OPSEU Coalition of Racialized Workers

Black Facts: A Celebration of Black History Month 2015


February is Black History Month!

In Black Facts: A Celebration of Black History Month, the OPSEU Workers of Colour Caucus pays tribute to historical figures and movements that contributed to the struggle for all against social injustice and inequality . Keep an eye on this page for new Black Facts which will be posted throughout February 2015.

February 28: Lincoln MacCauley Alexander

We want Canadians to fight racism wherever it rears its ugly head– in schools, in hockey rinks, in workplaces, on the street, and yes, even in Parliament.

Lincoln MacCauley Alexander PC, CC, OOnt, CD, QC was born in Toronto, Ontario, on January 21, 1922, the son of immigrants from the Caribbean–his mother was from Jamaica and his father from St. Vincent. His mother, Mae Rose, was a maid, and his father, also named Lincoln MacCauley Alexander was a carpenter by trade, but in Canada, he had to work as a railway porter, which in those days was one of the few jobs available to racialized men. The younger Alexander grew up in Toronto until the age of 15 when he moved to Harlem, New York City, to live with his mother. He subsequently lived in Long Island and in Brooklyn.

On returning to Canada, Alexander served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the World War II years of 1942 to 1945. At Lachine, Quebec, he trained to be a wireless operator and on graduating, he was sent to Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, where he flew training missions.

Lincoln Alexander entered McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1949. He would also earn a law degree from Osgoode Hall in Toronto. At the time, there were only about four Black practicing lawyers in all of Ontario. When established law firms turned him away, in 1954, he became a partner in the first inter-racial law firm in Canada, Duncan and Alexander.

It was not really difficult, but I didn't have all the clients, because people weren't used to having a Black lawyer. Nobody said it, but Black meant you were seen as incompetent.

In 1962, he became a partner in the Hamilton law firm of Miller, Alexander, Tokiwa and Isaacs, and he was subsequently appointed Queen's Counsel in 1965. In that year, Alexander also entered federal politics. At first, he hadn't really expected even to win his party's nomination. There were only a few hundred Black persons in Hamilton at the time and "no one of colour in those days was involved in politics to any great extent. They really weren't wanted.” Regardless, he succeeded in becoming the first Black candidate to run for a federal seat in Hamilton. As the Progressive Conservative candidate in the riding of Hamilton West, he lost to the Liberal incumbent.

However, Alexander's team regarded the result as a victory and he immediately got himself nominated again for the next election, which would not actually occur until two and a half years later. His long campaign led to success.  In the 1968 general election, he won by the narrow margin of less than 350 votes and became the first Black Canadian elected to the House of Commons. He was the only Progressive Conservative party candidate to be elected in an Ontario urban centre, as the Liberals, led for the first time by Pierre Trudeau, scored a majority government win. Alexander's victory was notable for another reason too. He had never held any political office before and

went from the guy in the street to the House of Commons. Most people (in the Commons) usually had some previous experience in politics, maybe as an alderman or school trustee.

Alexander would win federal re-election four times and serve in Parliament for almost 12 years. In 1979, he was the first Black cabinet minister ever appointed in Canada's history, in the newly elected Progressive Conservative government of Joe Clark. But his term as Minister of Labour would last only nine months until the government's defeat in the winter election of 1980. A few months later, in May 1980, Alexander resigned his Commons seat to accept an appointment from Ontario's Premier William Davis as Chairman of the Workmen's Compensation Board of Ontario.

Alexander would make front-page news again in 1985. On the recommendation of then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, he was appointed Ontario's 24th Lieutenant Governor. It was another historic step, as Alexander became the first member of a racialized group to serve in that vice-regal office in any province in Canada. His official duties included summoning and dissolving Ontario's legislature, reading the Speech from the Throne at the opening of each legislative session and giving assent to bills passed by the legislature.

Meanwhile, he made youth and education issues key parts of his mandate as he spoke to students at more than 250 schools during his term. He constantly promoted the importance of education, with the advice to young Canadians to:

Stay in school. Get an education. Leave drugs and alcohol alone. You don't need them as a crutch.

He served as Lieutenant Governor until 1991. That same year, he was appointed Chancellor of the University of Guelph, in Ontario.

In 1997, Alexander was appointed as inaugural Chair of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. The Foundation was created by the Government of Canada as part of the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement. In a 1999 speech at the launch of what he described as:

the largest anti-racism campaign of its kind in Canadian history,

Alexander noted the equality rights provided by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But he added,

Racist attitudes and institutional racism are still very much alive. In my view, we still have a long way to go.

In asking Canadians to join in the fight against racism, Alexander stated:

We want Canadians to fight racism wherever it rears its ugly head – in schools, in hockey rinks, in workplaces, on the street, and yes, even in Parliament.

From 1991-2007, Alexander also served as Chancellor of the University of Guelph. He was also appointed to the boards of the Ontario Banking Ombudsman, the Ontario Press Council, the Royal Winter Fair, and the Shaw Festival. He has been the recipient of a very long list of prestigious awards and honours, including seven honorary doctorates. He was appointed to the Order of Ontario in 1992.

To commemorate his term as Lieutenant Governor, since 1993, the province of Ontario has made awards annually, in his name, to two young people between the ages of 16 and 25 who have demonstrated leadership in eliminating racial discrimination. The new Ontario Provincial Police headquarters is named after Alexander, as are a secondary school in Mississauga, Ontario, two public schools in Hamilton and Ajax, Ontario, and a parkway in his home city of Hamilton.

Compiled from:

  • “First Black Canadian Elected to the House of Commons” Electoral Insight, Elections Canada,, published October, 2002 at http://www.elections.ca/res/eim/article_search/article.asp?id=70&lang=e&frmPageSize
  • “Lincoln Alexander, Canada’s 1st MP Dies”, CBC, published October 19, 2012 at http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/lincoln-alexander-canada-s-1st-black-mp-dies-1.1180603
  • “Lincoln Alexander Dies at 90,” The Toronto Star, published Sat October 20, 2012 at http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2012/10/20/lincoln_alexander_dies_at_90.html

For further information:

February 27: Charles Roach

I have to re-double my efforts. The struggle is the most important thing. The principle is the important thing. Not how it ends. Not whether I win or lose…but did I fight the struggle and do all that I can do?

For fifty years, the human rights lawyer, activist, artist, and musician campaigned to make Toronto a more equitable place. Through his work, Charles Roach became a leading figure in Toronto's Black community and was recognized for having inspired several generations of activists, and helping to alter the city's political culture.

Charles Roach was born in Belmont, Trinidad and Tobago, the son of a trade union organizer. In 1955, he arrived in Canada–an aspiring priest–to study at the University of Saskatchewan. He was soon politicized by the civil rights movement, stating:

after the '50's, I started being more political… This was the spirit of the times. I'm really from the civil-rights era.

He then studied law at the University of Toronto and was called to the bar in 1963.

Roach worked as a staff lawyer for the City of Toronto in the 1960's, while also participating and organizing marches and demonstrations for human rights. He opened his own law practice in 1968, eventually becoming the firm of Roach and Schwartz Associates. Roach was also a founder of the Caribana festival, serving as its first Chair. He also went on to establish the Movement of Minority Electors in 1978 to encourage members of the racialized community to enter electoral politics.

Along with Dudley Laws, Charles Roach founded the Albert Johnson Defense Committee and the Black Action Defense Committee (BADC), which led the charge against racist policing in Canada.

Charles Roach was especially known for his long-standing efforts to win civilian control of policing following the shootings of Buddy Evans in 1978 and Albert Johnson in 1979. Roach most recently represented the family of Michael Eligon Jr., who was shot in February of 2012.

One of the movement's key achievements was the creation of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the civilian agency mandated to look into killings and serious injuries caused by police. Over the decades, BADC has continually pushed the SIU to do more substantial investigations.

Roach has always pursued human rights on two fronts simultaneously: in the courts and through political organizing.

Another of Roach’s spectacular victories was the case of the seven Jamaican mothers who won permanent residency with the help of his activist-legal campaign, which challenged the situation of domestic workers who had been in Canada for many years without hope of landed status.

His contributions to the fight against apartheid in South Africa included founding the Freedom Ride Against Apartheid (with Lennox Farrell), and the controversial 1986 case in which he argued that the South African ambassador to Canada was complicit in crimes against humanity and therefore should not be permitted to give a lecture at U of T. In 1999, Roach went to Rwanda to represent Hutu journalist Mathieu Ngirumpatse against human rights abuse charges before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

One of Roach’s most persistent projects was the abolition of the oath of allegiance to the Queen as a condition of citizenship. Roach's refusal to swear allegiance to the Queen had cost him. He was, for example, offered an appointment as a provincial court judge, but since that required the oath, he could not accept it. Because the oath is integral to the citizenship ceremony, he could never become a Canadian, though a resident of Canada since 1955. He lost an oath-to-the-Queen case in federal court in the 1990's, and the appeal as well, but he had more recently initiated a similar case in Ontario's Superior Court of Justice and a month before his death, won the right to continue that case.

Compiled from lawyer Peter Rosenthal’s homage to Charles Roach in Now Toronto magazine and the tribute in The Toronto Star dated October 3, 2012.

For further information:



February 26: Adelle Blackett

I teach labour law, I teach international trade law. To many people that combination is entirely counter-intuitive. But from the perspective of Black History Month, that is very much revelatory of our own history. We were brought here as slaves, brought to the Americas in the form of a triangular trade. We were purchased as commodities, our labour power produced commodities that were then sold. That dehumanization process is part of our history that is rarely taught…

Professor Adelle Blackett is a William Dawson Scholar and Director of the Labour Law and Development Research Laboratory at the Faculty of Law at McGill University. Professor Blackett, who holds a doctorate in law from Columbia University and has over 40 publications in 3 languages, has devoted her research and advocacy to the issue of social justice for historically excluded communities, in Canada and abroad.

Professor Adelle Blackett has expertise in labour law, trade law, and international development. A former official of the International Labour Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, Professor Blackett has also been a visiting academic at the African Development Bank in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.

Professor Blackett is a research coordinator for the Inter-university Research Centre on Globalization and Work (CRIMT), the convener of the Labour Law and Development Research Network (LLDRN) and the recent recipient of a Canadian Foundation for Innovation award to construct a Labour Law and Development Research Laboratory (LLDRL).

