Photo credit: Museum of Health Care blog https://museumofhealthcare.blog/black-history-month-lillie-johnson/
by Olivia Barrett, Editorial Associate
Thursday 25 January 2024
From being the first Black director of public health in Ontario to creating the Sickle Cell Association of Ontario, Lillie Johnson has dedicated her career to improving public health within the Black community. This dedication, along with her many other accomplishments, led to her appointment to the Order of Canada in 2023.
Before migrating to Canada in 1960, Johnson was already trained as a teacher, a midwife and a nurse with experience in England, Jamaica and Scotland. Upon moving to Canada, Johnson attended the University of Toronto and earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She went on to teach a Child and Maternal Health course at Humber College before taking on a multitude of roles in public health throughout her career.
Johnson’s expertise in health opened up many opportunities for her. These include being a consultant for the Ministry of Health, becoming the first Black director of Public Health for the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark Health Unit in Eastern Ontario. In these positions, Johnson made her mark on the public health sector in Ontario, specifically with the founding of the Sickle Cell Association of Ontario in 1981.
Throughout her career, Johnson has been a key figure in public health sector advocating for awareness around sickle cell disease. In 2006, Johnson was successful in getting the province of Ontario to include sickle cell disease in newborn screening. In 2009, British Colombia and Yukon followed Ontario to include this disease in newborn screening.
In addition to her impactful work in the public health sector in Ontario, Johnson has received a myriad of awards and honours, including her appointment to the Order of Ontario in 2011. Other awards and honours include the Toronto Public Health Champion in 2009, the Legacy Award at the Inaugural Black Health Alliance Awards in 2014, being a torch bearer at the 2015 Pan-Am Games and the Bloomberg Award from the Bloomberg School of Nursing at the University of Toronto.
To honour her legacy, The Sickle Cell Disease Association launched the Lillie Johnson Excellence in Nursing Award in 2022 for Johnson’s 100th birthday.
Johnson’s commitment to the advancement of the wellbeing of the Black community continues to benefit the public health sector in Ontario as her legacy is honoured through her appointment to the Order of Canada.