In memory of Dr. Mavis Burke by Vandra Masemann
July 17, 2022
Today I grieve the passing of Dr. Burke at the same time as I am comforted by the fact that she is no longer suffering. I send all of her family and friends my deepest condolences. She had a profound effect on all of our lives, especially when she was calling to ask us to respond to her latest great idea or to help with an event or project. In this tribute, I will trace my memories of her and her various endeavours in the last 40 and more years.
Our lives are always bound up with memories of others who were present at the time, and who also knew Mavis. In my earliest memories of her, I also came into contact with Dr. Keith McLeod and Dr. Karen Mock. In the late 1970s, I had returned to Canada from the USA to teach at the former Faculty of Education at the University of Toronto, where they were both teaching at the time. I was teaching the Ministry of Education’s Additional Qualifications course in Multicultural Education which was held in the evening. Later in the school year, Professor McLeod informed me that Dr. Burke was coming as an inspector from the Ministry of Education to visit my class. My main memory is that she had an instant impact on all of us. She was friendly, concerned, well informed, and constructive in her suggestions. Even after the students had gone home, Keith and Mavis and I continued our intense discussion. It is not often that one meets a friend and colleague for life and knows it in that instant. We also realized that she was a highly placed official at the Ministry of Education when immigrants from the Caribbean were few and far between in such positions.
I continued to teach at the Faculty of Education as a colleague of Prof. McLeod and to do consulting in multicultural and anti-racist education during the 1980s with Inter Cultural Associates and as Masemann and Mock with Dr. Karen Mock. By that time, Mavis had been appointed as Chairperson and then President of the Ontario Advisory Council on Multiculturalism and Citizenship, which was a group started ten years previously by Premier Bill Davis when John Yaremko was Provincial Secretary and Secretary of Citizenship. It was composed of concerned citizens from all different backgrounds from all over Ontario. I was hired to write the review on the first ten years of the Council’s activities during the summer of 1982. It was a fascinating assignment as I had access to all of the files and the previous members of the Council. I also attended the review meeting at the Fern Resort where the members reflected on their achievements. Mavis’s leadership and organizational qualities were more than evident to me at that time. It was clear that the first ten years of the Council had laid a solid foundation for policy development of multiculturalism in Ontario. But various political changes brought about the dissolution of the Council, and Mavis was then appointed Chairperson of the Ontario Social Assistance and Review Board. At that time she was very concerned about the lack of recognition of the professional credentials of immigrants to Ontario and Canada – a problem that is still not solved. She later was appointed to the federal government’s Immigration and Refugee Board before she retired.
But the jewel in her crown was the founding and development of the organization Women for P.A.C.E. in 1987, later renamed PACE Canada. My first memory of hearing about this idea was while walking across Queen’s Park with Mavis and I think Karen Mock. Mavis told us that the Prime Minister of Jamaica had been in discussion with some Canadian officials, maybe even the Prime Minister, about what contribution Canada could make to recognizing the 25th anniversary of Jamaican independence. The idea that Mavis presented us with was something done entirely by women, both Canadian and Jamaican women, for the benefit of young children in Jamaica and eventually in Canada. This was the genesis of the organization that we know today. The early meetings were held courtesy of Keith McLeod in a classroom at the Faculty of Education. They then progressed to being held at the Jamaican Consulate in Toronto. Mavis strong-armed some of her closest colleagues and friends to adopt a basic school in Jamaica, and to come on visits to the schools in Jamaica at their own expense to help raise interest among members who had not yet adopted a school. (The names of these early pioneers can be found on the PACE website.) She helped organize fund-raisers and other events. The annual Strawberry Teas were a firm favourite. I recall an early one in particular held in the back garden of one of our supporters (was it the High Commissioner?) in Agincourt. Fashion shows, decorated hats, raffles, silent auctions, musical performances, poetry readings, story-telling, and great food became the signature of these events over the years. With the growth of the organization, the meetings and banquets had to be held in larger surroundings such as the community centre in Markham or even restaurants like the Old Mill. And the success of her efforts is evident in the 317 basic schools that are supported today.
It is not my place here to document the history of PACE Canada, but suffice it to say that she attended many meetings and fund-raisers, until she was no longer able to do so, always working for a more efficient and accountable organization. And she was highly respected for her work and devotion to the cause. I do not recall in my lifetime many people besides Mavis Burke who was always greeted by young and old with such respect and acknowledgement of her inspiration and leadership. And she was a person who had convinced so many people who volunteered to lend their efforts to the growth of the goals of the organization – the Adopt-a-School program, the sending of school supplies, the Tek the Bus program with computers for schools, the awards to ECE students in Canada and Jamaica, the teacher development programs, the Orff music program, the publication of books for the basic school level, and several other initiatives (see www. pacecanada.org).
Mavis also had an intellectual life that helped many students here in Canada. She attended many conferences and workshops over the years. She was a keynote speaker at various conferences. She was a founding member of the Keith A. McLeod Scholarship Committee, along with Dr. Ralph Masi, James Boyle, Judith Field, Kara Janigan, Kelly Akerman and myself. This committees gives out awards to graduate students at OISE for their thesis research in multiculturalism in community institutions such as museums, art galleries, libraries, and informal language programs, or for airfare and other expenses.
I know that I have not covered all the activities that Mavis Burke has been involved in. These are the places where our lives have intersected during the last 45 years. She has enriched the lives of those around her and made them aware of issues and struggles that they had not known of. She truly exemplifies the title that is on her obituary in the newspaper: Educator. We are forever in her debt. May she rest in peace.
Vandra Masemann, Ph.D.
Founding Member, Women for P.A.C.E
Founding Adopt-a-School sponsor