Mary Ryan

← Champions for Cultural Diversity 2020 Winners

A continual community advocate for multiculturalism in NB schools, Mary Ryan has always been an educational visionary and innovator. 

As a school teacher she was surprised to learn that children as early as the first grade held strongly negative attitudes toward those of other cultures, races, and religions. She therefore focused on providing the children with opportunities to interact and participate in activities in the classroom that clearly indicated the common bond we share as members of the human race.

She spearheaded the introduction of multicultural education in the NB schools back in the early 1970s, and has been a transformative voice in changing how our children are taught to see and value what the world has to offer.

These efforts were strongly connected to the scientific proven fact that when children are provided with opportunities to interact with people of other cultures, they gain a deeper awareness, knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the differences the world has to offer. 

Tests provided by the NB Human Rights Commission and the research carried out as a project of the Department of Education in UNB demonstrated it was possible to measure not just the change in attitudes in the children of being exposed to a multicultural setting, but that such interactions were also proven to increase a measurable amount of self-esteem in the children. These scientific conclusions led Mary to develop a Junior Ambassador program, in which her students at the elementary, junior high, and high school participated in community events that connected them to their unique heritage as citizens of the only federally incorporated country in the world to adopt the national Policy of Multiculturalism.

The Junior Ambassadors worked to assist children of other cultures to adjust to our Canadian lifestyles. They also shared their talents through the Adopt a Grandparent program at a local nursing home by their monthly visits, as well by entertaining some seniors in their own home during Christmas and Thanksgiving.

She was an advocate for Black Lives Matter before the term was invented, and has been a true force for pushing back against racism and hatred. Her understanding of the need for role models led to her advocacy for Willie O’Ree, the first black player in the NHL, to be used as a role model in teaching about multiculturalism in NB schools.

More recently, she has been a vital voice in the ad hoc Committee on Immigration in the New Brunswick’s History and Social Studies Curricula established through NBMC. This committee has reviewed the provinces curricula, and put forward recommendations to ensure the curriculum continues to allow opportunities to introduce students to diversity as it relates to the broad topic of immigration, comprising ethnicities, religions, faiths, traditions, health care, food, clothing and ways of living.

Mary’s book detailing her pioneering efforts to promote multiculturalism in the classroom, Flying With Peek-a-Boo Multicolored Feathers, will be released early in the new year.

For driving forward with a new vision of how future generations embrace those who are different from them, and for creating a space for those who felt on the outside, we are proud to recognize her decades of work with the Individual Award.