The story behind the first Black professional accountants in Canada
In the rich tapestry of Canadian and Caribbean accounting history, the narratives of five distinguished individuals stand out for their remarkable achievements, resilience, and groundbreaking contributions. From Aura Meave Elliott-Vaucrosson, who defied gender norms to become a Chartered Accountant in Quebec, to the trailblazing Hon. Jeanne Atherden, the first black female hired by a Big 12 accounting firm in Canada, each story unfolds with unique challenges and triumphs. Their collective journeys reflect not only their professional prowess but also their enduring impact on the accounting profession.
Thomas Crawford, CA, born in Barbados in 1920 and passing away in Montreal in 2013, studied at Sir George Williams University, earning a Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) in Accounting. He became a Chartered Accountant in Quebec in 1958. Crawford articled with Freedman & Abramovitch, a Jewish Chartered Accounting firm in Montreal, eventually becoming a partner in Abramovitch, Abramovitch, Crawford & Rapport until his retirement in 2003. As the first pioneering black professional accountant in Canada, Crawford broke barriers and set the stage for future generations. His legacy endures through the continuing existence of the firm under the name Abramovitch & Associés.
Hon. Jeanne Atherden, FCPA, CA, hailing from Bermuda, began her academic journey at McGill University in 1965, initially pursuing science before switching to the Commerce program. She earned her BCom in accounting in 1969 and completed all but the thesis for her Master of Commerce. Atherden became a Chartered Accountant in Quebec in 1973. Her career trajectory involved articling with Clarkson Gordon in Montreal, making history as the first Black female hired by a Big 12 public accounting firm in Canada. Returning to Bermuda, she held significant roles at Cooper & Lines/Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC Bermuda) and the Bermuda Hospitals Board. Her political career saw her become a Senator in 2008, later ascending to Minister of Health and ultimately becoming the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Assembly of Bermuda before retiring in 2020.
Andrew L. Phillips, originally from St. James, Trinidad and Tobago, attended McGill University in Montreal, where he earned a BCom in 1965 and Licentiate in Accounting in 1967. Phillips became a Chartered Accountant in Quebec in 1967. His Canadian employment history included summer breaks as a railway porter with Canadian National Railways and articling with S. Hoffman & Co. auditing firm in Montreal. He joined Northern Electric Co. Ltd. in 1968 and later returned to Trinidad and Tobago. Notably, Phillips secured the position of General Manager Finance at BWIA/British West Indian International Airways in 1974, marking a significant achievement at the time. His career continued with several senior managerial positions in Trinidad and Tobago until his retirement.
Aura Meave Elliott-Vaucrosson, CPA, CA, originally from Trinidad and Tobago, pursued her studies at Sir George Williams University (now part of Concordia University), earning a BA in economics and a BCom in accounting in 1962. She obtained her Chartered Accountant designation in Quebec in 1964. Elliott-Vaucrosson's career path took her from articling with a small Jewish firm in Montreal to a distinguished tenure in the federal civil service, where she served in various roles, including as an Income Tax Assessor for Revenue Canada and later as a Technical Interpretations Officer in the Department of Finance. Despite facing skepticism as the sole female in her BCom class, Elliott-Vaucrosson persevered, obtaining two degrees and retiring in Ottawa after 27 years in the federal civil service.
Sir Kenneth R. Hewitt, CA, born in Dean's Village, Station Hill, Barbados, attended McGill University, earning a BCom (Hons.) economics and a Licentiate in Accounting in 1964. He became a Chartered Accountant in Quebec in 1967. Hewitt articled with a Montreal-based accounting firm and joined Steinberg before returning to Barbados in 1967. In 1969, he founded Ken Hewitt & Co., the first black public accounting firm in Barbados, later merging with KPMG. Kenneth's notable achievements include serving as Acting Governor General of Barbados, a former Independent Senator and being awarded Commander of the British Empire (CBE). Married for 61 years with three children, six grandchildren and one great-grandson, Hewitt remains an influential figure in Barbadian society.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF BLACK PROFESSIONAL ACCOUNTANTS
Photo credit: From left to right: Thomas Crawford, Andrew L. Phillips, Sir Kenneth R. Hewitt, Aura Meave Elliott-Vaucrosson and Jeanne Atherden (Photographs courtesy of family)