A Belated Goodbye to Wilma Morrison, a Niagara, Ontario Treasure

Wilma Morrison, a champion for heritage preservation, the go-to person on Black History in Niagara, and a beautiful human being, died this April. She was 91.

A Brief Tribute by Doug Draper, reporter and publisher, Niagara At Large

Posted May 20th, 2020

Wilma Morrison

I’m so sorry, Wilma, I am late again.

The first time I met this wonderful lady, more than 20 years ago, she was waiting for me in her beloved BME Church, Nathaniel Dett Memorial Chapel on Peer Street in Niagara Falls, and I was a reporter, still working for a daily newspaper in Niagara, assigned to do a story on Black History Month, and I was late.

I was late because the newspaper by then expected what few reporters they had left to do four stories at the same time, but when I got there and apologized for keeping her, Wilma Morrison greeted me with such a kind smile and said it was okay.

So here I am, with all of the chaos and stress going on around following this COVID-19 pandemic, late again – first to learn the news of your passing, then to post this.

Every February, during Black History Month, Wilma Morrison was, for many reporters in Niagara, looking to celebrate it in a story, and for many community groups looking for someone to speak about it to their members, the go-to person in this region.

She worked to archive that history like few others and she spoke about it with an engaging passion. Little wonder so many groups across Niagara, who were interested in heritage and history, wanted her for a speaker.

Wilma Morrison, addressing graduating students after receiving an honorary degree at Brock University in 2010.

Wilma never seemed to go out of her way for recognition or praise, but she received many well deserved honours, including an Order of Ontario Award at Queen’s Park a decade ago and an honorary Doctorate degree at Brock University around the same time – awards she always accepted with a mix of pride and humility, like; “This for little me.”

She was a truly sweet person and a model of a person who engages positively in her community. It would do also all well to find inspiration in her example.

This past February, as Black History month began; I thought of her again and made a stab to get in touch with her. But I could not find the old card she gave me with her phone number on it, and could not find a phone number for her.

So I wrote my Black History piece for Niagara At Large anyway, and could not help mentioning Wilma with these words – “When we turn the pages of the calendar to February and to Black History Month, one of the very first of the good people who come to my mind each year is Wilma Morrison, a Niagara Falls, Ontario. … Wilma has possibly done more than anyone else in Niagara to archive black history in the region.”

A little gushy, perhaps, but I meant every word of it. And little did I know at the time that the COVID pandemic that was already landing on this continent would two months later count Wilma, who had been living in a retirement home in Niagara Falls, among its causalities.

One of the first times I met Wilma Morrison, we went off on tangents about other things, including music, and she told me how much she loved an album by the late, great jazz piano player Oscar Peterson called ‘Canadiana Suite’.

On the way home, I stopped at a record store and picked up a copy of that album, and every time I play it I think of Wilma. And I always will.

What a great lady and what a loss to our Niagara community.

Thankfully, the tireless work she did preserving so many important parts of our region’s heritage and history will always be her legacy.

To read a recent tribute that Brock University recently posted on Wilma Morrison, click on https://brocku.ca/brock-news/2020/04/brock-mourns-long-time-friend-and-honorary-degree-recipient-wilma-morrison/

AGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space following the Bernie Sanders quote below.

“A Politician Thinks Of The Next Election. A Leader Thinks Of The Next Generation.” – Bernie Sanders

3 responses to “A Belated Goodbye to Wilma Morrison, a Niagara, Ontario Treasure

  1. Robert McMaster

    What an inspiration she was to so many, in the Niagara Region.
    And even though late, Doug, I can almost see her smile, and her saying,
    “you’ve been quite busy, Doug, thank you for taking the time to write”.


  2. Gail Benjafield

    Indeed, I agree with Robert. Wilma would understand. Over 40 years ago, knowing I was writing articles about black history, Harriet Tubman and the St. atharines. B.M.E. church — with then doyenne of the St. C. B.M.E., Helen Smith, Wilma asked me if I would join with her as a member of the fledgling Niagara Black History Society. Of course I would. Wilma could convince anyone of anything, even a young white woman like me. We worked together for years.

    Softspoken, but what a powerhouse she was.

    We stayed in touch regularly, —- with birthdays remembered and more. I visited her, and last called her on her birthday in late February. Ever concerned about others, Wilma asked about mutual friends, rather than herself.
    I was honoured to be asked to her 90th birthday celebration in N.F, Feb., 2019.
    For Wilma now, the best we can do, aside from what is already suggested, is to donate to her Peer St. Nathanial Dett chapel … and carry her legacy foirward

    Bless this woman.


  3. Gary Screaton Page

    A jewel indeed! She put others first and gave life to Black History Month. Wilma made so many aware of just how much of that history resides right here in the Niagara Region.
    What a blessing!


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