Professor Blackett has  has recently been commissioned by the ILO as the lead legal expert on standard setting for the adoption of a new international labour convention on decent work for domestic workers in 2011. Her other current research focuses on the role of international persuasion in labour law reform in West Africa (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) and identifying regulatory vehicles to promote the citizenship at work of domestic workers (Fondation du Barreau du Québec).

In 2009, she was unanimously appointed by the National Assembly of Quebec to the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (CDPDJ), where she has contributed to policy and action on racial profiling, employment equity and migrant workers’ rights. Prior to coming to McGill in 2000, she worked for United Nations specialized agency the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva. She has been the ILO’s expert setting historic international labour standards on domestic workers’ rights (2008-2011), and has led a participatory, ILO-sponsored initiative to revise the Haitian Labour Code (2011-2014).

She is the recipient of the 2010-11 Bora Laskin National Fellowship in Human Rights Research, a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), and the Christine Tourigny Award of Merit from the Barreau du Québec (2014).

To hear Adelle Blackett speak as Quebec Laureate of Le Mois de l’ Histoires de Noirs (Black History Month) click here http://youtu.be/tnMFFA9Kkcw

February 25: Lawrence Hill

We continue to embrace subtle means to define people by dint of their blood purity, or by degrees of mixture. It still influences the way we talk when we describe our neighbour as half black and half white, or our co-worker as one-quarter Irish, one-quarter Japanese, and one-half Nigerian. How quaint. How exotic. How ludicrous. Human identity cannot be arithmetically quantified…

-Excerpt from Blood: The Stuff of Life

Lawrence Hill is the son of American immigrants. On his father's side, Hill's grandfather and great grandfather were university-educated, ordained ministers of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Hill's father, Daniel G. Hill (1923-2003), became the first director and later the chairperson of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Daniel Hill also served as the Ombudsman of Ontario and published a still seminal work about Black history in Canada: The Freedom Seekers: Blacks in Early Canada.

Hill's mother, Donna M. Hill (1928-), came from a Republican family in Oak Park Illinois, graduated from Oberlin College and later went on to become a civil rights activist in Washington, D.C.  Donna Hill worked as a human rights activist for the Toronto Labor Committee for Human Rights in the early 1950s and worked to persuade the Ontario government to enact anti-discrimination legislation. Also writing on Black history: A Black Man's Toronto, 1914-1980: The Reminiscences of Harry Gaiery, Donna Hill's book was published in 1980 by the Multicultural History Society of Ontario. Daniel and Donna Hill co-founded The Ontario Black History Society with Wilson O. Brooks and other friends.

The work of his parents in the human rights movement and Black history greatly influenced Hill's work as a writer. Hill curated and wrote the exhibit on his father for the Ontario Archives, called The Freedom Seeker: The Life and Times of Daniel G. Hill.

Lawrence Hill is also the author of nine books of fiction and non-fiction. In 2005, he won his first honour for his work, a National Magazine Award for the article "Is Africa's Pain Black America's Burden?" published in The Walrus. But it was his third novel, The Book of Negroes (HarperCollins Canada, 2007) — published in some countries as Someone Knows My Name and in French as Aminata — that brought his writing to broad public attention. The novel won several awards, including The Rogers/Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, both CBC Radio’s Canada Reads and Radio Canada’s Le Combat des livres, and The Commonwealth Prize for Best Book, which came with a private audience with Queen Elizabeth II. The Book of Negroes television mini-series which Lawrence Hill co-wrote with director Clement Virgo, was filmed in South Africa and Canada and is currently airing on CBC.

Lawrence Hill’s newest non-fiction book, Blood: The Stuff of Life was published in September 2013. Blood is a personal consideration of the physical, social, cultural and psychological aspects of blood, and how it defines, unites and divides us. Hill drew from the book to deliver the 2013 Massey Lectures across Canada. The lectures were broadcast on the CBC Radio "Ideas" program. Blood: The Stuff of Life won the Hamilton Literary Award for non-fiction. In 2013, Hill published the essay Dear Sir: I intend to Burn Your Book: An Anatomy of a Book Burning.

Formerly a reporter with The Globe and Mail and parliamentary correspondent for The Winnipeg Free Press, Hill is an honorary patron of Crossroads International, for which he travelled as a volunteer to the West African countries Niger, Cameroon and Mali, and to which he lends the name of his best-known character for the Aminata Fund, which supports programs for girls and women in Africa. Hill is also a member of the Council of Patrons of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society, and of the Advisory Council of Book Clubs for Inmates and is an honorary patron of Project Bookmark Canada.

Compiled from Lawrence Hill’s web-site at http://lawrencehill.com

Lawrence Hill’s exhibit on his father, Daniel Hill http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/explore/online/dan_hill/index.aspx

More information about the Book of Negroes: Lawrencehill.com/the-book-of-negroes

February 24: Afua Cooper

When something is silenced it is as though it never happened.

-Afua Cooper on the importance of writing about slavery and its legacies on CBC, the Morning Edition, February 6, 2007

Born in Westmoreland, Afua Cooper grew up in Kingston, Jamaica and migrated to Toronto in 1980.  She holds a PhD in African-Canadian history and she is currently the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies. Her research interests are African Canadian studies, with specific regard to the period of enslavement and emancipation in 18th and 19th century Canada and the Black Atlantic; African-Nova Scotian history; political consciousness; community building and culture; slavery’s aftermath; Black youth studies.

