It was on this date in 1984 that Anne Cools made political history. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau placed her in the Senate and Cools therefore became not just Canada’s first black senator but North America’s first black senator. Senator Cools went on to serve in the Red Chamber until 2018.
Born and raised in Barbados, Cools’ family emigrated to Canada when she was 13. She studied sociology and psychology at McGill University and became a social worker after graduating.
While attending university, she was a student activist, advocating for students’ rights and against the Vietnam War and discrimination. In February,1969, she took part in a sit-in event at Montreal’s Sir George Williams University (which was later renamed Concordia University). Accusing the school’s administration of racial bias, nearly 100 student protesters occupied a building that housed the school’s computer center. During a standoff that lasted two weeks, the university’s computers were vandalized, leading to police action and arrests. Anne Cools was one of eight black protesters found guilty, despite the fact the damage took place in a different room from the one she had occupied. She served four months in prison.
In the latter half of the 70s Anne Cools served as executive director of a Toronto women’s shelter, initially working for no pay when the shelter was facing financial constraints. Cools later helped find funding and ultimately opened a second shelter as demand for such services increased.
Pierre Trudeau nominated her to the Senate in 1984 and by the time she retired in 2018, she had become the longest serving Senator in Canadian history.
Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist. He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney’s best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen’s Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy. A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel.