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Commemorating Black History Month and the Contributions of Black Canadians

Feb 8, 2024 | Ishmael Van Der Rassel, Student Storyteller

Black. History Month

Throughout February, we honor and celebrate Black History Month, a time dedicated to recognizing the accomplishments of Black Canadians while acknowledging the systemic racism they have endured over the past century due to government policies. This month serves as an opportunity to identify ongoing systemic racism and advocate for organizational and structural changes.

The theme for this year is "Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; A Future to Build," acknowledging the profound history and contributions of Black Canadians to Canada.

During World War I, 1,300 Black men joined the Canadian Armed Forces, playing a crucial role in the war effort. Engaged in combat missions, these soldiers supported Canada by working in factories to produce weapons and supplies, contributing significantly to the nation's success in the war. They also actively participated in fundraising for war efforts.

In times of segregation, numerous Black Canadians emerged as advocates for change. Mary Ann Shadd Cary, an educator, played a pivotal role in establishing the first racially integrated school for Black children in Windsor. As an activist and the first Black woman to publish a newspaper called the Provincial Freeman, she became a prominent advocate for the rights of Black people and women.

Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, a Black businessman and politician, moved to Victoria, BC, where he was elected to the Victoria City Council. Utilizing his public speaking skills and community organization experience, Gibbs pushed for racial integration and fought against segregation imposed by the BC government on churches and theaters. His contributions led to his recognition as a National Historic Significance by the province of BC.

Lincoln Alexander, the first Black Canadian federal cabinet minister and Member of Parliament, became the inaugural Black Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. He prioritized supporting black youth and their right to public education, receiving appointments to the Order of Canada with the rank of Companion.

Jean Augustine, a public educator and politician, made history as the first Black woman appointed to Canada's federal Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Status of Women. During her tenure, she successfully advocated for and passed legislation designating February as Black History Month.

Senator Anne Clare Cools, the first Black Senator in the Senate of Canada, emerged as a strong advocate for women, children, and survivors of domestic violence. Retiring in 2018, she holds the distinction of being the longest-serving senator in Canadian history.

During Black History Month, take time to explore the history of Black Canadians, including Canada's dark history of enslavement and the enduring impact of racist policies on Black communities over the past century.