Dr. Cooper founded the Black Canadian Studies Association (BCSA), which she currently chairs.

Her dissertation, "Doing Battle in Freedom’s Cause", is a biographical study of Henry Bibb, a 19th-century African-American abolitionist who lived and worked in Ontario. She also has expertise in women's history and New France studies.

She has published four books of poetry, including Memories Have Tongue (1994), one of the finalists in the 1992 Casa de las Americas literary award. She is the co-author of We're Rooted Here and They Can't Pull Us Up: Essays in African Canadian Women's History (1994), which won the Joseph Brant Award for history. She has also released two albums of her poetry.

Her book The Hanging of Angelique (2006) tells the story of an an enslaved African Marie Joseph Angelique who was executed in Montreal at a time when Quebec was under French colonial rule. It was shortlisted for the 2006 Governor General Literary Award for non-fiction.

Cooper still lives in Toronto. She is a winner of the Harry Jerome Award for professional excellence.

To hear Afua Cooper talking about her writing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0z5CJreHfpg

February 23: Jean Augustine

The Government of Canada considers the selective treatment of individuals solely on the basis of ethnic or racial characteristics as unacceptable

                                    -Jean Augustine, Statement in the House of Commons, 2004

In 1993, Canadian politician Jean Augustine became the first Black woman elected to the Parliament of Canada. She was elected in the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore in 1993 and sat in Parliament until 2006.

Among her accomplishments as an MP was the introduction of a motion, passed unanimously, to have February proclaimed as Black History Month in Canada. The city of Toronto had been celebrating Black History Month, working with organizations such as the Ontario Black History Society, since 1979.

Born in St. George's, Grenada, Jean Augustine was a qualified teacher when she arrived in Canada in 1959. She decided to take advantage of a Canadian Program that offered citizens of countries belonging to the British Commonwealth of Nations the opportunity to come to Canada as domestic servants and had the right to settle in Canada after one year if they so desired. She came to Canada in 1960 at age 22, but had to work as a domestic and shoe clerk before earning an Ontario Teacher's Certificate.

After completing a Master of Education degree, Ms. Augustine became a school principal with the Metropolitan Separate School Board in Toronto. From 1988 until 1993, she was chair of the Metro Toronto Housing Authority. Jean Augustine also supported many social causes through her involvement in boards such as that of The Hospital for Sick Children, the Stephen Lewis Foundation and the Harbourfront Corporation. She is a former national president of the Congress of Black Women of Canada. She holds an honorary doctorate of law from the University of Toronto.

During her years as a federal member of parliament, The Honourable Jean Augustine served as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister of Canada, Chair of the National Liberal Women's Caucus, Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women, Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Deputy Speaker.

In March 2007 Jean Augustine became the first Fairness Commissioner for the province of Ontario. The Office of the Fairness Commissioner assesses the registration practices of certain regulated professions and trades to make sure they are transparent, objective, impartial and fair for anyone applying to practise his or her profession in Ontario. The office requires the bodies that regulate the professions and trades to review their own registration processes, submit reports about them and implement the commissioner’s recommendations for improvement.

Jean Augustine is the recipient of numerous awards–including the 1994 Canadian Black Achievement Award, the YWCA Woman of Distinction and the Kaye Livingstone Award for support of issues relating to Black women. Ms. Augustine has worked on many initiatives related to youth, noting that "racism is the most significant barrier to the successful integration of newcomer black youths to Canada."

February 20: Rosemary Brown

Unless all of us are free, none of us are free.

-Rosemary Brown

Born in Jamaica, Rosemary Brown emigrated to Canada  in 1951 to study at McGill University. There she soon encountered racism—no other female students wanted to room with her; only a few other students would speak to her in the dining hall. Prospective landlords and employers shunned her when she went in search of an apartment or a job.

In mid-1955, Brown moved to British Columbia to complete studies in social work. She and her husband Bill Brown joined the British Columbia Association for Colored People (BCAAP) and then the Voice of Women. Brown remained active in both groups and in the 1960’s began appearing regularly on a television show called “People in Conflict.”

By the late 1960’s, Brown was speaking up about the racism within feminist communities and the lack of attention to sexism in racialized communities. In a 1973 speech, Brown said, “…to be black and female in a society which is both racist and sexist is to be in a unique position of having nowhere but to go up!”

With that spirit, Brown grasped opportunities that others found daunting. She took the position of Volunteer Ombudsman and in 1972,  she was elected to the provincial legislature in British Columbia becoming the first black woman in Canadian history to become a member of a Canadian parliamentary body.

The first time she was approached to be a political candidate, Brown laughed. She thought no riding association would nominate her –a black woman—not even the New Democratic Party.  In 1972, Brown ran for the sake of raising awareness of racism and sexism and to defeat the Social Credit with no expectation of winning. Brown became the first member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and went on to serve for fourteen years.

A determined feminist, Rosemary worked throughout her life to promote equality and human rights.

Brown was a founding member of the Vancouver Status of Women Council, and a founding member of the Vancouver Crisis Center. Her campaigns included efforts to eliminate sexism in textbooks, increase representation on boards and prohibit discrimination based on sex and marital status.

