Celebrating the life of Lucya Spencer

Lucya Spencer

Lucya Spencer

Photo copyright: Black Ottawa Scene

Lucya’s Story

Ottawa’s Black community lost a highly respected community leader and advocate, with the passing of Lucya Spencer on Wednesday, 15 February, after a courageous battle with cancer. Prior to her death, Lucya was the Executive Director of the Immigrant Women Services Ottawa.

Aged 73, Lucya Spencer was born in Antigua, an island in the Caribbean. Her first visit to Ottawa was in 1976, however she returned to her native Antigua, but continued visiting and finally settled here in May 1982.

The days following her arrival, Lucya became involved with the immigrant women’s group under the leadership of Rosamaria Durand, the then Program Coordinator at the Ottawa Carleton Immigrant Services Organization, now the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO). This group of women met regularly to share information and discuss economic opportunities.  As time progressed,   OCISO established a cooperative with three distinct businesses – Esperia Seamstresses, Many Hands  Catering and the Women’s Craft Store.   Lucya was hired to Manage the Cooperative until OCISO decided to restructure .  The decision was taken in 1985 to close out the Cooperative and  create a centre where women could acquire information,  engage in  workshops on different themes and learn more about the integration process.  Lucya was hired as one of the Coordinators, a position she held until about 1990.

In 1988 with the other Coordinators in the Women’s Program at OCISO, she co-founded Immigrant and Visible Minority Women Against Abuse (IVMWAA),  now known as Immigrant Women Services Ottawa (IWSO). The mandate of that agency was and continues to be, to provide culturally appropriate services to immigrant women and their children who are victims/survivors of violence, and other services and/or programs which assist immigrant women in their journey to attain their full potential.

In late 1993, IWSO experienced some challenging times and Lucya left her then position at OCISO and accepted the position of Executive Director at IWSO, a position she held until her death. During those years she rose to the challenge and helped bring stability to the agency that continues to play a significant role in the Ottawa community, in spite of the climate of funding cuts.

Working on the front lines gave Lucya insights into the realities faced by newcomers, including women and children, the policies of governments at all levels and the impact on the people for whom they were intended.    She became actively involved with advocacy groups at the national and provincial levels, and worked tirelessly to keep the issues of newcomers especially women and children on the community and political agendas.

Lucya served as President of several organizations including:  the Ontario Immigrant and Visible Minority Women’s Organization;  the  National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada;  the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, and Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa, the first person of colour to hold this position.

Her international experience  included participation on various Canadian delegations preparing for and  attending the UN Conference on Women and the World Conference Against Racism. She was also involved in planning the First World Conference on Family Violence in Singapore.

Lucya  loved to share her knowledge and the keep the issues of newcomers on the agenda.  She served as the President of World Skills Employment Centre and was co-chair of the Ontario Network of Language Interpretation Services (ONLIS).  She also served on many local committees including the Board of Crime Prevention Ottawa – City of Ottawa; Ottawa Local Initiative Partnership (OLIP) Council where she co-chaired the Language Sector table.

Lucya received many awards for her contribution to the community.  Notable among them were: The Governor General’s Canadian Study Conference Appreciation Award (1995);  the United Way Community Builder Award ( 2008); the OCASI Award of Excellence for outstanding leadership (2008); the Black Women’s Civic Engagement Award for professional and social activism that helped build stronger communities across Canada (2011); and most recently, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Recognition Award for longstanding service to the Settlement and Integration Community (2013).

Lucya had addressed many audiences in Canada and abroad on the issue of Violence Against Women and Children and also on  Settlement and Integration issues.

Lucya was the proud mother of one adult daughter, Andrea Spencer, and is survived by eight siblings.

Lucya will be laid to rest on Sunday March 5, 2017, after a funeral service at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, 2200 Benjamin Avenue, Ottawa, at 11.00 a.m.

Pics of Lucya’s early days at OCISO below, courtesy Leslie Emory, OCISO



Leslie Emory, Executive Director, Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization

In the early days of her career, OCISO had the great privilege of calling Lucya Spencer our own. Lucya was the first Coordinator of OCISO’s Multicultural Women’s Centre out of which immigrant women ran a tailoring service and sold articles of clothing and crafts as well as a catering service called Many Hands. Social Enterprise businesses have become trendy within the non-profit sector in recent years. That Lucya Spencer was leading such a venture well over 3o years ago is a testament to the trail blazing visionary that she was. 

