February is Black History Month

In 1995, February was officially declared Black History Month across Canada. Black History Month recognizes and celebrates the immeasurable accomplishments and acts of bravery of black Canadians that helped shape our nation into the culturally diverse and thriving Canada of today. Here are just a few key facts leading up to that declaration:

• 1939-1945 – Black Canadians fight in racially mixed units in WWII.

• 1944 – Ontario passes the Racial Discrimination Act to prevent discrimination based on race or religion making it the first province to respond to social change.

• 1946 – Viola Desmond challenges racial segregation by attempting to sit in the ‘White Only’ section of a Nova Scotia movie theatre. She is forcibly removed and arrested for tax evasion for the one cent price difference between the seat she paid for and the seat she tried to sit in. She takes her case to court but does not win. Viola Desmond is granted a posthumous pardon in 2010 and will appear on our $10 dollar bill in 2018.

• 1960s – Despite legislation prohibiting discrimination against black Canadians, refusal of service and other blatant acts of racial exclusion continue in Canada. Black Canadians join the civil rights movement in the US.

• 1963 – Leonard Braithwaite becomes the first African-Canadian in provincial legislature when elected as the Liberal member for Etobicoke, Ontario.

• 1967 – Ten Torontonians of West Indian heritage found the Caribana cultural festival which continues to this day and serves to promote cultural pride, mutual respect and social unity.

• 1967 – Immigration points system is introduced; it aims to ensure equity and fairness and eradicates the previous system that relied solely on immigration officers’ judgment to determine who should be eligible to enter Canada.

• 1970s and 1980s – Thousands of Caribbean people become Canadian immigrants.

• 1980s – African people begin to immigrate directly to Canada.

• 1983 – Josiah Henson, an author, abolitionist, and minister who was born into slavery and later led others to freedom through the Underground Railroad and developed his own Afro-Canadian community, becomes the first African Canadian to appear on a Canadian stamp.

• 1985 – The Honourable Lincoln Alexander (left) is the first Black Canadian to sit in the House of Commons and to hold the office of lieutenant-governor. Alexander was also the first Black MP and federal Cabinet minister.

Celebrate black history this February by visiting the library to find materials to help you learn more…
Adapted from Historic Canada’s blackhistorycanada.ca and The Kids Book of Black Canadian History by Rosemary Sadlier