The recent passing of June Callwood has left a void in the community and is being felt throughout Canada. She was a champion for the cause of social justice and committed her life to helping others, through the founding of many charitable organizations in Toronto.
Callwood was known to most as “Saint June” the title bestowed upon her by the media, because of her dedication to many causes over the years.
Her activism led to the creation of over 50 different non-profits, most notably Jessie’s Centre and Casey House. These two institutions were created by Callwood in the 1980s to address the social stigma regarding teenage mothers and HIV/AIDS in Toronto.
A person who tried to fix things
“June was a shining example of a person who tried to fix things and repair the world,” says Callwood biographer Anne Dublin, who wrote “June Callwood: A Life of Action.
Callwood advocated for women’s and children’s rights almost all her life and in doing so she realized the necessity for a place where unwed pregnant teens could get valuable assistance. As a result in 1982, Jessie’s Centre for Teenagers was established.
Liz Chamberlain, Executive Director at Jessie’s Centre, says that Callwood inspired others with her support for women and children.
“June was all about little things, little acts of kindness.” Throughout the ‘80s she fought for equality on many different fronts.
In 1988, Callwood’s fight for an HIV/AIDS palliative care unit was won and Casey House Hospice became the first of its kind in Canada. It was named in honour of her son, Casey Frayne, who died in a motor vehicle accident.
Stephanie Karapita, CEO of Casey House, says that Callwood will be remembered as a compassionate woman who had the vision and gave the time to help people in need.
“She was truly dedicated to human beings as individuals and wanted to do everything she could in her life to make a difference in the lives of people that really needed help.”
‘She had a lot of painful experiences’
Not only was Callwood a support base for those with emotional needs, but there were times in her life when she wasn’t totally poised. This is because of the hurt she felt from people who took her for granted.
“She had a lot of painful experiences in her life,” Dublin said. “One was of course when Casey died, but the other which she suffered so much from was that incident around Nellie’s, when some people called her a racist.”
This incident occurred when a board meeting at Nellie’s Hostel turned into an altercation and members accused her of being insensitive to a black woman.
Callwood was deeply affected by these accusations and never fully recovered from them.
What is known is that June Callwood was a powerful person in the community, one that was respected all over Canada for the work she had accomplished in her time.
The organizations that she founded and the people she met along the way were profoundly changed by this woman, which is the most lasting accomplishment she could ever have dreamed.