Sadlier, Rosemary

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Rosemary Sadlier


Historian, author

The president of the Ontario Black History Society, Rosemary Sadlier has been at the forefront of a host of initiatives aimed at educating the public on the history of blacks in Canada. She has given lectures on black history around the country and participated in conferences everywhere from Toronto to Trinidad and Tobago. Sadlier played a central role in the successful effort to lobby Canada's provincial and federal governments to officially declare February as Black History Month. She has collaborated with the Historica Foundation of Canada to create a black history portal on the Internet. And she is the author of several books on topics ranging from the Underground Railroad to Mary Ann Shadd, the first female newspaper editor in North America. Her most recent book is the award-winning The Kids Book of Black Canadian History.

Sadlier was born and raised in Toronto. She earned an Honors Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from York University and a Bachelor's degree in education and a Masters of Social Work from the University of Toronto.

Much of her life's work has been aimed at raising the national awareness of black Canadian history. She has made most of her contributions through her writing and through her leadership of the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS). The president of the OBHS since 1993, she was at the head of a campaign that led to the 1996 official declaration of February as Black History Month in Canada. She told the Toronto Sun that part of the impetus for the effort was the dearth of black history courses in Canadian higher education: "I know someone who wanted to pursue doctoral studies in black Canadian history, who was told that there were insufficient resources here; they should conduct research in the United States." As she wrote in an essay published on the OBHS's Web site, the annual observation of black history is important for young African Canadians, who need to "feel affirmed, be aware of the contributions made by other Blacks in Canada, have role models, and understand the social forces that have shaped and influenced their community." In the same essay she argued that Black History Month is also important for helping the wider community get a clearer perception of their culture. "One needs traditional history to engender a common culture," she wrote. "One needs black history to engender a clearer and more complete culture."

Sadlier has led the OBHS in the development of a wide array of educational projects and presentations. The society offers "African Canadian History and Heritage Talks," produces oral history tapes and collections of historic photographs, organizes conferences and seminars, and runs a black history bus tour. The society recently collaborated with the Historica Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Encyclopedia to create the Black History Canada Web site. The site is organized by themes, such as "Black Settlement in Early Canada," "Black Contributions," and "Caribbean and African Immigration." Each section includes an essay written by Sadlier along with links to recommended information sources. Currently Sadlier is leading the society's effort to develop the Centre of African-Canadian History and Culture, a Toronto complex that will incorporate a museum as well as a cultural center for conferences and concerts.

Sadlier's second main arena for her advocacy is her writing. She has authored four books: Leading the Way: Black Women in Canada, Mary Ann Shadd: Publisher, Editor, Teacher, Lawyer, Suffragette; Tubman: Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, Her Life in the United States and Canada; and her most recent, The Kids Book of Black Canadian History. Sadlier told Contemporary Black Biography that she wrote the book "to create a resource on African-Canadian history that would resonate with young people even should they not have the opportunity to have an OBHS black history talk at their school. I wanted to do my part to ensure that my own children, as well as the diverse range of young people that my children will grow up to share this place with, would have something to understand and appreciate the long-term and ongoing nature of the black experience, our challenges and triumphs in Canada." The book introduces readers to such people as Harriet Tubman, who helped black slaves from the United States reach freedom in Canada via the Underground Railroad, and the Colored Corps, an all-black unit that fought in the war of 1812. Writing in the Canadian education magazine Resource Links, reviewer Victoria Pennel called the book "Good, even great at times." She proclaimed it "a welcome addition to Canadian social studies programs at the elementary and junior high levels." In CM: Canadian Review of Materials, Grace Sheppard wrote, "teachers and librarians looking to fill a gap in their collections of Canadian history books will do a dance of joy when they read through this thorough treatment." In 2004 the book won the White Raven Award from Munich, Germany's International Youth Library.

Sadlier has also had an active career outside of her history crusade, particularly in the fields of education and social work. She has worked as a school teacher and a hospital social worker and done volunteer work with developmentally delayed adults, emotionally disturbed children, and recent immigrants. She sat on Toronto's Ministry of Education Advisory Panel and vetted the black history curriculum produced by Toronto's District School Board. She was employed in the Women's Bureau of the Office of the Deputy Premier, where she developed a series of programs to encourage women to pursue training and employment in science fields. In the mid-2000s she completed her doctoral coursework at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto in the Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education.

Selected writings


Leading the Way: Black Women in Canada, Umbrella Press, 1994.

Mary Ann Shadd: Publisher, Editor, Teacher, Lawyer, Suffragette, Umbrella Press, 1995.

Tubman: Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, Her Life in the United States and Canada, Umbrella Press, 1997.

The Kids Book of Black Canadian History, Kids Can Press, 2003.

At a Glance …

Born Rosemary Sadlier in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; married Jay; children: Jenne, Raia, Alexander. Education: York University, Hon. BA, sociology; University of Toronto, BEd, MSW; pursuing doctorate at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/ University of Toronto.

Career: Women's Bureau of the Office of the Deputy Premier; Ontario Black History Society, president, 1993-.

Memberships: The Black Ice Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame, board of directors.

Awards: Ministry of Citizenship, Ten-Year Volunteer Service Award, 1994; Toronto Eaton Centre, Salute to the City Award, 1997; City of Toronto, City Council, William P. Hubbard Race Relations Award, 1999; Inter-City Multicultural School, Appreciation Award of Excellence, 2000; United Achievers of Brampton, Black History Makers Award, 2001; Planet Africa Television Marcus Garvey Award, 2005.

Addresses: Office—Ontario Black History Society, 10 Adelaide Street East, Suite 202, Toronto, Ontario M5C 1J3 Canada.



Directory of American Scholars, 10th ed. Gale Group, 2002.


CM: Canadian Review of Materials, Vol. X, No. 2, September 19, 2003.

Resource Links, December 2003, p. 29.


"Dr. Rosemary Sadlier (abd)," Irie Music Festival, (June 25, 2007).

"Everything Old Is New Again," Toronto Sun Career Connection, (June 25, 2007).

"First Canadian Black History Portal Launches,", (June 24, 2007).

"Rosemary Sadlier," Black History Society, (June 24, 2007).

"Rosemary Sadlier," Wordfest, (June 24, 2007).

"Sadlier Named to Board of Directors of the Black Ice Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame," Society of North American Hockey Historians and Researchers, (June 25, 2007).

"Why a Black History Month," Ontario Black History Society, (June 20, 2007).


Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Rosemary Sadlier via e-mail on June 21, 2007.