North America’s first Black female mayor is among 17 women to be recognized in a permanent installation at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.
Daurene Lewis, who died suddenly last January, was a seventh-generation descendant of Black Loyalists. Her story and those of the other honourees will be showcased as a source of inspiration in the new Margaret Norrie McCain Centre for Teaching, Learning & Research.
The McCain centre will be the only building on a Canadian university campus dedicated to honouring women.
Established by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul in 1873, the university was one of the few institutions of higher education for women in Canada at a time when women could not vote.
“The Sisters established the Mount 140 years ago to give young women a place to learn and grow,” said the university’s president Dr. Ramona Lumpkin. “We’re very proud to keep that tradition alive today by celebrating women of all walks of life, including our founders and sharing their inspiring stories with our community.”
Generous donors contributed to the unique project.
“While the generosity of our supporters has been truly humbling, it has been their common belief that these women should, and will, be recognized that has propelled this project forward,” added Lumpkin. “We are thrilled to shine a well-deserved spotlight on these impressive individuals.”
Lewis had strong ties to the university before her sudden death.
For four years up until 2001, she was executive director of the Centre for Women in Business at Mount Saint Vincent University with responsibility for assisting women entrepreneurs start and develop their businesses. The following year, the university bestowed an honorary degree on the registered nurse, educator, entrepreneur and politician.
A graduate of Annapolis Royal Regional Academy and Dalhousie University, Lewis was a nursing instructor in Nova Scotia and Toronto. On her return to the Maritime province, she launched a hand weaving and design studio, specializing in functional items woven in fine natural fibres. Her products were sold throughout North America and she was the recipient of awards from several organizations, including the Nova Scotia Designer Craft Council.
Lewis, an Order of Canada recipient, brought her business expertise as a board member to the Halifax-based Black Business Initiative (BBI) which has helped to create over 300 Black businesses and hundreds of jobs in Nova Scotia since it was created 17 years ago
The Nova Scotia Community College Institute of Technology campus principal and former Africville Heritage Trust chair served on several boards and commissions over four decades. They include the Black Cultural Centre, the Neptune Theatre, the Canadian Women’s Foundation, Metro United Way and Canada Post Corporation. She was also a member of the board of governors of Dalhousie University, the Canadian Unity Council, Nova Scotia College of Art & Design and a member of the advisory committee of Dalhousie University Law School’s Indigenous Black & Mik’maq program.
The holder of a Master’s in Business Administration from Saint Mary’s University where she mentored at the institution’s Sobey School of Business, Lewis was honoured with a 2011 Harry Jerome Trailblazer Award and a Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal.
In 1979, Lewis was the first Black woman in Canada elected to municipal office when she became a councillor in Annapolis Royal where she was born. Two years after being appointed deputy mayor, she again made history in 1984 by becoming North America’s first Black female mayor. Four years later, she was the first Black woman to run in a provincial election. The Liberal Party candidate was unsuccessful in her bid to represent Annapolis West in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly