November 24th, 2011
Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I am very pleased today to continue my series about strong Cape Breton women.
One has to admire any person who plans and makes a genuine effort to better their life and the lives of those dear to them. Truly special are those who can examine their situation and, upon realizing they have not the means to change their plan, lobby instead to change their circumstances and set in motion changes that benefit the broader population as well as future generations. One such woman is Clotilda Yakimchuk.
Ms. Yakimchuk was born and raised in Whitney Pier, Nova Scotia. She is the daughter of immigrants from the Caribbean who came to Cape Breton to work in the steel mill.
In 1954 Clotilda became the first Black graduate of the Nova Scotia Hospital School of Nursing, despite having faced many challenges and discrimination along the way. She says of her profession that she grew up without a role model to spark her interest in nursing, but that it was just something she knew she wanted to do.
After graduation, she moved to Grenada with her first husband where she ran the mental health hospital. In 1967 she returned to Canada, taking a position as staff nurse at the Sydney City Hospital. She later became nursing supervisor and then director of staff development at the Cape Breton Hospital. It was here that she served as director of educational services until her retirement from nursing in 1994.
Throughout her career, Ms. Yakimchuk has demonstrated an incredible amount of commitment and passion for her work. She has served as president of the Registered Nurses Association of Nova Scotia, which now goes by the name of the College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia. To date, she is the organization's only elected Black president in 100 years of its history.
While maintaining her professional career and raising her five children as a single parent, Clotilda established herself as, and continues to be, a well-respected activist in her community. She was a founding president of the Black Community Development Organization, leading the movement to provide affordable housing in low-income communities. She is also a strong proponent of Cape Breton University, having played a significant role in the campaign to have the university offer its own nursing degree. In May of 2010, the university awarded Ms. Yakimchuk, at the age of 78, an honorary doctorate of laws, alongside students graduating from the very nursing program for which she had lobbied.
In 1991, she received the national Harry Jerome Award to acknowledge her significant cultural and community achievements. She has also received the College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia's Centennial Award of Distinction, as well as an honorary diploma from Nova Scotia Community College. Clotilda received the Order of Canada in 2003 and has been inducted into the Nova Scotia Black Hall of Fame.
Honourable senators, it is clear that Clotilda Yakimchuk is a remarkable trailblazer. We need more people like her who not only see problems and say, "That's not good enough," but who also create solutions.
Honourable senators, I look forward to telling you more about the lives of Cape Breton women who have made huge contributions to their communities.