politics: it’s having to use a particular kind of language at a particular moment in time because my mother never self-identified as a negro to me. She would have called herself a freckly banana, or she would have said that other people had referred to her as a “red nigger.” There were lots of ways in which I had heard her self-describe but I had never heard her self-describe as a Negro so to read this was news to me; you know, that my mother was standing up in a court of law.

It’s actually really powerful. It’s his summary about what he thinks the case is about. He actually has some really nice and laudatory comments about my mother having to sit there through all these days and how she went to court every day and invested that time and energy into this case.

El: So what are the reverberations of her winning this case? They don’t pay the fine…

Françoise: Yes, so what’s interesting is it’s a court case that actually then makes its way through the legal system. I’d have to go back and get the exact names of the courts but basically it goes from the lowest court to the Quebec Superior court and then the Quebec Court of Appeal and the only next court is the Supreme Court of Canada. And at one point it looked like they were going to literally seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. But what happens in the interim is that there’s another case which makes it very clear that the issue has been decided and therefore the Supreme Court would not hear the case.

I think what is fascinating is that when the case moved up, what the Hilton tries to argue is that Quebec had no right to introduce the Human Rights legislation on the basis of which the claim was being made. Then they stop arguing about racism and they actually start making a constitutional legal argument by saying you can’t find us guilty under this law because this law shouldn’t be there in the first place. Which I think is a fascinating thing. I didn’t know that’s what was happening as it moves up the court because they aren’t saying that there’s an error in fact in terms of what the judge did, but what they’re saying is that Quebec had no right as a province to introduce this piece of legislation and therefore they couldn’t be found guilty under a piece of legislation that shouldn’t exist.

El:  This is human rights legislation?

Françoise: Yes. So to me that’s significant — that’s your strategy? That’s what you’re going to argue, that you shouldn’t be held accountable to these employment rules because the province had no right to do this? Again, I didn’t understand that until I actually as a young adult started reading the court cases. I thought that they were still arguing about the facts about the case, and no, it’s actually a completely different issue that they’re fighting about. They’re saying that the province doesn’t have the authority to have provincial human rights.

El: So at this point obviously she had moved on, and got other jobs.

Françoise: Oh yes, she moved on and is very successful, and has lots of other jobs and so I think you know, some of that is part of — there was an effort in the original court case to say that she wasn’t qualified on various grounds so they tried to argue that. Then they also make the claim that she wasn’t discriminated against because  – and this is fascinating — she wasn’t discriminated against because we actually had hired somebody. So when she was told they had given the job away, that was true.

So then it’s like, well why were you still accepting applications? “Oh well, we’re not sure why we were accepting applications.” But that becomes part of their argument – that they had already hired somebody and were not discriminating against my mother.  Then what’s fascinating is, the judge says, well I don’t know what shenanigans this place was involved in, but even if I accept that they had already hired someone and there was no discrimination in not hiring her, there was discrimination in not giving her the same chance as every other applicant – every other applicant at least had their application accepted. She wasn’t even allowed to submit an application.

So that’s the other thing that becomes really interesting, that they end up arguing, look we didn’t discriminate against her … because we already had a candidate. And the counterargument becomes yeah, but everybody else, you actually accepted their application form. So the discrimination was not in not giving her the job, the discrimination was in not allowing her to even compete for the job. She did not have equality of opportunity, and that’s the grounds under which she wins.

Also what happens is when they find the paperwork, her completed application form has been marked “inactive nurse” and so we know it never made it into the system.

El: Interesting. So this is actually the first case that’s won about race.

Françoise: It’s the first case in Canada that’s successful under racial discrimination in employment.

El:  And why do you think that nobody knows about this?

Françoise: Well, one of the things that is quite significant is that the transcript for the case has been destroyed. I have been physically myself to the Quebec archives. A colleague, Karen Flynn, has tried to access all the documents through the Canadian archives. I’ve been in touch with McGill where Dorothy Wills said she gave them a copy of the case, and they have no record of it. And when I spoke with the archivists at the Quebec court they showed me that there’s only one piece of paper that actually even acknowledges that there was such a case.

So the only facts that we have about the case are this summary written by her lawyer Gerald Charness and the Superior Court and Court of Appeal decisions which are the constitutional arguments. So we have those two legal cases and in those two legal cases periodically they quote from the original case [Court of the Sessions of the Peace]. But we don’t have the original case anymore; nobody has the original case, or at least we haven’t been able to find it.

And what I can’t understand is how would you destroy such a case? That’s part of Canada’s history and it just can be destroyed.

El: So this speaks obviously a lot about the preservation of Black history and specifically Black woman’s history. Have you been making, I know you have been, efforts towards publicizing this?

Françoise: I have. Both my brother and I have done a number of things. So one thing is I have written her biography for Black in Canada which tells that story. My brother has told that story and because he’s a Member of Parliament he has actually read it in the House so that at least somewhere there’s a document. You also saw that little video.

Karen Flynn has done a presentation and she’s actually now written an article that has been through peer review and has been accepted for peer reviewed publication. So at least one complete version of that story will be in print, and also I’ve written to a couple of other people asking them if they would be interested in writing up the story and they’ve indicated yes…I think you need someone who is a legal historian who really understands the law. People have said back to me, well, why don’t you write it Francoise? And I said look, I’ve written what I know how to write but this needs the skills of somebody who is a proper historian and who understands the law to be able to explain the parts that I just sort of understand through reading, which as I said, that you have the original case which is about the discrimination and then the next two levels of the case are really about constitutional law and an effort to actually undermine the efforts of a province to at least on paper say that they’re not going to tolerate discrimination in employment.

El: Her lawyer is dead?

Françoise: Her lawyer has passed away and we’ve been in touch with the law firm and the son to ask if they have any records and they haven’t been able to find any records either.

El:  So obviously your brother’s an MP, you’re a member of the Order of Canada. So you both went on to be incredibly successful. Do you think that’s from your mothers efforts?

Françoise: I would actually say that all four of us are successful. There’s four of us and I think in different ways we’re all extremely successful and I think part of that comes from living in an environment which says you stand up for yourself number one, and you stand up for others number two.

Certainly one of the very strong sayings in our house was if you have talents you use them and you use them on behalf of others, and that’s a recognition that not everybody can do certain things, not everybody can fight certain fights, but if you’ve been given those talents, you have to use them.

My mother wouldn’t have taken this case forward for $25; that’s not the issue. At the time the maximum possible fine was $100, so that’s not the reason for going forward. The reason for going forward is to say this is not acceptable, and so you’re fighting for a cause. My mother fought for lots of causes and also fought for lots of individual people.

When I spoke at my mom’s funeral and gave the eulogy, one of the things I said is that my mom would take the shirt off her back to give anybody. And I said I know, because she did it to me. When I was a kid she’d say give it away! And I’d say no its mine, and she would say no, you don’t need it as much as this next person.

But she wasn’t alone. My mom is one of 12 siblings and all of her siblings are successful as well. I think what makes you successful is having those strong core values and being brought up to believe that you have to use your talents not just for yourself but for others. I think when you’re using them for others it gives you that extra push because there’s no sense that this is about me and it’s selfish, it’s about making the world a better place. So then you can bear all kinds of setbacks because you’re working for a cause. It’s amazing what people can put up with when they’re working for a cause: things they wouldn’t put up with if they thought they were just working for themselves.

El:  Your mother also founded a medical instruments company?

Françoise: She did, and it is now a huge multi-million dollar company I think with over 300 employees. It’s international in reach and my mom started that truly at the kitchen table. It’s one of those stories; you know, I was licking envelopes as a kid, I was the one that had to sit there and type up the invoices and my brother would have to get in his car and do the deliveries.

El: This is the kind of story we also don’t know. There’s so many pieces of your mother’s life.

Françoise: Yes and you know, it’s in a context where people who worked for her tell all kinds of interesting stories. One of the ones that has stuck with me was a young man. He was employed by my mother and one day my mother came and just fired him on the spot, pick up your stuff and go. He didn’t understand why he had been fired and my mom said, “because you were told to deliver this piece of equipment to a hospital, and you didn’t do it.” And he said “no, because I had these sales to do and blah blah blah.”

And she said, “you always put the patient first. I don’t care about any sale we lost. You were to deliver that piece of equipment and a doctor needed it for a patient.” That’s how my mom was. Although she was running a business it was not you’re going to make money at all costs; it was you are in the medical profession. She herself was a nurse and the patient was the first priority.

One of the things that’s interesting about that is that man still works for that company and this is like 15-20 years later, and that’s because my brother stepped in and said, “look, you go home and take all your stuff but come back tomorrow and tell my mom you’ll work for her for free and it will all settle down.” But what’s amazing is that young person who is a successful man within the company learned a lesson and tells that story and I only learned that story because he told me. That’s the certain kind of respect that my mother gained from other people because she was always working for others and even in that context of running a business, the priority was the patient. And if you don’t understand that then you’re not working for the right company.

El: Is there anything else about your mom you would like us to know?

Françoise: [A friend] tells the story about how she was coming to get by her father’s bedside and my mother was right there with him telling him, “hold on she’s coming, hold on she’s coming.”

What’s amazing to me is how many times I run into somebody who, if they knew my mom, they had a dramatic story to tell about something that she did for them or somebody close to them. I think it’s really hard to realize that there’s all these things about my mom that I don’t know until I run into somebody who tells me a story about how she changed their life. There are a number of people who tell that story.

I can tell you one day my brother came home in high school and told my mom that there was this boy in his school who was living out of his car, and the next thing I knew, that boy had moved into our house and lived with us for a year. And at some point my mom said to him “now you need to start getting a job and learning how to work,” and made him go out and work and he used to come back — he worked I think for a bread factory, so we had bread all the time in the house. Because that was his way of sort of trying to pay my mom back and again, if you were to find that young man now, he would tell you he couldn’t be where he is today but for my mom having reached out.

And there are many people like that who will tell that kind of story and as a young kid, I didn’t understand what my mom was doing. All I understood is that there’s always people in my house, how come we have all these people in our house all the time? But then I would go to my uncle’s house and the same thing would be happening there. I remember a time where I’m at my uncle’s house and we’re in bed and it’s the middle of the night and I got woken up and told to get out of the bed, and it’s like, why? Because there were people who have no room to sleep and they’re getting our beds. And I’m thinking, “why are we getting out of the bed!” Because you’re young, you’re a kid, get out of the bed you’re sleeping on the floor. These are adults and they’re getting in the bed. And so you just saw that, constantly, growing up, people that had a sense of community and that community when it sticks together, can accomplish amazing things.

Editor’s note: This article was revised slightly at 5pm July 14 to reflect minor clarifying changes in the interview with Françoise Baylis, at her request.

El Jones

El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor, community advocate, and activist. Her work focuses on social justice issues such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism, and decolonization.

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  1. Excellent and important story. Yes, we – and younger generations – need to know this history, what it illuminates, and why it has contemporary relevance.

  2. Halifax Poet Laureate Dr. Afua Cooper has rightly noted that “Canadian history, insofar as its Black history is concerned, is a drama punctuated with disappearing acts.” Triple that for Canadian women of African descent such as Gloria Baylis. Kudos to El and the brilliant-to-the-bone Francoise Baylis for a long overdue public tribute to a woman who fought the good fight and never faltered.