Nerene Virgin

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Nerene Virgin is a Canadian journalist,[1] actress,[2] educator, author [3] and television host,[4] best known for her role on the children's television series Today's Special.


Virgin is a great-granddaughter of escaped slave Thomas John (Howard) Holland, and great-niece of pastor John Christie Holland.[5][6] She was born Nerene Grizzle, daughter of Kathleen V. Toliver and Stanley G. Grizzle. After growing up in Toronto, Ontario, she attended Toronto Teacher's College. Virgin was also certified as a Special Education teacher at Brock University focussing on intellectually gifted children and holds special qualifications in teaching Integrated Arts. Virgin began her career as a teacher, working for the Toronto Board of Education. She later moved into children's programming with Ontario's public broadcaster TV Ontario, playing "Jodie" on Today's Special. This internationally acclaimed series was in production for seven years. Virgin also had recurring roles on other television programs, including The Littlest Hobo, Night Heat and Ramona. Initially, Virgin had played the role of Ellie the dispatch girl on Police Surgeon, a CTV series originally named Dr. Simon Locke. She appeared in numerous film roles such as Gotti, The Undergrads, Murder in Space, and Right of the People. Virgin's entertainment career began as a singer with the Tiaras, a Toronto-based girl group. Virgin joined Colina Phillips and Patricia Grizzle after Brenda Russell had left the trio and moved to Los Angeles.

Virgin worked as the weather and community reporter for CBOT, the local CBC Television station in Ottawa, in the late 1980s. She then worked at CTV station CFTO in Toronto as the host of Eye on Toronto, co-host for the entertainment show Showbuz, and a host on CTV's annual Miracle Network Telethon for the Hospital for Sick Children.

In 1996, Virgin became the host for the daily national current affairs show Coast to Coast for CBC Newsworld in Calgary, Alberta. She returned to Toronto as the anchor to launch the national weekend newscast Saturday Report for CBC Television. She then moved to the anchor chair at Newsworld International until it was dismantled and taken over by Al Gore's Current TV in July 2005. Virgin then chose to leave CBC to complete further studies, gaining certification in teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) and taught students in Linhe, Inner Mongolia, China. She later taught French in Stoney Creek.

She currently serves on the board of directors for Phoenix Place, a second stage home for women and children who have survived domestic violence.[7] She is also a member, and part of the executive, of the council for the College of Early Childhood Educators, the first such college in North America.[8] Virgin serves as a member of Hamilton's Committee Against Racism for the 2010–2014 and 2014-2018 Term of Council.[9][10]

Black History work[edit]

Virgin has applied her educational background and journalism skills to research, write and present stories of notable Blacks in Canadian/U.S. history.[11] She has published biographies of Dr. Charles Victor Roman, Dr. Charles Lightfoot Roman and Rev. John Christie Holland with Historica Canada. These articles have been published in The Canadian Encyclopedia. Nerene has worked with the Dundas Museum and Archives to nominate Dr. C. V. Roman as a laureate to the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. She is now working with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board to embed Black History into the regular school curriculum.[12] Virgin’s educational presentations are often based on the exploits of her great-great grandfather, Private Lewis Toliver and his eleven-year service in the “All Coloured Militia” during the Upper Canada Rebellion 1837–38 and the building of the Second Welland Canal.[13] This endeavor is a pilot project for the Ministry of Education (Ontario).

Political career[edit]

Virgin first sought political office in 2007 in the federal riding of Hamilton Mountain but she later withdrew from the race.[11] She then decided to seek political office in Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, even though she resides outside the riding boundaries.[11]

On July 31, 2007, after using a three-member panel interview process, the Ontario Liberal Party announced that Virgin had been acclaimed as the candidate in Hamilton East—Stoney Creek for the 2007 provincial election. The panel consisted of incumbent MPP Jennifer Mossop (who did not seek reelection), a party organizer, and the riding president.[14] The decision to appoint Virgin upset some local Liberal party members but Virgin expressed optimism in being able to reach out to the grassroots.[15][16] Mossop, the Stoney Creek incumbent MPP at the time, is also a former television journalist.[17]

In the aftermath of Virgin's acclamation as a candidate, she was racially slurred and allegedly misrepresented in the media, with the Hamilton Community News, a weekly newspaper in Hamilton, referring to her as a "tar baby".[18] While the paper issued an apology for its use of the pejorative term,[19] Virgin indicated that the paper should do more than just apologize, suggesting setting up a scholarship, or a program designed to address racism and discrimination.[15] Virgin sued Metroland Media Group due to that racial slur. She was represented by lawyers Kikelola Roach, Charles Roach and Julian Porter. The newspaper settled the lawsuit to Virgin’s satisfaction.[20]

On election day, Virgin finished second to New Democrat candidate Paul Miller.[21]

Electoral record[edit]

Riding: Hamilton East—Stoney Creek (provincial electoral district)

