As Black History Month comes to its conclusion, the College of Midwives of Ontario is reflecting on Black midwives’ significant contributions to maternal health and reproductive justice, and celebrating the researchers who are ensuring that these legacies are never forgotten.
The history of midwifery in Ontario does not begin with the passage of the Midwifery Act in 1991. Indigenous midwives in what is now called Ontario have attended births in their communities for countless generations.
Black people who were forcibly brought to North America in the 1600’s also practised midwifery upon arrival in the region in communities such as Buxton, Oakville, and Orillia. Due to isolation, and their prohibition from certain medical services, Black midwives used their knowledge of herbal medicine to support the well being of their entire communities.
However, as a result of systemic oppression against Black and Indigenous communities, and the medicalization of birth, the tradition of community midwifery began to decline around the early 1900’s. By the 1950’s, midwifery had all but disappeared in Ontario.
The College of Midwives of Ontario is honoring Black History Month by reflecting on this history, and on the significant contributions that Black midwives have made to maternal health and reproductive justice up to the present day.
While much history has been erased, these midwives’ legacies are now being revealed by new generations. We celebrate projects such as Colour of Birth, which is unearthing the hidden histories of racialized midwives in Canada, beginning with African slave refugees and Black indentured worker immigrants who lived in early settlement communities during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
This research ensures that the rich history of Black midwifery in Canada is never forgotten.
“Black midwives working among Black communities have been guiding lights through adversity, advocating for their community’s human rights.”Stacy Lewis, 2018, the Colour of Birth.