The month of February marks Black History Month here in Canada. Black History Month seeks to appreciate the significant impact Black Canadians have had on contributing to this nation’s prosperity. Black History Month is also an opportunity to recognize Black Canadians’ achievements and experiences, whose stories, unfortunately, were often absent from the mainstream history curriculum.
This month is especially critical in 2021 as the world continues to witness the unjust treatment of members of the black community, not only in the U.S. but here on Canadian soil. We’ve observed how racism is rooted deeply in our justice systems and how it continues to perpetuate the discrimination of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour). At Gordon Neighbourhood House, we honour the positive contributions that Black Canadians continue to make in Canada and our community. We believe in the fair and respectful treatment of all community members regardless of race, gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, ability, religion, ancestry, political affiliation, language, financial status, age, record of offenses, immigration, or family status.
A Timeline of Black History Month in Canada
The celebration of Black History Month in Canada was inspired by the legacy of Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, a well-respected Black author, historian, journalist, and the founder of the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History. Dr. Woodson dedicated his life to spreading awareness of the Black American story, which played a critical role in American history but was often disregarded to pave the way for a colonial narrative. Dr. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History,” founded Negro History Week, the forerunner of what would eventually become Black History Month, which was declared a national observance in the United States in 1976.
Stanley G. Grizzle, president of the Toronto division of the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters, was credited with hosting the first-ever Negro History Week in Canada on February 13, 1950. This event was inspired by similar celebrations held by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in the United States. One of the key speakers at the event was a prominent female figure in Canadian history whose efforts were credited with being the first in uniting the African-Canadian community; her name was Kay Livingstone. Kay Livingstone was a dedicated social activist & organizer, broadcaster, and actor who established the Canadian Negro Women’s Association (CNWA), now known as the Congress of Black Women of Canada (CBWC). The CNWA would continue to organize Negro History Week events for years to come after the first official celebration in 1950.
After the success that the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) had in filing a petition in Ontario proclaiming February as Black History Month in 1993, Rosemary Sadlier, president of OBHS, proposed Black History Month be recognized across Canada. This idea was met with immense support from Parliament Secretary and Member of Parliament, Jean Augustine. Augustine was the first black woman elected to the House of Commons in 1993 and the first black woman to be appointed to cabinet. As an educator, Augustine noticed that curriculums rarely mentioned black contributions to Canadian history, which needed to change. Through their hard work, passion, and dedication, their proposal was approved by the House of Commons on December 14, 1995. The first declaration of Black History Month went into effect the following February. Although this was a significant success, it wasn’t until 2008 that Canada completed its parliamentary position on Black History Month on March 14, 2008, when the Senate officially recognized Black History Month. Senator Donald Oliver put forth this motion in February of 2008, the first black man in Canada to be elected to Senate.