Ontario general election, 2007
Party Candidate Votes % ±
New Democratic Paul Miller 16,256 37.6
Liberal Nerene Virgin 15,171 35.1
Progressive Conservative Tara Crugnale 9,195 21.3
Green Raymond Dartsch 2,122 4.9
Family Coalition Robert Innes 451 1.0


Film and television appearances[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1972-1974 Police Surgeon Ellie the Dispatcher 17 Episodes
1973 The Starlost Valerie Episode: “Circuit of Death”
1980 Polka Dot Door Host 10 Episodes
1981-1987 Today's Special Jodie Syndicated
1981 The Littlest Hobo Miss Watson Episode: “East Side Angels”
1985 The Undergrads Polly Harris TV Movie
1985 Murder in Space Dr. Margaret Leigh TV Movie
1985 Perry Mason TV movies Minicam Reporter Perry Mason Returns
1985–1988 Night Heat Judy Burns, Frances, Mrs. Simmons 5 Episodes
1986 The Right of the People Diane Trainor TV Movie
1986 A Deadly Business Reporter TV Movie
1988 Diamonds (TV series) Edna Lawrence Episode:“There`s No Business...”
1988 Garbage Pail Kids (TV series) Character Voice 3 Episodes
1988 Ramona (1988 TV series) Mrs. Larson 3 Episodes
1996 Due South Reporter No. 3 Episode:“Red, White or Blue”
1996 Gotti (1996 film) Reporter No. 6 TV Movie
1996 Mistrial Reporter No. 4 TV Movie


On May 2, 2016, it was announced that Virgin was named one of Canada’s 100 Accomplished Black Canadian Women.[22] Previously, in February 2012, she was honored for Professional Achievement and had received a Rev. John C. Holland Award, an award named after her great uncle John Christie Holland. [23] Virgin also received an Illuminesence Award in 2014.[24] Virgin was in her mid-teens when she was crowned Miss Sepia Toronto. She had expected that his would lead her to be a contestant in the Miss Canada Pageant but was later told that, at that time, apparently a Black girl would not be allowed to compete.[25]


  1. ^ "Leader Once More". 2006-03-07. Retrieved 2010-02-10. 
  2. ^ "Today's Special Intro". 2006-01-24. Retrieved 2010-02-10. 
  3. ^ "Nerene Virgin Articles By Nerene Virgin". Retrieved 2015-03-10. 
  4. ^ "Eye on Toronto Nerene Virgin 1990". 2009-03-01. Retrieved 2010-02-10. 
  5. ^ "African Canadian Online: Aspects of African-Canadian Culture". York University. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  6. ^ Adach, Kate (12 July 2012). "Descendants of fugitive slave reunite in Hamilton". CBC. Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  7. ^ "Board Members". Archived from the original on September 28, 2015. Retrieved 2010-02-10. 
  8. ^ "Public Appointed Councillors" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-02-10. 
  9. ^ "City of Hamilton - Committees - 2010 - 2014 Term of Council". City of Hamilton, Ontario. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  10. ^ "Audit, Finance & Administration Committee Report 11-002" (PDF). City of Hamilton, Ontario. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c Jeff Mahoney (2013-10-30). "Mahoney: Trail-blazing doctor overcame several obstacles". Retrieved 2015-09-28.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  12. ^ "Council Members Publicly Appointed council Members Nerene Virgin Hamilton". Retrieved 2015-03-10. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Joan Walters (2007-07-31). "Nerene Virgin to run in Mossop's riding". Retrieved 2010-02-10. [dead link]
  15. ^ a b Evelyn Myrie (2007-08-30). "An apology is great, but it's not enough". Retrieved 2010-02-10. 
  16. ^ Daniel Nolan (2007-08-04). "Damage Control". Archived from the original on March 19, 2012. Retrieved 2010-02-10. 
  17. ^ "Former TV news anchor joins local election race". CHML. July 31, 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-08-02. 
  18. ^ Nicole Macintyre (2007-08-18). "Racial slur rocks Liberal candidate". Retrieved 2010-02-10. 
  19. ^ "Global News Briefs" (PDF). Diversity in the Workplace. October 2007. Retrieved 2009-08-26. 
  20. ^ admin (2014-06-26). "Family, community pay tribute to late Rev. John Holland". Retrieved 2015-09-28. 
  21. ^ "39th General Election - October 10, 2007, HAMILTON EAST--STONEY CREEK". Elections Ontario. Archived from the original on 2011-07-06. Retrieved 2007-10-12. 
  22. ^ "100ABCWOMEN". May 2, 2016. Retrieved May 24, 2016. 
  23. ^ "Rev. John C. Holland Awards honours 10 recipients". February 6, 2012. Retrieved May 24, 2016. 
  24. ^ "New awards toast Hamilton's young women professionals". March 10, 2014. Retrieved May 24, 2016. 
  25. ^ "Talking About Freedom: Celebrating Emancipation Day in Canada". March 24, 2014. Retrieved May 24, 2016. 

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