When Don Oliver (LLB ’64, LLD ’03) came to Dalhousie to study law in 1962, he had a clear objective: to right the many wrongs that Black people face. His fight for equity and justice has spanned his storied career, resulting in meaningful societal change for Nova Scotia and Canada.
As a first-year law student, he helped amend the bill that became the Fair Accommodation Practices Act, which made it illegal to deny anyone access to public spaces based on skin colour. That became the launch point for a legacy of social justice work both in his practice and as Canada’s first Black male senator, resulting in laws to protect women, children, people with disabilities, and racialized people.
“The fact that I have been able to bring about change and break down white privilege—the one thing that continues to hold back all Canadians of African descent—without violence means the most to me,” says Oliver.
Oliver's efforts have earned him the Order of Canada, the Order of Nova Scotia, King’s Counsel honours, five honorary degrees, and a number of prestigious medals and awards. In September 2023, his efforts were also recognized with the Dalhousie Schulich School of Law’s 2023 Weldon Award for Unselfish Public Service.
Read more: Don Oliver receives 2023 Weldon Award for Unselfish Public Service (Dal News)
Oliver’s tenacity, dedication, and accomplishments have served as an inspiration for others, including entrepreneur, financier, and investor Wade Dawe. The chair and CEO of Numus Financial Inc. has honoured his dear friend’s legacy by establishing the Senator Don Oliver Scholarship. Dawe says the program will offer financial support as well as access to mentoring, advice, and other supports to help African Nova Scotian students excel in their studies and their careers.
Senator Don Oliver (Daniel Jardine photo).
“Senator Oliver has dedicated his career and life to fighting racism and promoting equality,” says Dawe. “While receiving an Oliver Scholarship does not rectify the injustices of the past 400 years, it will enable young Black students to continue walking the path that Senator Oliver has so courageously opened for them.”
Oliver knows from his own experience how such support can make a difference. Receiving the Sir James Dunn Scholarship enabled him to earn the education he has used to tackle discrimination in all forms.
“The main purpose is to engage Black people throughout Nova Scotia who never thought of going to university,” says Oliver. “Anything that Wade and I can do to remove barriers and help make that happen is for the good of the province and Canada.”
The scholarship also honours Senator Oliver’s longstanding connection to Dalhousie as a Sir James Dunn Scholar in Law, member of the Board of Governors, fundraiser and financial contributor, honorary degree recipient, and creator of new courses and teacher in law.
Now that Dawe has established the scholarship, he is leading the effort to raise funds to advance the education of Black youth in Nova Scotia. Oliver believes it could also inspire recipients to consider postgraduate education and research, which would be transformative for them and for Canada.
“I am hoping these African Nova Scotian students will learn, research, and write about their history,” he says. “More than that, I hope they use that work to make the case for diversity and to effect change. That would make me very happy.”
Read more: Dalhousie reception celebrates new scholarship honouring Senator Don Oliver (Dal News)
This story appeared in the DAL Magazine Fall/Winter 2023 issue. Flip through the rest of the issue using the links below.
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