Mélange Caribbean Travel & Lifestyle Magazine


Biographical Highlights
As cited by the YWCA Woman of Distinction Selection Committee, Gemma Raeburn-Baynes, a 1997 recipient of the Woman of Distinction Award, is a woman who, by her daily actions, strength of character and professional path, enriches the community and contributes to the advancement of all women. This exceptional woman is a role model for young people, inspiring others to excel.

Gemma’s arrival in Canada in June 1964
Gemma Raeburn-Baynes was born in Grenada, West Indies, and came to Canada in 1964 at the age of 13. As a young girl in her new home of Montreal, she started her life of service activism in school and at church. She was a member and then director of the St. Francis of Assisi Children’s Choir, with her mom playing the organ at that church. Having received three years of opera training at a very early age, Gemma possessed a fine voice and trained other children in her church to sing.  Her choir performed at several nursing homes around the City and at her church concerts produced by her.

Fast forward to 2017. . . 53 years later

Professional Life
Gemma Raeburn-Baynes is a retired senior auditor with BMO Bank of Montreal, where she has worked since 1973. In addition to her banking career, she has been active in business, community development and charitable initiatives. In the course of her banking career with BMO, Gemma held managerial positions and made significant contributions to the bank's development, particularly in the areas of equity and diversity. As advisor to the BMO Task Force on the Advancement of Women in 1991, Gemma played a significant role in BMO being the first Canadian company to win the U.S. coveted Catalyst Award in 1994.  She was also research officer of the Task Force on the Advancement of Visible Minorities, People with Disabilities and Aboriginal People and again contributed to the Bank of Montreal being selected as one of the 10 best companies to work for.  Gemma held the position of Research Coordinator, then Manager, Internship Programs, Workplace Equality.  She initiated several BMO programs targeted toward visible minority, Aboriginal and students with disabilities.  Her Trans-Canada “Possibilities” Program at BMO, encouraged youth to stay in school, graduate and build job skills.  A scholarship was offered along with an opportunity for future employment.  Her programs won BMO a place in the Conference Board of Canada 1999 Business and Education Best Practices Idealbook and BMO receiving the converted Employer of Youth Award.

Volunteer Community Service  
Gemma is very active in Montreal’s Black Community as a dedicated volunteer and fundraiser for non-profit and charitable organizations for over fifty years. “Gemma is a volunteer who adds spice and heart to her community work,” says Bill Brownstein of the Montreal Gazette.  
Gemma founded several non-profit organizations promoting youth and Caribbean arts and culture:

. Founding President of Playmas Montreal Cultural Association, which stages “A Taste of the Caribbean”, an extravagant Caribbean food festival held annually in the province of Quebec and awarding culinary scholarships to disenfranchised youth through its Triumph Through Adversity Program.  In 2015 , she celebrated 16 years of this festival.  Playmas Montreal Cultural Association’s mission is to promote the Caribbean culture in Canada and strengthen the cultural and social understandings for present and future generations of Black and Caribbean Canadians.  Also to educate today’s youth to become tomorrow’s professionals by our Volunteer Training Program and the Triumph Through Adversity Scholarship Program to help disenfranchised and unemployed youth to obtain their career goals and reach their potential.

. Founder of the Montreal Ebony Models, the first Black modeling group in Quebec, which in the past 38 years has produced many fashion shows and raised over $2 million for various charities, such as The Children’s Wish Foundation, Hope and Cope of the Jewish General Hospital, the YM/YWHA, the Cancer Society, The Montreal General Hospital, the Canadian Sickle Cell Society and the Negro Community Centre.
Founder and Executive Director of the Montreal Caribbean Fashion Week – a star-studded fashion extravaganza reflecting the beauty and flair of the Caribbean and its people.

. Founder of the Miss Black Quebec Pageant, an initiative to instill pride and self-confidence in young Black women.