A busy mother of three as well as an active member of the National Democratic Party, she ran for leadership of the Federal NDP in 1975, becoming the first woman to contest the leadership of the national party. She used the slogan “Brown is beautiful” and in a tight race, lost on the fourth ballot to Ed Broadbent.

Rosemary served in the B.C.. Legislature until 1986 when she became CEO, special ambassador and president of MATCH International, an international development agency run by and for women. Brown said, “No matter how much progress Canadian women make towards equality, if you are surrounded by countries where women have not achieved the same, then your achievements are at risk." From 1993-1996, Brown served as Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. She also later became a professor in women’s studies at Simon Fraser University.

Rosemary’s dedicated community service won her numerous awards. In 1995, she was a recipient of the Order of British Columbia, and in 1996, she was named an Officer of the Order of Canada. Brown was also sworn to the Crown’s Privy Council for Canada as a member of the Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee from 1993-1998 and she served on the Order of the Canadian Advisor Committee until her death in 2003.

  • Compiled from the book Being Brown (Random House: Toronto) and from the web-sites  heroines.ca “A Guide to Women in Canadian History” and Section 15.ca.

February 19: Stanley Grizzle

While working at the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1940s, Stanley Grizzle became active in the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), the first trade union in Canada organized by and for black Canadian employees.

Stanley Grizzle was conscripted into the Canadian army medical corps in 1942 during World War II. He says, “the reason I qualified for the medical corps is because I was a sleeping car porter and I could make a bed, ” but he says the reason he decided to answer the notice to report to war was not because of “the social conditions as they affected myself and my people.” Grizzle describes:

“We couldn't’t get jobs here. The only job a black person could get was on the railroad as a porter, for a man. And for a woman, domestic. You could walk up and down Yonge Street, you never saw a black person working in a restaurant or any of the stores. That’s just the way it was. And so, there was no motivation for a black person to get into the army. One of its themes was ‘To Save the World for Democracy.’ Well, we weren't’t enjoying any democracy in peacetime, so I couldn't’t see too much reason to join the army. I got this notice, and decided that I better answer the service. “

Upon returning to Canada after serving in Europe during World War II, Grizzle was elected President of his union local, and by the early 1950’s Grizzle had become a member of Canada’s Joint Labour Committee to Combat Racial Intolerance. Along with seeking better wages and working conditions for union members, the Brotherhood also pressured the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Northern Albertan Railway to enact anti-discrimination employment practices. At the time, porters were barred from employment as conductors or engineers. Grizzle campaigned to open management ranks to blacks.

Grizzle also led groups that met with provincial and federal government officials to discuss anti-discrimination legislation and often appeared on radio and television to describe the issues faced by racialized Canadians.  On April 24, 1954, Grizzle plunged into the controversial issue of immigration when he organized the first delegation of Canadian blacks to meet with members of the Federal Cabinet to discuss discrimination against applicants from the Caribbean for Canadian Citizenship.

In 1959, Grizzle and Jack White were the first black Canadian candidates to run for elections in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the predecessor of the New Democratic Party).

In 1960, Grizzle went on to work for the Ontario Labour Relations Board and in 1978, he was appointed a Citizenship Judge by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

In recognition of his work with the BCSP and his human rights work, Grizzle received the order of Ontario in 1990 from the Lieutenant-Governor, Lincoln Alexander. As further recognition, he received the Order of Canada in 1995 from Governor-General Romeo LeBlanc. On November 1, 2007, a parkette on Main Street in Toronto was dedicated to Stanley Grizzle in a ceremony hosted by Toronto Mayor David Miller.

  • Compiled from Grizzle’s autobiography, My Name is not George: The Story of the Sleeping Car Porters and from the web-sites blackpast.org and thememoryproject.org

February 18: Carrie Best

If you are a Liberal middle-class white, the word ‘racist’ has a very concrete and narrow definition. Apartheid is racist. Segregation is racist. The political, social and economic systems which enslave human beings, which deny their identities, their freedom and dignity are all racist systems. The definition is good as far as it goes, but it only begins to scratch the surface of racism.

-Carrie Best, The Pictou Advocate, 26 December, 1968

Carrie Best was born in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia on March 4, 1903. Her husband, Albert Best was a Sleeping Car porter and she was extremely involved in the community raising awareness of human rights issues.

In 1942, she and her son, Cal were arrested  and charged with disturbing the peace for sitting in the Whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow.  Even though Best and her son were ultimately convicted and fined, she undertook to challenge racial discrimination and injustice by litigating a civil complaint against her home town which was heard before the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

Best became the first black publisher in Nova Scotia when in 1946, she and her son founded Clarion, the first black newspaper in the province. She not only researched all of her own articles, many of her stories were about discrimination in public places such as in restaurants and hotels.  She also used the newspaper to publicize the case of Viola Desmond, another black woman who had been arrested and fined because she sat in the Whites-only section at the Roseland Theatre. Best traveled to Halifax to provide support to Desmond in the courtroom and to draw public attention to Desmond’s case. Ultimately, when Desmond won her second appeal at the Supreme Court, both Best and Desmond had helped to put an end to Jim Crow laws in Nova Scotia.

Best also wrote articles on human rights and social justice for the Nova Scotia Gleaner, the Halifax Herald and the Pictou Advocate. Best used these forums to advocate for better conditions on Aboriginal reserves, to end discrimination against black property owners and to end racism in Canadian political institutions. The Clarion continued to be published until 1956 when it was renamed The Negro Citizen and began national circulation. She also ran a regular radio show called the “Quiet Corner” which remained on air across the Maritimes for more than twelve years.