Although, regrettably, I only knew Lucya personally for a few short years, I experienced directly her intensity of caring, commitment to serve with integrity and overflowing love of levity that many of my colleagues have expressed as we reflected on her this week. We’ll take courage from her tremendous efforts and achievements as we carry on in our work on a path made so much the better because she has journeyed it with us.


Carl Nicholson, Executive Director, Catholic Centre for Immigrants, Ottawa

Lucya Spencer, a pioneer in providing services to immigrant women and children, passed away after a brief illness on Tuesday, Feb. 14.

Ms. Spencer, the former executive director and co-founder of the Immigrant Women Services Ottawa (IWSO), was an outstanding leader who during her career consistently advanced issues that impacted the lives of immigrant women and children. She worked tirelessly to empower them and focused on the elimination of all forms of violence against women, including in the wider context of settlement and integration issues.

Born in Antigua, Ms. Spencer came to Canada and settled in Ottawa where she quickly became involved with the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization. In 1988, she co-founded Immigrant Women Services Ottawa, and in 1993, became its Executive Director, a position she held until she retired last year.

Her contribution to the Ottawa community was invaluable and she served on several boards. Notably, she served as the President of LASI/World Skills, President of the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa, President of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants and the National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada. She was also a valued board member of Crime Prevention Ottawa, Past Chair of the Selection Committee of the Ontario Government’s Outstanding Achievement Award for Voluntarism, and Guest Editorial Board – Canadian Women Studies.

A dedicated worker, she received many awards during her lifetime, including the Governor General Canadian Study Conference Appreciation Award (1995), the United Way Community Builder Award (2008), the OCASI Award of Excellence for outstanding leadership (2008), the Black Women’s Civic Engagement Award for professional and social activism that helped build stronger communities across Canada (2011), the Femmy Award, and the Citizenship and Immigration Canada recognition award for long-standing service to the Settlement and Integration Community (2013).

Her colleagues at the IWSO said her generosity knew no bounds and touched many lives.

“Lucya was more than a boss, she was a mentor, a motivator and a formidable leader who always found time to discuss issues with me as they arose,” said Mercy Lawluvi, Executive Director of the IWSO.

“She was a great advocate for the most vulnerable within our community and her legacy will live on. She was a remarkable woman who conducted herself with such dignity and poise. What a privilege to have worked with her,” added Ms. Lawluvi.

Zahide Yilbas, Manager, IWSO Language Services, said Ms. Spencer helped many women who were in need. “She brought hope to those who were distressed, smiles to those who were safe and comfort to those who were lonely. Her kindness will always be remembered and appreciated.”

At an event that focused on immigrant women and their stories, Ms. Spencer shared this sentiment with the audience.

“While I recognize that perfection is an elusive dream, I have always gone beyond the call of duty to fulfill any task. I have agreed to undertake and the result have spoken for themselves. Some of my efforts have been recognized by others through testimonials, awards or just the common words ‘thank you’ or ‘God bless you’ – words I treasure deeply as they cannot be equated with a monetary value.”

In 2014, the Honourable Senator Mobina Jaffer praised Ms. Spencer’s work in the Senate.

“Lucya Spencer truly understands the challenges of the most vulnerable. She has been a bridge for immigrant women, allowing them to reach their full potential. I have no doubt that many women in Canada would not be where they are today if it wasn’t for the great work of Lucya Spencer. It has been my great pleasure to work with Lucya for the past 30 years.”


Image may contain: 1 person, text


June Girvan, Acting President,Black History Ottawa 
In each generation there are champions born, who fearlessly confront injustices and leave the world better for their being here. Lucya Spencer was such a gift to us here in Ottawa. The ancestors are surely celebrating her as a descendant in whom they are well pleased. She was woman of statue, who in her very presence, projected ‘I am Woman!’ And I say, of the Lucya who I so deeply admired, “I thank you for Being among us. Your work carries on to generations, through us whose life you touched personally; and in the social systems enhanced by your sensibilities; your determination, power and grace. Rest contentedly, Lucya, knowing that because of you, we are finer people; Ottawa is a better pace. Rest in contentment, knowing that Nature and Nurture are  saying of you, ‘This was a Woman’. Gratitude that you were with us.”
Pin It

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *