Edmonton proclaims July 13 Mary Burlie Day, in honour of community activist, social worker

July 13 will now be known as Mary Burlie Day in Edmonton, to celebrate the life and legacy of the social worker and activist’s contributions to the city.

Event Tuesday celebrated life of Mary Burlie and her contributions to Boyle Street Community Services

Attendees sign a photo of early Boyle Street Co-op volunteers at an event celebrating the life and legacy of Edmonton activist and social worker Mary Burlie. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

July 13 will now be known as Mary Burlie Day in Edmonton, to celebrate the life and legacy of the social worker and activist's contributions to the city. 

Mary Burlie spent 26 years as a frontline worker at the Boyle Street Co-op until her death in 1996, working to make Edmonton a more compassionate and equitable community. 

Boyle Street Community Services and MacEwan University hosted an event Tuesday to mark the city's proclamation. Tanika Burlie, Mary Burlie's granddaughter, was there on behalf of her family. 

Edmonton proclaims July 13 Mary Burlie Day

2 years ago
Duration 1:43
July 13 will now be known as Mary Burlie Day in Edmonton, to celebrate the life and legacy of the social worker and activist, known to some as the “Black Angel of Boyle Street.”

"My grandma never judged anybody. She loved you for who you are," Burlie said in an interview with CBC. "She would take you even into her home if she felt that you needed extra support." 

Known to some as the "Black Angel of Boyle Street," Mary Burlie moved from Arkadelphia, Arkansas to Edmonton in 1969. 

"My grandmother came from an era where there was extreme poverty, growing up in the Jim Crow era," Burlie said. "So when she came to Canada and she saw that she could help, she did with no questions asked."

A newspaper clipping from 1989 showcasing Mary Burlie’s work. (Boyle Street Community Services/www.boylestreet.org)

Burlie was one of Boyle Street's first volunteers, and later became a paid staff member and dedicated nearly three decades of service to the community, said Jordan Reiniger, executive director of Boyle Street Community Services. 

Her contributions to the budding Boyle Street Co-op were instrumental, and helped the organization in its goal of serving, supporting and empowering those experiencing poverty and homelessness, he added. 

"Still, people talk about her to this day and the impact that she's had on their lives," said Reiniger. 

"The ways that we interact with our community members, even things like trauma-informed care and how we support people, was deeply impacted by her work."

Mary Burlie smiling during the Klondike Day parade. (Boyle Street Community Services/www.boylestreet.org)

Annette Trimbee, president and vice-chancellor of MacEwan said Burlie believed in education as a way out of poverty. Burlie's family established the Mary Burlie Bursary in 1996 for students in the social work program who experience discrimination and financial need. 

"We love that she gave back to students and that the students will aspire to be like Mary Burlie and have that same impact on our community," Trimbee said.

"She was quite a force in terms of how to be a good social worker, so she would have inspired and mentored a number of our graduates over the years."

Mary sings karaoke with fellow Boyle Street Co-op members. (Boyle Street Community Services/www.boylestreet.org)

For Tanika Burlie, seeing her grandmother's legacy honoured meant more to her than she could put into words.

"I'm so proud of her and I'm proud to be here today. I'm proud to call her my grandmother."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.


Anusha Kav


Anusha Kav is a former journalist at CBC News who worked with the Investigative Unit out of Edmonton.