Since the beginnings of transatlantic settlement, Black people have lived in Canada, although only a few arrived directly from their ancestral homeland in Africa. Accounts state that the earliest arrivals of African Canadians were slaves brought from New England or the West Indies.
But between 1763 and 1865, most Black people who migrated to Canada were fleeing slavery in the U.S. Most of them entered Canada to start a new life and have a brighter future but they probably didn’t know that they would eventually make a huge impact in the country in almost all fields. Be it entertainment, arts, haircare, technology and politics, Black Canadians did incredible work.
Beverly Mascoll was one of them. A trailblazing Black entrepreneur, some people have compared Mascoll’s story of hard work and determination to Madam C.J. Walker. Regarded as “the first Black woman millionaire in America”, Madam C.J. Walker amassed her wealth from homemade hair care products she developed and sold. In Canada, Mascoll was a beauty supply mogul who changed the country’s Black beauty industry in the 1970s.
Born and raised in Nova Scotia, she moved to Toronto when she was a teenager. There, she started working as a receptionist at Toronto Barber and Beauty Supply. It was while there that she realized the need for beauty services, particularly, for Black women. So she decided to do something about it.
In 1970, with only $700 in start-up capital, Mascoll incorporated her own company called Mascoll Beauty Supply Ltd. She worked out of her home, selling beauty products specifically for Black women out of her trunk. Mascoll realized that to be fully established in the business, she needed to partner with a major product manufacturer. At the time, there were no Black hair care product distributors in Canada.
Mascoll traveled to Chicago and met with George Ellis Johnson Sr., the founder of Johnson Products Company. Mascoll was able to convince the American businessman to make her company the first and only Canadian distributor of Johnson Products, which was at the time the largest Black beauty company.
After coming back to Toronto, Mascoll saw her business move from selling products out of her home to becoming one of the leading distributors of Black beauty products in Canada. Her beauty supply chain stores became a multi-million dollar business, according to Natasha Henry, a black history educator. By 1971, Mascoll’s Beauty Supply was helping other Black haircare entrepreneurs flourish in the midst of racism and exclusion. The beauty industry at the time did not cater to Black people. Mascoll Beauty Supply was there to fill that gap.
Mascoll started adding conferences and beauty demonstrations as well as professional hair care seminars to her business in the 1980s. In 1984, she organized the first-ever Black beauty trade show in Canada. By the 1990s, her beauty supply company had five locations, including in Scarborough, Mississauga and Brampton. She did not forget her humble beginnings. Mascoll gave back to her community by getting involved in the activities of Black organizations such as the Harry Jerome Scholarship Fund and the Camp Jumoke, a camp that catered to children with Sickle Cell Anemia.
The Black businesswoman also helped raise funds for the establishment of the first Black Canadian Studies program at Dalhousie University. In 1993, Mascoll was the recipient of the YWCA of Metro Toronto’s “Woman of Distinction” award. Five years later, she was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada for her entrepreneurship and work helping Canada’s youth.
In 1999, Ryerson University’s Faculty of Business awarded her with an Honorary Doctorate of Laws. Despite being in her 50s, she knew the significance of earning a degree. So in the 2000s, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree from York University, in Women’s Studies. Sadly, the Black business mogul passed away a year later of breast cancer at the age of 59.
Today, all Mascoll Beauty Supply locations have been closed but her innovative career hasn’t owing to the many lives she impacted and the changes she introduced to Canada’s Black beauty industry.