Black History Month: Lillie Johnson

First Black director of public health in Ontario and founder of the Sickle Cell Association of Ontario.

Born in 1922, the third child and first daughter in a family of nine children, Lillie Johnson came to Canada from Jamaica in 1960. She was already a trained and experienced nurse, teacher, and midwife, having worked in both Jamaica and the U.K. Johnson went on to earn her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Toronto, and spent her career in Ontario serving in many different capacities. She taught a course in Child and Maternal Health at Humber College, and then became the first Black director of public health in Ontario’s Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark district.

The accomplishment for which Lillie Johnson is best known, though, is the founding of the Sickle Cell Association of Ontario in 1981, which still exists today. She was indispensable in lobbying the government for the inclusion of Sickle Cell Disease in newborn screening in Ontario. Incredibly accomplished in her field, Johnson has received numerous different awards and honours in her lifetime, including being the torch bearer for the Pan-Am Games in 2015, and being invested into the Order of Ontario (the province’s highest honour) in 2010.

Now nearly 100 years old, Lillie Johnson has had a tremendous impact on health care in Ontario, and remains dedicated and passionate about family, health care, and education. In 2015, she published her memoir, entitled “My Dream.”

Shaelyn Ryan <br>(Collections Technician/Assistant 2022)
Shaelyn Ryan
(Collections Technician/Assistant 2022)

Shaelyn Ryan is a recent graduate of Queen’s University, having completed her Bachelor’s degree in History in 2021, and is returning to Queen’s in the fall to pursue a Master’s degree in History. Either as a Summer Student or Work-Study Student through Queen’s University, Shaelyn has helped catalogue and research many of the museum’s collection of artefacts as a Collections Technician (since 2018). 

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