The community ‘has lost a revered member’ in Sally Houston

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Sally Houston

Sally Houston’s warm smile and engaging personality were not hard to miss for those
attending the Ontario Black History Society’s (OBHS) Black History Month launch over
the years.
The long-time Board member died on February 21 at age 87.
“She was a wonderful woman and friend,” said Jean Augustine who is Canada’s first Black
female parliamentarian. “I will miss her ever-smiling face. The community has lost a
revered member.”
Seeing Houston yearly at the launch was a highlight for Bernice Carnegie, the daughter of
late hockey pioneer Herb Carnegie.
“Her infectious smile and warm hug always started the event off well for me,” she said. “I
am going to miss her. She, however, lives on as she has not left us without disseminating
her humanitarian qualities to her children.”
Houston was an OBHS Board member for 17 years up until 2017.
In 2018, the organization honoured her with a Lifetime Honorary Director Award.
Houston joined the OBHS after retiring in 1996 from Richardson Greenshields of Canada
which was acquired by Dominion Securities the same year. Royal Bank of Canada
obtained 100 per cent ownership of Dominion Securities a few months later.
“I was with them for 20 years and when I left on the last day, I walked into the OBHS
office which was a few blocks away and inquired if they needed help,” Houston told Share
in an interview six years ago. “The office manager told me to sit down and offered me the
opportunity to send out membership records and help with some of the files. I have
enjoyed every moment with the organization, and I still help out by doing some work for
them from home.”
The fifth-generation Canadian came from a family with deep ties to Owen Sound where
she was born and raised.
From around 1830 to the conclusion of the American Civil War in 1865, escaped slaves
made their way across the Canada-United States border through the Underground Railroad.
Many of them ended up in Owen Sound which was the railroad’s last stop.
Escaping from Baltimore, Houston’s great-great-grandfather – John Green – reached Owen
Sound in 1856 and married Mary Ann Gordon. Their first child, Thomas Green, was born
six years later. Blessed with a wonderful tenor voice, he delivered ice and was a preacher
at the British Methodist Episcopal (BME) church.
The 13th of 15 children was a teen disc jockey winner, one of the first Black drum
majorettes in an all-girls band sponsored by Lady Cavell Lodge and the host of ‘Hit
Parade’ on Friday nights on CFOS which is an AM radio station broadcasting from
downtown Owen Sound.
When Houston’s application for a full-time position was turned down, she quit the station
and applied to Richard, Bond & Wright which grew into one of the most important printing
establishments in Canada.

“I hadn’t completed high school as yet, so the receptionist told me to do that and come
back for a job that would be waiting for me,” said Houston whose parents – Russell and
Gertrude Green – were married for 66 years.
The promise was kept, and she spent six months in the typing pool before becoming a
receptionist, making her one of the very few Blacks in Owen Sound at the time to hold an
office job.
After nearly five and half years and in her early 20s, Houston moved to Windsor in search
of a better job and a male companion.
“Most of the males around my age group in Owen Sound were somehow related to me, so
I had to go elsewhere,” she said laughingly.
Houston got her wishes.
She secured employment at Burroughs Adding Machine Company, working on the
assembly line and was promoted to a front-office position a few months later.
Marrying Bob Houston in July 1962, the couple had the first of their four children five
months later and relocated to Toronto.
Every year, Houston and her family returned to Owen Sound for the Emancipation Festival
and Picnic held annually since 1862 on the first weekend of August, marking the
anniversary of the British Emancipation Act of August 1, 1834.
“I have missed just one and that was when my last daughter (Pam) was born,” she said at
the time. “My family in the Greater Toronto Area take time off from their jobs to drive up
there and spend a fun weekend. Of course, they have never left me behind. Every visit
brings back fond memories and I meet new relatives.”
Just before her husband passed away in 1991, Houston joined the Christ Church-St. James
British Methodist Episcopal Church.
Established in 1845 as a place of devotion for Blacks who did not feel comfortable
worshipping in mainstream churches, members assembled at 94 Chestnut St. for almost
105 years until the congregation could no longer maintain the building.
Granted use to share space with the Afro-Community Church at 460 Shaw St., the two
congregations amalgamated a few years later and worshipped under the administration of
Revs. Thomas Jackson and Alexander Markham.
After the building at 460 Shaw St. was destroyed by fire in April 1998, members
worshipped at various churches until a new home was found in October 2001 at the current
location at 1828 Eglinton Ave. West.
Houston served as assistant clerk and clerk and was a longstanding choir member until she
became ill.
She is survived by four children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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