Barbara Howard Awarded 'Freedom of the Municipality'
In January 2012, long-time (since 1957) Belcarra property owner Barbara Howard was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in recognition of her contributions as a pioneer in women's sport. Canada's foremost women's sports historian, Ann Hall of Edmonton, believes Howard was the Jackie Robinson of her day –– the first black woman to ever represent our country in international athletic competition. That fact was researched and documented in Hall's book, The Girl and the Game: A history of women's sport in Canada –– published in 2002, which had a snowball effect in gaining momentum for Howard's overdue recognition.
In 2010, coincident with the Vancouver Olympics, Vancouver Parks and Recreation also included Howard among a series of 12 posters of "Remarkable Women" displayed in schools, libraries and community centres. By rights, she should have been an Olympian herself. But after representing Canada at the 1938 British Empire Games (BEG) in Sydney, Australia –– she bettered the existing BEG record in the women's 100-yard sprint at the Western Canadian time trials –– Howard's Olympian thoughts were shattered by war. The 1940 Games (scheduled in Tokyo) and 1944 Olympics (slated for London) were cancelled.
Howard was just 17 when she won silver and bronzes medals in two relays at the 1938 Sydney Games. But she finished sixth in the 100-yard sprint, and felt as if she'd let an entire city down. Her budding Olympic career caught-up in the sweep of history, Howard later graduated from John Oliver high school, went on to teachers college, and was the first member of a visible minority to be hired by the Vancouver School Board. She taught in the Vancouver school system for 43 years.
On February 27th Belcarra Council unanimously voted to award Barbara Howard with Freedom of the Municipality in recognition of her contribution to sport. The Freedom of the Municipality award represents the highest honour that a municipality can bestow on an individual. This recognition means to grant "freedom of the municipality" and recipients therefore are welcomed at any and all civic functions. This honour is granted for exceptional cases of merit for an individual who has brought recognition of the respective municipality through his or her achievements. On behalf of all of Belcarra's residents, Council congratulates Barbara Howard on her outstanding achievements.
Ancient Honour –– Freedom of the City is an ancient honour granted to martial organizations, allowing them the privilege to march into the city "with drums beating, colours flying, and bayonets fixed". This honour dates back to the laws of ancient Rome that made it a capital offence for Roman legions to enter the city in formation or with weapons without permission. This was meant to ensure that ambitious generals did not mount a military coup against the Senate. (It was that law that Julius Caesar broke when crossing the Rubicon.) Similar laws were passed by cities throughout the medieval era, also to protect civic security and rights, even against their own king's troops. However, legions, regiments, or other martial groups that had given heroic service or whose honour was beyond question, might be granted Freedom of the City: the group would not have to disarm or break ranks before the city gates were opened to them. Given the serious risk the city would be running, this was a rare honour. Today, martial freedom of the city is an entirely ceremonial honour, but remains the oldest and one of the highest civic honours in the Commonwealth of Nations.
Civil Privileges –– Freedom of the City is connected to the medieval concept of "free status", when city and town charters drew a distinction between 'freemen' and 'vassals' of a feudal lord. As such, 'freemen' actually predate 'boroughs'. Early freedom of the boroughs ceremonies had great importance in affirming that the recipient enjoyed privileges such as the right to trade and own property, and protection within the town.
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