Mary Burlie Day honours Edmonton activist and advocate

July 13, 2021 | Society

City Councillor Scott McKeen and Tamika Burlie, granddaughter of Mary Burlie, with the Mary Burlie Day proclamation.

On July 13, MacEwan University helped to share and celebrate the legacy of Mary Burlie, an exemplary advocate and activist.

The university partnered with Boyle Street Community Services to create a proposal for Mary Burlie Day, which was officially declared by City Councillor Scott McKeen at a ceremony attended by the late Mary Burlie’s family, government officials and members of the community. 

Mary Burlie was a frontline worker at Boyle Street Community Services for 26 years. Born in Arkansas under Jim Crow law to a black family of thirteen, she experienced racism, discrimination and poverty. Mary married a Canadian, John Burlie, and moved to Edmonton in 1969. She raised six children of her own, along with several foster children.

Seeing parallels between her own experiences with racism and poverty and the communities served by Boyle Street, Burlie offered to volunteer with the organization, which quickly led to her being hired as a full-time outreach worker.

She worked tirelessly to build a stronger and more compassionate community.
—Dr. Annette Trimbee

Burlie was particularly devoted to the urban Indigenous population and was passionate about reuniting families. She was loved by Boyle Street clients and was tireless in her dedication to her work, at times effectively managing 17 cases at once, when staff typically worked on six. She continued to work at Boyle Street up until she died of lung cancer in 1996 at the age of 61.

"Mary Burlie embodies the best of Boyle Street,” says Jordan Reiniger, executive director, Boyle Street Community Services. “She was beloved by the community and committed to fighting racism and discrimination in her own life and for the people we serve. We are excited to host this event with our partners at MacEwan University to honor Mary Burlie's contributions to our community and Edmonton as a whole."

Burlie was awarded MacEwan’s Distinguished Citizen Award in 1992 in recognition of her work in the community and her fight against racism, discrimination and poverty. The university has also awarded the Mary Burlie Bursary to a student enrolled in its Social Work program every year since 1996.

“We are pleased to work with our long-time community partner to honour Mary Burlie and to shine a light on her extraordinary legacy of fighting racism and poverty in our community,” says Dr. Annette Trimbee, president of MacEwan University. “She worked tirelessly to build a stronger and more compassionate community, and we are inspired to build on her efforts.”

Burlie was also the President of the Alberta Black Women’s Association and Change for Children.

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