The RBC® Black History Month Student Essay Competition

Eva Smith

A black Canadian who has helped define Canada's diverse heritage and identity is Eva Smith whose compassion and dedication helped young people and marginalized Canadians achieve their goals.

Eva came to Canada, trained as a dental technician, in 1956 from Rio Bueno, Jamaica with the hopes of a better life. During this time, government policy was discriminatory; for those coming from the Caribbean, the only alternative was to enter the country as a domestic. In her spare time, while completing her domestic contract, Eva Smith attended Ryerson Polytechnical Institute and later became a counselor for the North York Board of Education.

Children were very important to her, especially when it came to the issue of staying in school. She saw it as a way for them to gain the discipline to reach their potential; she believed kids staying in school benefited society instead of being a burden to it.

In 1987, she helped found the North York Emergency Home for Youth, but died six months before the shelter actually opened. In her honour, the shelter was named Eva's Place.

Since then, the shelter has grown to be one of the largest youth shelter organizations in Toronto. Eva's Initiatives, which now operates three shelters, all bear her name: Eva's Place, Eva's Satellite and Eva's Phoenix.

Eva's Initiatives has a program to share information with other organizations throughout Canada to help them improve their programs for at-risk and homeless youth.

I am impressed to see that her work is not only touching the lives of people in Toronto, but across Canada and the world. I had the privilege to volunteer many times at the Eva's Phoenix Shelter. When volunteering there, it touched my heart to look around and take note of all the youth who are just like me, who have a place to live and another chance to succeed in society—all thanks to one special woman.

As a young Canadian with Caribbean roots, what I especially admire about Eva Smith is not only her hard work that gives youth a second chance to try to achieve their goals, but also that she never forgot her roots. She not only helped the youth, but also fought for the rights of domestic workers living and working in Toronto's Caribbean communities. She also helped to create the JCA (Jamaican Canadian Association), which helps provide support, training and employment opportunities for not only Caribbean people but people from all backgrounds. She was indeed an impressive woman, which is why I dedicate this essay in her honour.

David Grant, 17
Grade 12, Agincourt Collegiate Institute