Canada 150/150 : Kathleen Livingstone

Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone 1918-1975 – Visionary, Activist & Humanitarian

by Rene Livingstone

Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone was one of Canada’s prominent visionaries, activists, and humanitarians.


She was an extraordinary figure who devoted her life to the empowerment and advancement of the cause for African Canadians, women and men, and all minorities in an era strongly influenced by prejudices and racial insecurities. Kay Livingstone shaped the vision of several organizations that exist today. Inspired by the work of her parents on the Dawn of Tomorrow, she wanted to share the contribution of African Canadians to society.


Kay Livingstone was raised in London, Ontario. At an early age, her parents instilled in her a sense of awareness of the Black community. In 1923 Livingstone’s father, James F. Jenkins, founded The Dawn of Tomorrow, the first Black newspaper in Ontario geared towards serving the Black community both politically and socially. Livingstone’s parents knew it was important for Blacks to stay connected for mutual support. With that goal in mind, they founded The Dawn of Tomorrow and sought to coordinate the efforts of Black organizations, fight discrimination in hiring practices, improve the conditions of Blacks in Canada, promote education for young Blacks, and serve as a watchdog for racist incidents. Jenkins died suddenly in 1931. After his death Livingstone’s mother, Christina E Jenkins and her eight children continued the newspaper.

In 1942, during World War II, Kay Livingstone moved to Ottawa and worked as a Secretary at the Bureau of Statistics. During that time, she met and married George Livingstone of Antigua, who was a Corporal in the Canadian Military at the time. After WW II George and Kay Livingstone moved to Toronto. George Livingstone, also a prominent figure in Canada’s black community established Renkay Construction Ltd., a successful business building a number of private and public developments. While they raised five children together, he continued to expand his business, becoming an architect, developer and philanthropist.

George and Kay Livingstone
George and Kay Livingstone, photo courtesy of Livingstone family

Kay Livingstone was deeply involved in expanding both a collective awareness and Black pride in Toronto’s Post-Second World War period Black Community, all the while contributing to society’s well-being through her work with the following organizations:

Founding President of the Canadian Negro Women’s Association

Founder of the First National Black Congress

President of the Women’s Section of United Nations

Chair International Affairs YWCA

Chair The National Black Coalition

Chair Foreign Affairs Committee

Commissioner of Canadian Council of Churches

Member of The Advertising Women’s Club

Chair Canadian Council of Churches

Public Relations Consultant

Member of the Appeal Board For Legal Aid

Moderator Heritage Ontario

Poet, Radio Host

Wife and mother of 5 Children

Actress - As a woman ahead of her time, she was not confined to the family home. Kay Livingstone maintained a brilliant acting career. She was called “one of Canada’s leading Black actresses.”

Kathleen Livingstone worked to break down prejudice, promoted equality of individuals of all origins, and contributed to the development of a more inclusive society.

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In 1951 Kathleen Livingstone founded the Canadian Negro Women's Association (CANEWA).

After moving to Toronto, Livingstone joined a women's social club called the Dilettantes in which middle–class Black women organized Teas, Garden Parties, and June Balls. Kay Livingstone was concerned about the education of Black youth as well as social issues facing Black women and all visible minorities throughout the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s. After joining, Kay Livingstone wasted no time, changing both the club’s name and focus. She transformed the Dilettantes into the Canadian Negro Women’s Club.   (Later it became Canadian Negro Women’s Association)

The stated purpose of the new organization was:

  • To become aware of, appreciate, and further the merits of the Canadian Negro.
  • To increase awareness of the Media and Government institutions concerning: the position of Black women on issues of prejudice and sexism.
  • To create a counter-institutional environment in which Black women would provide meaning for themselves on ideas of Black womanhood, community, and education.
  • For Black women to have a broader political voice.

As the new organization's first president, she encouraged other members to take up service projects.

Some of the Projects organized by Canadian Negro Women’s Association:

1. Fundraising for World War II Veterans, providing them wheelchairs and continuing their education.

2. Scholarships awarded to deserving Black students.

3. Fundraising events such as Banquets, Calypso Carnival, and Negro history week to support the association’s initiatives.

Kay Livingstone often used the phrase “Onward and upward lifting as we climb” and that became the motto for the Canadian Negro Women’s Association




Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone was the driving force behind the organization of the first National Congress of Black Women of Canada, held in 1973.

Kay Livingstone actively engaged in creating a nation-wide network of Black Canadian women. She wanted to create a nation-wide network where Black women could share their ideas and address common concerns of Black women. The National Black Congress Event included guest speakers from across the country with seminars and workshops on topics such as education, immigration, and the portrayal of Blacks in the media, single parenthood, immigrant female, and senior citizens. The city of Toronto Mayor Crombie and his wife attended as guest.





Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone's work was not limited to the Black community.


In 1975, while working on The International Women’s Year Committee, she noticed there were no minorities being represented except for herself. Kay Livingstone brought this to the attention of the Privy Council, and as a result, Kay Livingstone was appointed as a one women investigation committee to go across Canada contacting women minority groups and informing them of their rights.

Kay Livingstone worked to involve the nation in a dialogue on the role of women and Visible Minorities as a consultant for the Privy Council of Canada. That was her inspiration for coining the phrase “Visible Minority.” Livingstone’s use of the terminology “Visible Minority” was quickly captured and repeated in the media.

Penelope Hodge, a Congress Steering Committee member, said: “Kay was determined that minority groups should not be overlooked and it was she who coined the phrase ‘Visible Minority Groups’ which has been picked up and used so liberally in this past year by the media.”

In 1975, Kay Livingstone travelled the country with a plan to organize a national conference of women, which would include all visible minority women. She returned from her travels and passed away suddenly, leaving the Black Community in shock.


Publications about Kay Livingstone all say, “Kay Livingstone was best known for founding the Canadian Negro Women’s Association and the First National Black Congress.”

What does that mean?

Kay Livingstone pushed boundaries.

Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone was the first Black Canadian to unite the African Canadian community. She helped ensure African Canadians had the necessary tools to enable themselves to take their rightful place in society. Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone laid a foundation to elevate the Black community. She brought a collective Black voice to the public and the press!



The Canadian Negro Women’s Association launched Calypso Carnival; the first public celebration of Black culture in Canada which we all know as Caribana today.

In 1951, Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone founded the Canadian Negro Women's Association (CANEWA).

In 1958, Negro History week was established. The women of Canadian Negro Women’s Association often talked about the need for Black people to know their own history. As a result, they inaugurated many events, such as Negro History Week in 1958, which has grown into Black History Month, and The Ontario Black History Society.

Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone was the first Black women to host her own radio show, “The Kay Livingstone Show,” which celebrated traditions and customs of Black cultures around the world.

In 1973, Kathleen Kay Livingstone founded the First National Congress of Black Women of Canada.

In 1973, During Queen Elizabeth's first visit to Canada, she took an extended tour of Ontario, and one of her stops included Toronto. Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone was amongst those who received an invitation from Queen Elizabeth to attend a Royal luncheon held in honour of her Majesty the Queen’s first visit.

In 1975, Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone coined the phrase “visible minority.”                          

July 19th, 2011, The Government of Canada designated Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone “A National Historic Person” for her contributions. Through her political activities and participation in a wide range of advocacy and volunteer organizations, she worked tirelessly to break down prejudice and promote the equality of individuals of diverse origins, contributing to the development of a more accepting society.

November 2017, The Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada erected a plaque at a park on Bedford Park Avenue in Toronto, the neighborhood and city where she worked tirelessly to create a better community, a better city, and a better country for all Canadians.


February 2018, Canada Post unveils a Postage Stamp in Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone‘s image recognizing the impact she had on shaping Canada into a melting pot of racial diversity.


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Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone had a significant impact on the education and social advancement of Black people in Canada. Kay Livingstone united all aspects of the African Canadian Community that exist today.   Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone’s vision and driving force ignited the creation of Black History Month, Caribana, Congress of Black Women, Black Feminism, and the term Visible Minorities. The knowledge, the courage, the unshakeable faith and determination of Kay Livingstone, our pioneer, has the bulwark of the development of the African Canadian life style today.


Today, there is an award in Kay Livingstone’s honour called the “The Kay Livingstone Award “it is presented to black women in Canada. The mandate of the award is to encourage black women to improve the lives of other visible minorities and their families. Many women have realized their dreams because of Kay Livingstone’s influence and the funding of the Congress that she founded. Kay Livingstone taught these women that there is no mountain so high it cannot be climbed.

Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone - A Mother who served her family, A Humanitarian who served her people and her Country. She did it generously, and she did it well.




Discussions with Kathy Livingstone Payette
Discussions with Kory Livingstone
Kay Livingstone Plaque Unveiling Barbra Frum Library Key Note Speech September 28th 2017 – by Rene Livingstone
Kay Livingstone Plaque Installation at Bedford Parkette Toronto Speech November 5th 2018 , by Rene Livingstone
Black History Month Brunch – Canada Post Unveiling Speech - Jan 28 2018- by Rene Livingstone
Kay Livingstone Celebration Gala Dinner and Dance – by CANAWA Feb 17 2018 Speech by Rene Livingstone
Race Relations Webinar – 2018 By Rene Livingstone
Foremother of Black Women’s Community Organizing in Toronto –Marcia Wharton-Zaretsky
Globe Mail April 6th 1973 “A Canadian First” by Zena Cherry
National Congress Black Women April 6-8 1973 – Programme Guide
Congress Of Black Women of Canada Article Feb 2018
Our lives Magazine – April Edition 1987
The Globe and Mail 1936 pg. 5 “ Examine the program”
Historic Site and Monuments Board of Canada Report 2009-89
Marguerite Alfred and Pat Station, Black Women in Canada: Past and Present, Toronto, Green Dragon Press and The Ontario Women's History Network, 2004, p. 22.
Release Magazine – Feb 2018
Unless otherwise mentioned, all photos are courtesy of the Livingstone family
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