In 1975, Carrie Best founded the Kay Livingstone Visible Minority Women’s Society of Nova Scotia and became its provincial coordinator and was also a member of the Task Force on the Status of Women in Nova Scotia.

In 1979, Carrie Best was made a member of the Order of Canada. She has also been recognized with numerous honorary doctorates and medals.

February 17: Donald Moore

Donald William Moore was described by Human Rights activist, Bromley Armstrong as “the leader, the gentle giant, the man with an iron fist in a gentle glove.” Moore was a community and human rights activist who fought to change Canada’s exclusionary immigration laws.

At the age of 21, Moore left Barbados and emigrated to North America. After brief residence in New York, Moore traveled to Montreal where he found work on the Canadian Pacific Railway and membership in the trade union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. As a porter, Moore earned enough to enroll in the Dominion Business College where he completed courses toward a degree in Dentistry.  However, after a lengthy bout with Tuberculosis, in 1920, he began working at the Occidental Cleaners and Dryers as a tailor, a trade he had learnt in Barbados.

Moore was eventually able to open his own business which soon became a gathering place for the Caribbean community in Toronto. It was there that Moore established the Toronto branch of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association and the West Indian trading Association. Moore would continue to operate his business in various locations until his retirement in 1975.

In 1951, Moore founded what was to become the Negro Citizenship Association—an organization that sought to challenge the systemic denial of black Canadians seeking legal entry into Canada and to bring an end to the incarceration of individuals who were waiting either deportation or decisions on deportation order appeals.

On Tuesday, April 17, 1954, Moore led a delegation to Ottawa which included 34 representatives from the Negro Citizenship Association, as well as unions, labour councils and community organizations. The brief presented by the Negro Citizenship Association drew public attention to Canada’s discriminatory immigration laws, which denied equal immigration status to non-White British subjects, described the impact of those laws and made specific recommendations for change.

The landmark brief and the subsequent relaxation of immigration laws opened the door for nurses from the Caribbean and domestics to find employment in Canada. By 1955, Moore’s activism led to changes in immigration law which enabled domestics to gain permanent residency after one year of work.

In 1956, Moore and two other members of the Negro Citizenship Association purchased a 12-room house on Cecil Street and converted it into a recreation center for the Caribbean community. In addition to serving as the home of the Negro Citizenship Association and United Negro Improvement Association, the center offered a wide range of services, classes and published a quarterly newsletter.

*Compiled from the City of Toronto web-exhibit “Caribbean Connection: One Man’s Crusade” at www1.toronto.ca

February 13: Isaac Phills

In Sydney after the war started, quite a few Blacks volunteered for active service and were told point blank, 'We don't want you. This is a white man's war.

–  Isaac Phills in The Black Battalion 1916-1920, Canada's Best Kept Military Secret

Isaac Phills was born in 1896 in the Caribbean Island of St. Vincent and emigrated to Canada in 1916. During the first World War, Phills served in the No.2 Construction Battalion.

As the First World War entered its third year, Canadian enlistment fell from 30 000 to 6000 per month. A separate construction battalion was proposed and supported in order to increase numbers. Despite having defended Canada with courage and distinction during the American War of Independence, the War of 1812 and the Rebellions of 1837, the efforts of many Black men to enlist when World War I broke out were rebuked. Black individuals could enlist in battalions only at the discretion of commanding officers. They were told it was "a white man's war."

On July 5, 1916, the No. 2 Construction Battalion was formed in Pictou, Nova Scotia—the first large Black military unit in Canadian history. Recruitment took place across the country and more than 600 men were eventually accepted, most from Nova Scotia, with others like James Grant James Grant, Roy Fells, Seymour Tyler, Jeremiah Jones and Curly Christian coming from New Brunswick, Ontario, Western Canada and the United States. The Black Battalion’s chaplain was Reverend William White, who had also played a leading role getting the unit formed. He was given the rank of Honourary Captain—one of the few Black commissioned officers to serve in the Canadian Army during the war.

The segregated battalion was tasked with non-combat support roles. After initial service in Canada, the battalion boarded the SS Southland bound for Liverpool, England in March 1917. Its members were sent to eastern France later in 1917 where they served honourably with the Canadian Forestry Corps. There they helped provide the lumber required to maintain trenches on the front lines, as well as helped construct roads and railways. After the end of the First World War in November 1918, Isaac Phills and many of the men in No. 2 Construction Battalion who had served in France in integrated conditions often returned to segregated employment or social life in North America.

In 1918, Isaac Phills returned to Sydney, Nova Scotia but could not find a job that reflected his training in Agriculture. Instead, Phills went to work for over forty-five years at Sydney Steel, taking on the challenges of the economic depression and the Sydney Steel Strike of 1923 in which union organizers sought recognition and rights for workers, but were confronted with police, multiple arrests and families like Isaac Phills’s sons lost their employment in the Steel Mills.

In 1967, Isaac Phills was the first black man to receive the Order of Canada.

