University of Toronto professor emeritus, Dr. Keith Ellis, has received several awards and recognition. None, however, has more significance from an emotional standpoint than his appointment to Jamaica’s Order of Distinction (OD) in the commander rank for his outstanding and exemplary scholarship in literature and his unique contribution to the promotion of Hispanic-Caribbean cultures.
The OD is the country’s fifth-highest honour.
“It’s always very thrilling to get an honour from the country of your birth,” said Dr. Ellis, who is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on the poetry of Caribbean writer, Nicolás Guillén. “I am very honoured and I appreciate the judgement of those who think I am deserving of such an accolade. It’s something I will always treasure.”
Two years ago, Ellis was one of the few outsiders specially invited to the launch of former Cuban President Fidel Castro’s book, Our Duty is to Struggle. In 1998, he was also the first Jamaican-born scholar to be awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Havana, which was founded in 1728.
“The Order of Distinction ranks higher than those because Jamaica is where I was born and received my first education,” said Ellis. “It’s the place where everything that is really important to me occurred.”
Ellis graduated from Calabar High School, where he taught Spanish and History for three years before migrating to Canada to pursue undergraduate studies.
“The preparation I got in the field of education in Jamaica as a student and then being asked to teach there was very valuable to me in continuing my undergraduate education in Toronto and my post-graduate studies in the United States at the University of Washington,” said Ellis, a visiting professor at Stanford University who also lectured at Yale, Cambridge, Bordeaux and the University of the West Indies.
“The years I spent at Calabar and the friendships I made with my colleagues, some of whom were my teachers before they became my very good friends, were very important to me and it advanced my maturity. That made me use my time very well when I was a university student where it took five-and-a-half years to get my degrees.”
In addition to teaching Latin American Literature and Culture at U of T for 37 years, Ellis is an accomplished translator and writer. He has authored or edited 18 books and over 100 articles have been published in the top journals in Spanish American literature and culture.
Dr. Glenda Simms, who spent 30 years in Canada before Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller invited her to return to Jamaica to become the executive director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs in 1996, has been appointed to the Order of Distinction in the officer rank.
Receiving her first teacher’s diploma in Jamaica where she taught for five years before relocating to Canada, Dr. Simms received her first degree, Master’s and PhD from the University of Alberta, where she was honoured with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1994.
While in Western Canada, Simms taught native education at the University of Lethbridge and she later became head of the Native Education department at the University of Regina’s Saskatchewan Indian Federated College and supervisor of inter-cultural education, race and ethnic relations for the Regina Public School Board. She was also head of Nipissing University’s native education program.
Outside the classroom, Simms was a founding member and director of the National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada, the president of the Canadian Advisory Council of the Status of Women, a founder and past president of the Congress of Black Women of Canada and a member of the Ontario Housing Corporation board of directors, the Journal of Indigenous Studies Review Board and the Committee for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which is a longstanding United Nations international body.
A former adviser to the Jamaican government on women’s affairs and a gender specialist and consultant who provides professional training and coaching, Simms has honorary degrees from the University of Alberta, Queen’s University, the University of Manitoba and the University of Western Ontario.