A profile of Violet King, the 1st Black Woman to practice law in Canada and her former Sunnyside Heritage Home!
Violet King (b.1929 in Calgary and d.1982 in New York) was a trailblazer- the 1st Black Canadian to obtain a Law degree in Alberta (1953), 1st Black person admitted to the Alberta Bar (1954) and 1st Black woman to become a lawyer in Canada.
Her parents John & Stella King were part of an African American group of farmers who migrated in 1911 from Oklahoma to Alberta to avoid racism. However, the actions of the Canadian Government at that time did little to welcome Black settlers to Canada. One example was the Order-in-Council under the Cabinet of PM Wilfred Laurier proposed (but never became law) in 1911 to ban Black people from entering Canada for a period of one year, it read ‘the Negro race…is deemed unsuitable to the climates and requirements of Canada’.
The Kings first lived in the all-Black settlement of Keystone, Alberta. They then moved to the Sunnyside community (Calgary) in 1919. John worked as a ‘sleeping car porter’ with the CPR and Stella worked as a seamstress. They raised their 4 children in their modest home at 518-7th Avenue NW.
Violet attended Crescent Heights High School followed by the University of Alberta (one of only 3 women in the Faculty of Law). She articled in Calgary and spoke out publicly against racism, in Nov 1955 she remarked “It is too bad that a Japanese, Chinese or colored girl has to outshine others to secure a position.”
One of her siblings, Ted King also was outspoken about Civil Rights. He was the president of the Alberta Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1958-1961. In 1959 he launched a legal challenge against a Calgary motel’s discriminatory practices. The case made it to the Alberta Supreme Court and while it was unsuccessful it drew awareness to the barriers and lack of human rights protection laws in Canada at the time.
Violet moved to Ottawa to work for the Department of Citizenship & Immigration in 1956, then in 1963 saw a greater need and moved to New Jersey to become ED of the Newark YMCA where she set up urban social planning programs for Blacks. She married and had one daughter. In 1969 she moved to Chicago and became Director of Manpower, Planning & Staff Development of the YMCA – the 1st woman to be named to a senior management position with that organization.
‘King shattered glass ceilings and broke down colour barriers to pave the way for future generations. Her hard work and drive to excel in all facets of her career are an inspiration for those who also aspire to do great things in their field.’
Sources: The Canadian Encyclopedia; Calgary’s Henderson Directories; University of Alberta @UAlberta; Wikipedia; Calgary Herald articles: ‘Prairie Roots: Calgary-born Violet King Henry the first black woman to practise law in Canada’ by Brian Brennan Nov2,1996; Miss Violet King Is Credit to the City’ by Teen Nolan, June 26,1958; ‘Former Calgary Lawyer Moves to New US Job’ Oct 1,1963.
Written by Lorna Cordeiro, Hillhurst Sunnyside Heritage sub-committee.