February 12: Sylvia and Emma Stark

Sylvia Estes was born in Clay County, Missouri to parents who were slaves. Her parents and their family were the property of a German baker named Charles Leopold who was not a stereotypical slaveholder as he held the abolitionist movement in high regard. His wife, however, was not of his persuasion and treated the Estes badly. Sylvia grew up living with fear; she rarely left the property as she had been told stories of many men who kidnapped Black children to sell in the South. Sylvia was bullied frequently by Mrs. Leopold and was forced to look after the master's children when she herself was ill.

In 1849, Howard Estes and his master's sons were sent to California with a herd of cattle. Howard's master (Tom Estes) had promised to give Howard his freedom for $1000 and agreed to let him work in California to earn the money. However, when Howard sent the $1000 to buy his freedom, Tom Estes went back on his promise. Howard sent another $1000 and after a court battle, Tom Estes was forced to send Howard his “free papers” but he kept most of the second $1000. By the time Howard returned to Missouri in 1851, daughter Agnes had died of scarlet fever and Sylvia had barely survived. Howard Estes was able to buy his family's freedom, paying $1000 each for his wife and son and $900 for daughter, Sylvia.

Realizing that Missouri was not a safe place for Free Blacks, Howard took his family to California in a covered wagon. Sylvia, the eldest, was then 12 years old. At age 16, while living in Placerville, California, she met and married Louis Stark, a dairy farmer who raised cattle not far from the Estes farm. Stark, the son of a slaveholder, had escaped and using skills learned on his father's plantation, had worked his way to California.

The Starks and Estes families joined the Black emigration to Vancouver Island in 1858. Howard Estes and his wife, Hannah, settled and remained on a farm in Saanich. After settling briefly in Saanich, the Starks moved to Salt Spring Island in 1860, shortly after a government pre-emption scheme opened land to Homesteaders.

Sylvia and Louis had seven children; Emma (also called Emily) in 1857, and Willis in 1858, accompanied their parents to Salt spring Island. The others: John Edmund (date unknown), Abraham Lincoln Stark in 1863, Hannah Serena in 1866, Marie Albertina in 1868, and Louise in 1879 were born on Salt Spring Island.

Emma Stark, Sylvia’s eldest daughter, was the first black woman to begin teaching in Canada. Emma Stark had been instructed in Latin, philosophy and human rights by John Craven Jones in one-room schoolhouse in British Columbia.  In 1874, Emma Stark began teaching in the North Cedar School District in Nanaimo B.C. to children of new settlers to the area.

February 11: Mifflin Gibbs

Mifflin Wistar Gibbs was born in 1823 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of a Presbyterian Minister and the eldest of four siblings.  As a young adult, Gibbs became active in the abolitionist movement in the city and worked for Frederick Douglass. In the 1850s, Philadelphia had a flourishing free black community as slavery had been abolished there after the Revolutionary War. Gibbs moved to California during the Gold Rush years where he founded the state’s only African-American Newspaper.

In 1858, Gibbs took up cause against the discriminatory laws passed by the California legislature which deprived blacks of the right to own property and disqualified any black person from testifying against a white person in court. In addition, all Blacks were required to wear distinctive badges for the purposes of identification to local and state authorities. Angered by these developments, Gibbs and two other black men went to British Columbia to meet Sir James Douglas, Governor of the Province, who assured them that treatment of blacks on the frontier would be equal to that of other residents.

Gibbs led 600 to 800 African-Americans from California to the Victoria area and African-Americans comprised a major portion of the early frontier community. Gibbs worked as a merchant and later was the first black man to be elected to provincial politics. In the 1860 Vancouver Island Legislative election, he won the vote of the Black community, defeating his opponent, Amor De Cosmos who had railed against blacks having the franchise and who had campaigned against the rights of blacks to vote.

February 10: Jeremy Loguen

Jermaine Wesley Loguen was born in Tennessee to an enslaved mother, Jane, and a white master, David Logue. When he was in his early 20’s, he escaped from slavery and fled to Canada.

Loguen was eventually ordained by the African Methodist Espiscopal (AME) Zion Church in 1842 and became increasingly involved in the anti-slavery movement, working with other Abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, on the lecture circuit. Loguen publicly denounced the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law and swore to defy it. He even advertised himself as a prominent underground railroad conductor in an 1855 issue of Frederick Douglass’ paper, writing: “the Underground railroad was never doing a better business than at present…I speak officially as an agent and keeper of an Underground railroad depot.”

In 1859. Jeremy Loguen published A Slave ad a Freeman, a third-person account detailing Loguen’s early life in slavery, his escape to Canada and his ministerial and abolitionist work in Canada and in New York State.  The preface to the narrative acknowledges employing the techniques of the sentimental novel in order to “move mankind to a higher and better level.”

February 9: Henry Bibb

Henry Bibb was born in Kentucky to state senator James Bibb and a black slave named Mildred Jackson. In 1840, he began speaking publicly against slavery and organizing abolitionist groups. In 1847, Henry Bibb published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American slave.  In the Narrative, Bibb describes the numerous abuses to which he was subject under slavery. As a child, he was the legal property of a slave-owner, David White and he was forced to labour on farms as a child so that his wages could pay for the education of the slave-owner’s daughter.