. Founder and Director of Safari Cosmetics, encouraging single and unemployed women to start up their own home-based business.
Director of the West Island Youth Models Club, training young people between the ages of 7 to 17 in proper manners and etiquette, as well as modeling, with the emphasis on possessing beauty on the inside as well as the outside.

. Founding Director and Executive Secretary of Montreal’s Caribbean Carnival in 1972.

. Founding Board Member of the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University.

Member of several boards of directors, including :
. The Black Community Editorial Board of the CBC and Seniors Action Quebec, a networking group working to maintain and enhance the vitality of English-speaking Quebec seniors. All efforts identify and address challenges and issues to promote a healthy and active lifestyle for English-speaking seniors.

Awards Received
Gemma has often been awarded for her many initiatives and community work. Awards include:

. Black Community Service Award for 50 years of community service.  This award was celebrated with a Gala with the Prime Minister of Grenada as Keynote Speaker and attended by all three levels of government. (2015)

. Life-Time Achievement Award for her commitment and accomplishments to the Fashion Industry in Montreal and Toronto (2016)
Planet Africa Heritage Award (2015) for Social Entrepreneur and Community Advocate

. Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal received on November 11, 2012, from the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec in recognition of her exemplary advocacy promoting culture through the performing arts and anti-racist education

. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award, given by the Montreal Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, for promoting the beloved community and human dignity (2008)

. Community Service Arts and Culture Award from the Consul General of Grenada to Canada (2011)

. Featured in the 2011 Black History Month Calendar, celebrating 20 years

. Certificate of Honor from The Network of Black Business and Professional Women

. 2011 Award of Honor from the Grenada 37th Anniversary Independence Committee and the Honorary Consul for Grenada in Montreal, saluting Gemma's dedicated and inspiring service to the Grenadian and Montreal communities

. The Community Service Arts and Culture Award from the Consul General of Grenada to Canada , celebrating 37 years through challenging times with optimism and resilience

. Featured in the first and second edition of Who's Who in Black Canada showcasing Black achievements and success in Canada
Sheila and Victor Goldbloom Award for Distinguished Community Service, received in October 2011 by the QCGN (Quebec Community Group Network)

. Bank of Montreal Human Resources Entrepreneurship Award

. Recognized in the House of Commons in Ottawa by the Sub-Committee on Official Languages for receiving the Sheila and Victor Goldbloom Award for Distinguished Community Service.

.  YWCA Woman of Distinction Award for Public and Community Service (1997)

. Woman of Achievement Award from the Business and Professional Women's Club of Montreal (1998)

. Jackie Robinson Award from the Montreal Association of Black Business Persons (MABBP)

. The Governor General’s Commemorative Plaque for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada (1992)

Gemma herself has instituted many community awards, including The Woman of Merit Award celebrating International Women’s Day and in recognition of the achievements of women in the Black community and beyond and the Taste of the Caribbean Lifetime Achievement Award, first given to The Mighty Sparrow, The Calypso King of the World, for his 50 years of promoting Caribbean arts and culture.

Gemma has partnered with a number of youth-focused organizations, universities, colleges, elementary and high schools to achieve her goal of a better community. Those many initiatives include:

.The Côte-des-Neiges Black Community Association's Ujama Initiative for Black Entrepreneurship (UIBE), which encourages and supports business start-ups and expansion in Quebec's English-speaking community, and

. The Black Community Resource Centre, which sponsors the annual Dr. Charles Drew Blood Drive, encouraging members of the community to roll up their sleeves to save a life.

 . John Abbott College - Utilizing the Police Tech students to get up close and personal with the Black community in Montreal by volunteering their time at her community events

 Black History Month Speaker for:
·      .  McGill University Black Students Association
·       . Concordia University Black Students Association
·        . Dawson College
·        . Vanier College
·        . Royal West Academy

Gemma is a graduate of McGill University and holds a Certificate in Marketing and Public Relations. She is married to retired educator Bernard Baynes, and the couple has one son, Kevin Baynes, a Financial Service Manager at BMO Bank of Montreal Financial Group.