Black History Month: Black Canadians in STEAM

This month, instead of sharing a fun science, technology, engineering, and/or math (STEM) fact, we've decided to feature some great Black Canadians in STEM. When I started researching, I was excited to find a bunch of different incredible stories of Black women in STEM in Canada, but I after a bunch of different search terms, I started to get frustrated. Why didn't the Canadian Encyclopedia have a section in their "Black History in Canada" collection about STEM? They have athletes, activities, and authors, but not scientists or engineers. I know there are Black Canadian women in STEM, but why couldn't I find their stories? I think it's the same reason that we have the Cybermentor program-- there are certain communities of people who are underrepresented in STEM, and for people who belong to those communities who are in STEM, their stories and work aren't as widely shared. This month, I'm excited to share some of the stories that I found with you- and be sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook to get all the stories in your feed! 

The first incredible Black Canadian in STEM that we wanted to share with you is Dr. June Marion James. Dr. James was the first black woman accepted into the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Manitoba. Originally from Trinidad & Tobago, she immigrated to Canada in 1960 and pursued a Bachelor of Science, and then medicine graduating in 1967. Dr. James is one of the most renowned allergy specialists in Canada. She is also very active in her community  in a variety of different ways, including what she called her "greatest achievement", her involvement in the Harambee Housing Coop, a group that built an affordable housing complex.

Elijah McCoy, born in Ontario in 1844, is another Black Canadian who made some incredible contributions to STEM. He was a mechanical engineer who invented and produced over 57patents- most famously an automatic lubricator for oiling steam engines, and most importantly (in my opinion) the folding ironing board and a lawn sprinkler. 

The final Black Canadian who made an important contribution to the Canadian STEM community is Clotilda Douglas-Yakimchuk. Ms. Yakimchuk was the first African-Canadian to graduate from the Nova Scotia Hospital School of Nursing in 1954, and also further studied midwifery, psychiatric nursing, and adult education. She was the first Black president of The College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia. She also was very involved in her community, and led movements to provide affordable housing and improved living facilities for seniors. Ms. Yakimchuk worked as a nurse for 50 years, and retired in 1994. Early on in her career, Ms. Yakimchuk faced discrimination from patients, most memorably from a patient who refused to have a black person care for her. The story, told in a CBC article, is that after a few weeks of being on the unit, this patient and Ms. Yakimchuk were unable to avoid each other, and slowly they began to find common ground and eventually became friends. The patient gave Nurse Yakimchuk a Royal Doulton cup and saucer (very fancy china) and apologized. Ms. Yakimchuk's family still has the tea cup.

Happy Black History Month everyone! Please share any stories or facts about contributions Black Canadians have made in the STEM community that you come across! If you're interested in learning more about why diversity in STEM is important, check out this awesome video by McMaster Engineering that features three members of the National Society of Black Engineers.