Hamlin Grange of St. Thomas, Brooklin and Heather McGregor of St. Mary Magdalene in Toronto have been appointed Members of the Order of Canada, an award that honours people who have made extraordinary contributions to the nation.
Mr. Grange, president and CEO of DiversiPro Inc., was honoured for his pioneering work in diversity and inclusion, and as a passionate change agent for social justice. Ms. McGregor, CEO of YWCA Toronto, was recognized for her dedication to empowering women and girls, and for her visionary leadership of affordable housing initiatives.
Mr. Grange says his appointment was vindication of a decision he made nearly 25 years ago to start his diversity consulting firm. At the time, anti-racism training was almost unknown in Canada. Since then, he has helped dozens of workplaces become more diverse, inclusive and equitable.
“I share this honour with so many other people who have been working for years and even decades in this field,” he says. “In many ways, it’s the work of social justice.”
Mr. Grange is motivated by a desire to make the world a better place. “I really, truly believe that how we treat each other and how we live with the environment are the two most defining questions in our world right now. For me, it’s been all about finding out what are the most effective ways that we can all live and work together as human beings despite our differences.”
He is also motivated by his own personal experiences. “Growing up as a young Black man and sometimes being on the receiving end of situations that I thought occurred because of who I am and what I look like, I felt that I needed to do something about that. That’s what propelled me to do it.”
A long-time member of St. Thomas, Mr. Grange was involved in the parish’s capital campaign to build a new church. He says his faith plays an important role in what he does. “If you think about the teachings of Jesus, it’s all about inclusion. There’s also a belief in the human spirit and the human capacity for empathy. There are times in my work when I’m tested but I think my faith is still strong and guides the work I do.”
A highlight of his career was working with Toronto Police Services to help the force understand and engage with cultural differences – work he says is still unfinished. He is also proud of the work he continues to do with businesses and organizations to bring about real change. “Talking about diversity and inclusion and equity and racism can be uncomfortable for a lot of people, so I’m really proud of the work that I’ve done to encourage folks to lean into that discomfort and not to back away from it.”
He credits his family and in particular his wife, Cynthia Reyes, for their support over the years. “I share the appointment with her as well,” he says.
Ms. McGregor, the CEO of YWCA Toronto since 1995, says she is excited to be named to the Order. “It’s an incredible honour. I’m a very enthusiastic Canadian, and it means a lot to me. I’m very, very touched. It’s not just me – it’s the social service sector that is recognized as well, and that’s very important.”
Ms. McGregor says her work at the YWCA grew out of her involvement in the Settlement House Movement in Toronto. The movement, which started at Oxford University, involved university students and young people moving into areas of cities with marginalized people and providing services that were important to them.
Both YWCA Toronto and the Settlement House Movement began as church outreach programs, a fact that Ms. McGregor is proud of. YWCA Toronto is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. “It’s a very holistic organization, and although we are not a religious organization anymore, I’d have to say that my work and the reason that I’m involved in it is that I do feel I have a mandate to love my neighbour, and that’s directly from my faith. It’s very important to me.”
With a budget of $47 million and a staff of 500, YWCA Toronto is one of the largest social service providers for girls and women and their families in the city. Its centre on Elm Street includes 300 supportive affordable housing units and provides a wide range of services, including employment and group support programs, particularly for people who are escaping domestic violence and other kinds of trauma. It also runs a child-care centre, a girls camp south of Parry Sound and a girls centre in Scarborough.
“I love it,” she says. “It is challenging but every day is different, and there are lots of opportunities to work with women, girls, gender-diverse people; lots of opportunities to help people thrive and to turn their lives around, and that’s incredibly rewarding.”
Unlike a lot of social service providers, YWCA Toronto has an advocacy department. “We take systemic issues concerning women and girls very seriously, and we do speak out on systemic issues such as violence, gun control and affordable housing. All of these things we speak to directly to the public, to funders and to government bodies.”
As an Anglican, she is proud of the fact that the diocese speaks out on social justice issues as well. “I really appreciate that the Diocese of Toronto also has an advocacy voice, and I’m always proud when I go and see that the Anglican Church is there. That’s very important, and it’s important to us at the YWCA that we speak up on systemic issues.”
Ms. McGregor has been a member of St. Mary Magdalene for 55 years, where she has done everything from shoveling snow to being the rector’s warden to taking the minutes of vestry meetings. In the last few years, she’s been more involved at the diocesan level, where she is a member of Synod Council.
“The work that I do comes from my faith,” she says. “My participation in my home parish has been so, so important week by week for all of these years. I don’t think I could do this without that.”
Take heart, take courage