Celebrating Canada’s First Black Female Master Electrician

Fabruary 7, 2024

In honour of Black History Month this February we are highlighting Shelly Harding-Smith, who holds the distinction of Canada’s first black female Master Electrician.

Harding-Smtih was born and raised in Windsor, Ontario, and began attending jobsites alongside her father at a young age. Harding-Smith’s parents, Morris Harding and Ruth Henderson-Harding ran Harding Electric in the Windsor area. Shelly worked alongside her parents and would eventually take over the family business once becoming a Master Electrician, running it under the name Harding-Smith Electric.

Harding-Smith took to the trade from a young age under her father’s mentorship, as she moved into her apprenticeship she had to persevere through racism and misogyny from her peers. Despite facing discrimination during her schooling and in the workplace, she earned respect through the quality of her work and her indelible personality.

“She was a very tenacious individual. People will remember her as a fighter,” her sister Elise Harding-Davis told CBC in 2019. “As a black woman and as a woman she suffered a lot of prejudice. She never let it stop her.”

Elise Harding-Davis

Beyond her work as an electrical contractor, Harding-Smith had a prolific impact on her community. She was an advocate for women in the trades, a community activist, a member of the Greater Essex County School Board, she taught skilled trades courses at Windsor high schools, mentored students, and apprenticed her son Richard, who would also become a Master Electrician. She also served on the board of the North American Black Historical Museum and established the Harding Electric/Morris and Ruth Harding Memorial Fund. The fund, as part of the Windsor-Essex Community Foundation, supports local youth entering the skilled trades.

Born in 1955, Shelly passed away in 2019 at the age of 64. She was described as a ‘no nonsense, straight-shooter’ who fiercely believed in the power of education and empowered students to stand up for what they believe in.

Go HERE for more information on Black History Month in Canada

Sources: Windsor Mosaic, CBC, Windsor Essex Community Fund, Shelly Lynne Harding-Smith Obituary

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