CTO Lifetime Achievement Award for Rita Cox
September 30, 2019
While attending a social function at Parkdale library many years ago, literary giants Austin Clarke and Bruce St. John caught the attention of storyteller and bookstore owner Itah Sadu.
“When I saw them, I saw what represented the brilliance of Caribbean Literature and some of our great writers,” she recalled.
There was someone else at the event that stood out.
Rita Cox joined the Toronto Public Library in 1960 and was promoted to head librarian at Parkdale library 12 years later.
She launched several literacy programs for seniors, adults and children that promoted multiculturalism and pioneered the library’s Black & Caribbean Heritage Collection – the largest circulating collection of its kind in Canada – in 1998.
In the spring of 2006, the collection -- that features almost 16,000 print and audio visual materials on the Black & Caribbean historical and cultural experience -- was renamed after Cox.
“Rita introduced Canadians to the great literature, excellence and brilliance out of the Caribbean,” said Sadu. “On the other hand, those going to Parkdale library engaged with this woman and cut their teeth with her because her expectations were high and because of the sheer knowledge she possessed of literature.”
A consultant to the Sao Paulo public library system in Brazil in 1992, Cox designed and taught a course, ‘Children’s Literature: An Intercultural Perspective’, at York University.
“Many people flocked to York to attend her courses and learn from this griot about the power of oral tradition, the power of storytelling and the power of narrative,” Sadu noted. “All the time she was engaged in these things, she made everything she did look like fun and she made you want to participate with her. Throughout her life, she has moved people along, not just individuals, but movements – the Dub Poetry, Arts Against Apartheid and new and diverse librarians coming into the Toronto Public Library. I have seen her do many things. I have seen her invested in the culture of her people and I have seen her joy at looking at young kids develop their talent and potential.”
Recognized with myriad awards for literary excellence, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) Lifetime Achievement Award is the latest honour to be bestowed on Cox whose love of words and their formation into stories have created images for many generations.
The presentation took place on August 22 at the CTO Toronto Media Day luncheon and awards ceremony at The Boulevard Club.
“The Caribbean Tourism Organization appreciates Rita Cox’s passion for promoting Caribbean heritage through the collection she developed for the Toronto public library as well as her storytelling events that pass our history on to the next generation,” said CTO United States Director Sylma Brown. “Her commitment to preserving Caribbean culture and dedication to keeping the region at the forefront of Canadian society over decades is the reason we are honouring her with this prestigious award.”
The recognition for the Canadian Library Association Public Service Award recipient is humbling and rewarding.
“Despite all you have heard about my accomplishments, I benefitted so much by having so many different lives touch mine,” she said. “There are so many people that have contributed to my potential, sometimes potential I didn’t even know I had. I feel so blessed to have had the encouragement and support I got.”
Retiring from the library in 1995, Cox is a Citizenship Court judge, member of the Order of Canada, holder of honourary degrees from York University and Wilfrid Laurier University and a Festival Management Committee board director.
She established ‘Cumbayah’, a festival of Black heritage and storytelling, and a park near Queen St. W. and Dufferin St. bearing the Trinidadian-born name was unveiled in October 2008.
“Parkdale would not be what it is today if it had not had the great luck years ago of somebody at the City of Toronto being smart enough to have a children’s storyteller at the Parkdale library,” said Parkdale-High Park councillor Gord Perks at the unveiling ceremony 11 years ago. “Rita is an exceptional individual who, through the love of spoken and written word, has inspired people of all ages and has opened the literary world to audiences.”
Prior to the awards ceremony, CTO Chairman Dominic Fedee – who made the presentation to Cox – said Canada is a critical market for the Caribbean.
In the first quarter of this year, there was a four per cent increase, resulting in an estimated 1.4 million visits.
“Over the past decade, Canada has been one of the most consistently strong markets,” said the Guyanese-born St. Lucia Minister of Tourism.
Arrivals to the region, pointed out Fedee, grew by 12 per cent when compared to the same period last year.
“That’s nearly three times the global growth rate of 4.4 per cent,” he added. “It’s the first time in three years that the Caribbean has outperformed the rest of the world after lagging in 2017 and 2018.”
There were 9.1 million tourist visits to the Caribbean in the first three months this year.