28 September 2009
By Ezrom Serame Mokgakala, Toronto, Canada
Jean Augustine’s life started at Happy Hill, a village just outside St. Georges in Grenada and then it took her to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, a long journey that saw her literally rise from rags to riches. Her biography is a study on how a life from humble beginnings can rise to formidable heights. Some people in Grenada remember her as the little girl that flew from Happy Hill to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, where she became a Member of Parliament.
Jean Augustine was born to Ossie, a sugarcane cropper and Olive Simon on September 07, 1937 in Happy Hill, just outside St. George’s in Grenada. She never came to know her father as he died from Tetanus after a visit to a dentist. At the time of his death, Jean was hardly two years old and her mother was expecting another baby. Jean and her devastated mother were adopted by “Granny”, a single woman who did not have children of her own.”Granny” was comparative well off.
In “Granny’s” household, Jeans was encouraged to acquire some education. She studied until she became an elementary school teacher and one of the few educated people in her community. Soon people were asking her to write and read letters for them. As some of these letters were from and going to overseas based Grenadians, Jean became aware of the advantages of migratory labour to the Grenadian economy. She decided to take advantage of a Canadian Program that offered citizens of countries belonging to the British Commonwealth of Nations the opportunity to come to Canada as domestic servants and had the right to decided to settle in Canada after one year if they so desired. She came to Canada in 1960 at age 22.
It is difficult not to fall in love with Jean Augustine at first sight. Her broad smile and her very warm body language easily win friends for her. The family for which she was working as a nanny simply fell in love with her. They discovered that she was a school teacher and encouraged her to study for a teaching certificate in Ontario while working as a nanny for them. Through hard work she got a Bachelor of Arts and a Master’s Degree in Education. After graduating she became vice principal and then principal in Toronto’s Catholic School Board. From then on the sky became the limit as she created a blazing trail of achievement after achievement. She served on the Boards of several organizations (too numerous to mention here), including the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and the Board of Governors of York University.
In the Federal General Elections of 1993 Jean Augustine created history when she became the first African Canadian woman to be elected to Canada’s the House of Commons. On Parliament Hill (where Canada’s Parliament is erected) Jean Augustine continued to make history when she became the first African Canadian woman to be the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary and serving on several Parliamentary Committees.
Since March 2007, Jean Augustine has been acting as the Fairness Commissioner for the Province of Ontario, whose mandate is to assist New Canadians to access their professions in Ontario. New Canadians could not wish for a better Commissioner.