No Burden to Carry: Narratives of Black Working Women in Ontario, 1920s to 1950s


286 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-88961-163-7
DDC 971.3'00496





Reviewed by Janet Arnett

Janet Arnett is the former campus manager of adult education at Ontario’s Georgian College. She is the author of Antiques and Collectibles: Starting Small, The Grange at Knock, and 673 Ways to Save Money.



This oral history deserves recognition for being essentially a
pioneering work. Although the movement to preserve and respect black
history is underway at last, to date black women have received little
recognition for their roles in the history of Canada. This work goes a
long way toward getting the process started.

The women whose words fill this book are not seniors. They speak of
their experiences as young women struggling to find a place for
themselves in the predominantly white society of Ontario from just
before World War I to shortly after World War II. They recall the
struggle to break out of the domestic-servant ghetto, the
“liberation” that came with the wartime labor shortages, and the
experience of trading the slavery of domestic work for high-risk jobs in
munitions factories. They show us identities built around serving their
families, churches, and—to whatever limited extent society would
allow—their communities. Discrimination so deep it becomes the
expected norm by both blacks and nonblacks seeps out of every page. The
stories these women tell are not pretty, and no amount of Pollyanna
gratefulness can lessen the horror of the way black women have been
treated in Ontario.

The narratives are characterized by the disjointed and at times
disorganized style of verbal recollections. This is to be expected to
some extent in an oral history, but tighter editing would have made the
work easier to read. A good slash-and-burn editing would increase its
impact dramatically by eliminating the tedious repetition.


Brand, Dionne., “No Burden to Carry: Narratives of Black Working Women in Ontario, 1920s to 1950s,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024,