This February is Black History Month and the theme is “The Future Is Now”.
“The Future is Now” is a chance to celebrate and acknowledge the transformative work that Black Canadians and their communities are doing now.
Check out these resources for ways to celebrate and get involved with Black History Month:
- Resiliency of Black Youth: Addressing Mental Health and Anti-Black Racism on Friday February 19, 2021 at 5:30 pm offered by the Toronto Public Library (https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/detail.jsp?Entt=RDMEVT448612&R=EVT448612)
- University of Toronto Black History Month Symposium https://antiracism.utoronto.ca/event/black-history-month-symposium/
- Joy Bulletin https://www.joybullen.ca/events/
Shaping Black Canadian History
As we look to the future, let us also look to the past to some noteworthy historical figures who helped shaped Black Canadian history.
Lori Seale-Irving was the first Black female commissioned officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Born and raised in Ottawa, Lori’s father was a Royal Canadian Air Force Officer (retired Major) so she grew up on a military base. Lori wanted a career that would allow her to help people in her community, so in 1990 she joined the RCMP. Her career has included many postings, including some in sections devoted to general duty policing, war crimes, marine security, Prime Minister’s protection and management support. Seale-Irving was promoted to the rank of Inspector in 2007, making her the first self-identified Black female RCMP member to become a commissioned officer.
Donovan Bailey, “Athlete of the Decade” and “The World’s Fastest Man” is one of the greatest sprinters of all time. In the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, he set the 100m world record with a time of 9.84 seconds, becoming the world’s fastest man. Donovan Bailey went on to win the gold medal a week later anchoring the 4x100m relay team.
Lincoln M. Alexander
The Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander was born in 1922 in Toronto. He served with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, between 1942 and 1945. He was educated at Hamilton’s McMaster University where he graduated in Arts, and Toronto’s Osgoode Hall School of Law where he passed the bar examination in 1965. Mr. Alexander was appointed a Queen’s Counsel and became a partner in a Hamilton law firm from 1963 to 1979. He was the first Black person to become a Member of Parliament in 1968 and served in the House of Commons until 1980. He was also federal Minister of Labour in 1979–1980.
In 1985, Lincoln Alexander was appointed Ontario’s 24th Lieutenant Governor, the first member of a visible minority to serve as the Queen’s representative in Canada. During his term in office, which ended in 1991, youth and education were hallmarks of his mandate. He then accepted a position as Chancellor of the University of Guelph. In 1996, he was chair of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and was also made Honorary Commissioner for the International Year of Older Persons Ontario celebrations.
The Honourable Lincoln Alexander was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada and to the Order of Ontario in 1992, and in June 2006, he was named the “Greatest Hamiltonian of All Time.”
Mr. Alexander died on October 19, 2012 at age 90.
On December 2013, the Province of Ontario proclaimed January 21 (Lincoln Alexander’s birthday) as “Lincoln Alexander Day” and the following year, the Day was nationally recognized.
Harriet Tubman, a formerly enslaved individual from Maryland, became known as the “Moses” of her people and the “conductor” who led hundreds of enslaved Blacks to freedom along the Underground Railroad. In 1850, when the far-reaching United States Fugitive Law was passed, she guided runaway enslaved people further north into Canada. When angry slave owners posted rewards for her capture, she continued her work despite great personal risk.
St. Catharines, Ontario (a town close to the border with the United States) was on the route and offered employment opportunities, making it a common destination for the former fugitives, including Harriet Tubman, who lived there from 1851 to 1857. Many of the people she rescued were relatives of those already in St. Catharines including her own parents, brothers and sisters and their families.
Later, Harriet Tubman became a leader in the Abolitionist movement. During the Civil war she worked as a nurse and served as a spy for the Union forces in South Carolina.