B. Denham Jolly, a teacher, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and civil rights leader who was born in Jamaica, made history in 2020 with his appointment as a Member of the Order of Canada. This is one of the highest civilian honors awarded in the country. Jolly was among 113 recipients of the award conferred by Governor General Julie Payette. A statement from the Governor-General noted that members of the Order “have changed our nation’s measure of success” and helped to “build a better Canada” through their accomplishments.
Jolly was recognized for his efforts to promote equity and opportunity in the black community of the Greater Toronto Area. Toronto had previously honored Jolly by naming a city street after him. Jolly said he was humbled to receive one of the highest honors presented by a G7 country, a place where he has lived for more than 60 years. He added that he was honored to be considered a contributor to “such a great country.”
Barbara Smith, Jolly’s sister who once served as a principal of Montego Bay High School, said her brother has continues to be supportive of his family in Jamaica, noting they were very proud of his achievements. His niece Karen Smith shared that Jolly had been a source of stability following the death of her father when she was just two years old. Later, he supported her education at Concordia University in Montreal, she said, adding that he is dedicated to the family. Jolly’s appointment to the Order of Canada was a “well-deserved honour,” Karen said.
Jolly was born in Industry, Cove, Hanover, in Jamaica. He attended Cornwall College and migrated to Canada in 1955 following his acceptance to the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College. He started his career in business by buying and operating rooming houses and nursing homes. He was the first black owner of a newspaper and radio station in Toronto.
In 2019, the Mayor of Toronto John Tory named a street in a new subdivision Jolly Way in honor of the pioneer civil rights activist and emphasized the considerable contributions made by the black community to the development of the city.
In 2017, a memoir Jolly wrote about growing up in Toronto “In the Black” was the winner of the Toronto Book Award. The book also describes the overt racism and discrimination Jolly experienced while he established his business in the city during the 1950s.
The Order of Canada was established in 1967 to recognize individuals of high achievement who have demonstrated their dedication to the community and outstanding service to the nation. The Order has over 7,000 members who represent all sectors of Canadian society.
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