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Canadian broadcaster highlights trailblazing Bermudian teacher

Millie Burgess, an educator honoured for her pioneering work in Ontario. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

A Bermudian educator has been recognised for her trailblazing work in Canada as she nears her 100th birthday.

Millie Burgess, 99, was highlighted by the Canadian Broadcasting Company this week as the first woman teacher of African descent to teach in the Ontario school system.

The outlet added that she may also be the first Black woman in Canada to complete a teaching degree.

Ms Burgess first went to Canada after winning a scholarship in Bermuda to study teaching.

She attended the Hamilton Teachers’ College and the Toronto Teachers’ College and returned to Bermuda to teach for six years.

While back in Bermuda, she married Leroy Burgess, who had attended the University of Toronto and wanted to return to Canada to live and work.

She landed her first teaching job in Toronto in 1957, and continued to work in Canada for the next 34 years.

Ms Burgess said she encountered some culture shock when she began to teach in downtown Toronto as many students were new to the country and did not speak English.

But she said her position as a Black educator also sparked some challenges from parents.

“It didn't seem to bother the kids,” she said. “They responded to me just as if I was a regular teacher. I didn't have any trouble with that, but some of the parents did … a lot of the parents.”

She told the CBC that she remembered parents coming to her class and asking when the teacher was arriving. On at least one occasion, she said a parent told the principal that a Black teacher would not teach his child.

However, over the years she was joined at the job by other Black teachers — including several of her siblings inspired to enter the profession after she taught them during summer holidays.

Rosemary Sadlier, a friend of Ms Burgess and the past president of the Ontario Black History Society, said Ms Burgess overcame racism by continuously proving she was an excellent teacher.

She said that Ms Burgess would invite parents who doubted her skills to watch her teach her class.

Ms Sadlier said: "They came into her classroom. They watched her teach. And they encouraged her to stay for as long as she wanted.“

In 2012, Ms Burgess was awarded the Reverend Addie Aylestock Award by the Ontario Black History Society for her work.

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Published February 03, 2023 at 7:54 am (Updated February 03, 2023 at 7:54 am)

Canadian broadcaster highlights trailblazing Bermudian teacher

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