When listing Jamaican immigrants who have made a substantial impact in Canada over the years, Mary Anne Chambers and Joe Halstead will be among those at the top.
Friends and colleagues for over two decades, they have joined a distinguished group of Canadians appointed to the Order of Ontario.
The ceremony took place last Tuesday at Queen’s Park.
“I am so honoured to be appointed at the same time with Mary Anne,” said a delighted Halstead who was a member of Mayor John Tory’s transition team. “She has achieved so much and done a lot for so many. Indeed, the entire class of honourees are of the highest class and I am humbled to be part of the group.”
Arriving in the province in 1967, Halstead spent 24 years with the provincial government in a wide range of management capacities, rising to the position of assistant deputy minister.
“Ontario has been good to me personally and professionally,” said the Ontario Place Corporation chair and Toronto Pan Am/Parapan Games director. “The knowledge and experience I have gained in over two decades of service have been invaluable.”
A former North York Parks & Recreation commissioner and City of Toronto economic development, culture and tourism commissioner, Halstead played a pivotal role in resolving the Pro Line issue that cleared the way for Toronto to land a National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise just over two decades ago. Along with lawyer Larry Bertuzzi and former New Democratic Party (NDP) special adviser, David Reville, Halstead negotiated with the NBA after then-Premier Bob Rae refused to give up the $20 million in annual revenues that basketball generated for sports lottery at the time.
The Festival Management Committee (FMC) chair and chief executive officer for five years up until 2010, Halstead also served as the vice-chair of the bid committee responsible for securing Toronto as the host city for the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games and was the executive lead for the World Youth Day conference and the Pope’s visit in 2002.
The holder of honorary doctorates from the University of Toronto, York University and Lakehead University, Chambers was heading to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, when she met her husband and tied the nuptial knot over four decades ago.
England’s loss was Canada’s gain as she has made remarkable contributions to her adopted homeland since migrating with her family in 1976.
“When Chris and I chose Canada as our new home, I made a personal commitment on behalf of our family that we would be good for this country which in return would be good for us,” said Chambers who is out of the country and was unable to attend the ceremony. “Being appointed to the Order of Ontario is a source of great pride for me and my family, particularly given the language citation which refers to me having served the people of Ontario with profound dedication. I feel blessed and I am truly humbled as I think of all the dedicated people I have had the privilege of serving with over the years.”
A year after retiring as a Scotiabank senior vice-president, Chambers entered provincial politics and served for nearly two years as Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. In that role, she announced the largest multi-year investment in post-secondary education in four decades and introduced major improvements to student assistance policies and funding.
During her tenure, significant changes were also made to the Private Career Colleges Act to provide enhanced protection for students and increased support was made available to encourage apprenticeships in the skilled trades.
Chambers, who also served in the provincial government as Minister of Children and Youth Services before quitting politics eight years ago, is a former Canadian Club of Toronto president, Rouge Valley Health System governing council vice-chair, Air Cadet League of Canada governor, Tropicana Community Service Organization board member, United Way of Greater Toronto trustee and director of the 2008 Toronto Olympic Bid Corporation.
In 2007, she successfully lobbied for the University of Toronto Scarborough campus to engage in a tutoring and mentorship program with Grade Nine and Ten area school students. Chambers also made a financial contribution when she left politics, described as a parting gift to the community, to help sustain the program run by the university’s Black Students Association.
And as vice-chair of the U of T governing council, the former university board member participated on a task force on student financial support that led to the implementation of a policy that would not deter young people from enrolling in the university because of inadequate financial resources.
Chambers is a former president of the Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education Canada and chair of the York Centre for Education & Community advisory council. The centre is designed to support teaching and learning that’s appropriate to students’ diverse needs, considerate of their cultural experiences and supportive of their aspirations.
A total of 646 provincial residents have been appointed to the Order of Ontario since its establishment in 1987.
Previous appointees from our community include educators Dr. Avis Glaze, Kamala-Jean Gopie and Harold Brathwaite, entrepreneur Delores Lawrence, author Austin Clarke, human rights and union activist Bromley Armstrong, former Member of Parliament Ovid Jackson, Dr. Howard McCurdy, the first tenured Black faculty member in Canada, former Member of Provincial Parliament and House Speaker Alvin Curling, retired judge George Carter and the late Harry Gairey and Lincoln Alexander.