It is with great sadness that his family announces the passing of Kemeel Pethro Azan.
Mr. Kemeel Azan, an influential driver of change and innovation in Canada's beauty salon business has died at the age of 85.
Kemeel was born on February 4, 1938, in Clarendon, Jamaica. After completing elementary school he attended Holmwood Technical High School.
By the time he was a teenager, Kemeel began dreaming of a life beyond the Caribbean. At 19, he immigrated to Canada and soon got a job as a porter on the Canadian National Railway. That opportunity allowed him to closely observe how Canadians with means got to travel. While on the train, an encounter with a female passenger helped define his destiny. He noticed her hair, inquired about her line of work, and found out that she was a hairdresser. That conversation, as well as his observation that there was a lack of professional hair salon options for Black women, helped seed a lifelong passion for hair care.
Mr. Azan sought to learn the tricks of his chosen trade and was accepted into Marvel Beauty School in Toronto. He was the only Black person in his class. By 1958, his talent led him to earn an opportunity as an assistant with Gus Caruso’s Haute Couture salon.
Even though his mentor Gus Caruso questioned whether there was enough of a market to serve Black women, Kemeel saw an opening. His father was an entrepreneur so using what he learned, he followed his hunch and moved to New York in 1960. He pursued a diploma at the Perdue Beauty School and learned how to properly treat Black hair. While there he had the pleasure of working with celebrities including Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Maya Angelou and Diahann Carroll.
In 1961, he returned to Toronto and soon after opened his first salon on Spadina Avenue. The salon quickly became a go-to place for women to feel seen, beautiful and appreciated. He revolutionized Black haircare and opened up several other salon locations across Toronto. Eventually, the salons were consolidated into one location on Davenport Road that, more than 60 years later, serves as a beacon in Toronto’s famous Yorkville district. Fifty-six years later, his sons Khalil and Michael continue to run the salon that serves many prominent Canadians and generations of people from the same family.
His home life in Canada was divided between homes in midtown Toronto and in Newmarket, where he enjoyed grooming a variety of animals on his farm. Kemeel particularly enjoyed breeding and training horses and took pride in winning a few races.
Kemeel was a philanthropist and an upstanding member of the community. In the 1980s, he joined Jamaican First Lady Mitsy Seaga in founding the HEART School of Cosmetology. He also sent goats to Jamaica to support the country's agricultural initiatives. In Canada, he was known to sponsor students and various organizations. When his church, Toronto New Covenant Cathedral, was searching for a permanent home, Kemeel was actively involved in getting money raised to ensure the congregation had a place of worship.
Kemeel Azan has been awarded for his achievements including from the Ontario Black History Society, the African-Canadian Achievement Awards, Jamaica 50 Toronto, the Multicultural Beauty Group and the Harry Jerome Award.
Kemeel enjoyed being a husband to Madge, the love of his life for over 60 years. They share four sons and enjoyed travelling the world.
Besides his immediate family, Kemeel also leaves behind a large extended family of siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews spread across Jamaica, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Kemeel Azan had a motto: ‘Come let me teach you everything I know, then pass it on’. That motto drove him to influence hundreds of hairdressers in the Greater Toronto Area who have trained under his tutelage. His legacy is also found in the family he raised, the engaging and inspirational conversations he shared with his clients, and the strength of a Canadian beauty industry that his hands helped shape.
Kemeel Azan died on August 15, 2023. He has been cremated. In lieu of flowers, please offer donations to:
Toronto General Hospital
Direct gift to:
Peritoneal Dialysis Unit
Toronto New Covenant Cathedral
255 Blantyre Avenue
The Toronto New Covenant Cathedral is hosting a memorial in Kemeel Azan's honour for its members and those who would like to attend. It's taking place on Sunday, August 27 at 7 p.m. For more information contact: (905) 625-1278.
The family expresses their heartfelt gratitude to the dedicated medical, nursing and supporting staff at Toronto General Hospital's Peritoneal Dialysis Unit and In-patient Nephrology Unit. A special thank you goes to Kemeel's personal caregiver, Paul Spooner, and Velsily, his long-time personal support worker.
Madge and her sons thank everyone for their condolences, gifts, love and support. An announcement of a public celebration of Kemeel Azan's life, which will be hosted by the family, will follow at a later date.