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Caribbean Pioneer Women Doc Now in Development

MBI Productions has been commissioned by the Caribbean Pioneer Women of Canada, to develop and produce a documentary feature, about the organization. The story will be told through the life of Ms. Thelma Johnson, the founder and driving force behind the organization.

Ms Johnson is pleased that her story and that of the Caribbean Pioneer Women will now move from print to the big screen. For her, this is the best medium to tell the story because, “our children deserve to know our history and this is an important part of Black, Canadian and Caribbean history. I am equally pleased that the documentary is being done by someone I watched grow up and know her family well.”

The Caribbean Pioneer Women of Canada was started in 1985 when MS Johnson banded together a group of women who came to Canada under the “Domestic Scheme Program”, that was created by the Canadian Government, in the 1950s. The organization was created to provide sisterhood, self- empowerment and promote social and cultural events. Today, it not only helps members but also charitable organizations, the elderly, the youth, the sick and others of the wider community. Over time the organization has evolved into a significant force for good in the Black community. Through its fundraising initiatives, particularly its annual Tea Party, it has been able to facilitate $ 60,000+ in scholarships and bursaries to Canadian Students through the Rev. Charles Este Scholarship Fund given at the Union United Church and the Annual Tea Party. They have also donated significant sums to educational institutions in Jamaica.

Many of the women who came to Canada on the “Domestic Scheme” were educated. They saw the program as an opportunity to travel and to create a different life for themselves. After one year of domestic service, these women were given Landed Status. Most of them moved on to pursue higher education or establish businesses. In the case of Ms. Thelma Johnson, she moved to Indianapolis where she attended the Madame C J Walker College of Beauty Culture. Graduating with a diploma in Cosmetology with honours, she returned to Canada and pioneered the first co-op program in hairdressing providing structural occupational training on a weekly basis throughout the school year with the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal.

She opened one of the first Black hairdressing salons, in Montreal, and called it Thelma’s House of Beauty. She successfully ran the business for thirty-seven years before retiring. The salon became a landmark in Montreal, not only for its hairdressing services but because it was a safe place where young and old alike could drop in, find a listening ear or a helping hand. Producer, Patricia Scarlett, who grew up in Montreal, was one of those young people who often dropped by the salon on her way home from elementary school. ”It’s strange how things come full circle. I have very fond memories of time spent at Thelma’s House of Beauty. Ms Johnson was and is one of my sheroes. I remember how hard she worked yet she still made time to help others. Her story and those of the other members of the Caribbean Pioneer Women is an important piece of Canadian history. I am truly honoured to be given the opportunity to produce this documentary,” says Patricia Scarlett. But the connections don’t just end with Patricia. Diane De La Haye, who recently joined Media Business Institute (MBI), a company founded by Patricia Scarlett, also has a connection to Ms. Johnson. "I know the whole Johnson family back when they were my grandmother's neighbours in August Town. We kept in touch after Thelma moved to Canada and decades later when I returned to Montreal, she and her sister Fay were helpful in getting my daughter and I settled," says Diane.

Combining original, archival footage and stills, the film will document Thelma Johnson’s journey from August Town, Jamaica to Montreal and by so doing tell the story of the lived experiences of the women who were members of the Caribbean Pioneer Women of Canada and their impact on Montreal’s Black Community.

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