As a teenager, Bibb was sold to another slave owner who beat him relentlessly, inspiring Bibb’s first attempts at escape.  By December 1837, when Bibb was in his early 20’s and in a common-law marriage, he crossed the Ohio River into the free state of Indiana. From there, he took a steamboat to Cincinnati where he came into contact with the Underground Railroad and started his journey to Canada. Bibb settled in Windsor and saved enough money for a return trip to Kentucky to help his family escape to freedom. Yet,  Bibb’s return to America was faught. Slave traders professing to be Abolitionists called a mob to re-capture him and sell him down river. He was eventually sent to a slave prison where he was unexpectedly re-united with his family and subject to many atrocities such as the loss of a child from neglect.

In 1850, Bibb escaped to Canada. By this time, the Fugitive Slave Act passed in Congress which permitted slave-owners and their agents the right to track down and arrest fugitives anywhere in the country. Bounty-hunters often kidnapped free blacks and sold them into slavery.

In Windsor, Henry Bibb established Canada’s first newspaper, the Voice of the Fugitive—a publication that worked to convince African slaves to settle in Canada. He was also the founding director of the Canadian black colonization project, The Refugee Home Society. He died in 1954.

February 6: Chloe Cooley

On March 14, 1793 Chloe Cooley, an enslaved Black woman in Queenston, Upper Canada, was bound and thrown in a boat to be taken across the river and sold in the United States. Cooley was enslaved by a white, William Vrooman—a Loyalist who had fled to Canada after the American Revolution. She resisted fiercely; Peter Martin, a free Black man, noticed her screams and struggles and brought a witness, William Grisley, to report the incident to Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe.

At the same time that Cooley was beaten and bound and Vrooman tried to sell her against her will in America where slavery was still legal, the Anti-slavery bill in Canada was being debated. In large part, Vrooman did not want to be forced to free Cooley because of the more liberal Canadian legislation that was championed by Lord Simcoe.

Simcoe supported the abolition of enslavement even before he came to Upper Canada, and used the Chloe Cooley incident as a catalyst to introduce the 1793 Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada.  While the motion was opposed in the House of Assembly—the government brokered a compromise and on July 9 the Upper Canada legislature passed "an Act to prevent the further introduction of slaves, and to limit the term of contract for servitude" in Ontario.

The Act meant that no enslaved person was to be freed outright, but the Act prohibited the importation of enslaved people into Upper Canada. In addition, any children of female slaves who were born after the Act was passed would be freed after the age of twenty-five. Many argue that Lord Simcoe’s legislation was a compromise that set the stage for the gradual abolition of slavery in Canada.

Although no enslaved persons in the province were freed outright, the act prohibited the importation of enslaved people into Upper Canada and allowed the gradual abolition of enslavement. It was the first legislation in the British Empire limiting enslavement and set the stage for the beginnings of the Underground Railroad.

Chloe Cooley’s experience is emblematic of the violence and brutality visited on black men, women and children during slavery, but it is also attestation of their struggle and resistance against this treatment. According to Lynn Williams at Rabble, Chloe Cooley’s experience is now credited with being a driving force behind the enactment of Canada's first and only anti-slavery legislation the Slave Act of 1793. Slavery would continue to be legal until it was abolished by the British Empire in 1830.

*Compiled with the help of the Activist Toolkit at Rabble.ca

February 5: Josiah Henson

Mr. Henson was born into slavery in Maryland on June 15, 1789. He escaped to Ontario with his family at age forty-four, arriving on October 28, 1830. Mr. Henson fought (with William Lyon Mackenzie) in the 1837 Rebellion against the British Crown. During this battle, he single-handedly captured an American ship, The Anne, which was threatening the town of Sandwich.

While slavery had been outlawed in 1793 when Josiah Henson escaped into Ontario, the Act against Slavery (passed into legislation through the efforts of the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe)—the new law contained compromises made to appease those whose businesses relied on slave labour. Slavery was, in fact, not completely abolished in Ontario until the passing of the British Imperial Act on August 1, 1834. After that important day (also known as Emancipation Day), a steady but slow exodus began from the United States to Canada.

Mr. Henson has been described as a "Canadian pioneer in education." He was very instrumental in establishing the British American Institute at Dawn (Dresden), Ontario, which trained Canadians in Technical Systems for three-quarters of a century.

Additionally, Mr. Henson was the spiritual leader to the Black community in several regions. He served as the pastor of the British Methodist Episcopal Church at Dawn for many years.

Mr. Henson's home, located in Dresden, Ontario, is known as "Uncle Tom's Cabin." It has been transformed into a museum which illustrates history and life in Black-populated areas during the nineteenth century. In 1965, Mr. Henson's grave site was declared an historic site.

*source:  Black-Canadian Online and Ontario Black History Archives

February 4: Richard Pierpoint

By at least 1780, at the outbreak of the American Revolution, Richard Pierpoint was one of about a dozen Africans fighting on the side of the British with the Butler's Rangers regiment.  The regiment, a guerilla army of Loyalist soldiers, was founded by John Butler–a wealthy landowner from Mohawk Valley.

In 1776, many African-American slaves were offered freedom on the condition that they fought on the side of the British. In 1775, Virginia’s Royal Governor, Lord Dunsmore issued a controversial proclamation (known later as "Lord Dunsmore's Proclamation") in which he called on all able-bodied men to assist him in the defense of the colony, including enslaved Africans belonging to rebels. He promised such slave recruits freedom in exchange for service in the British Army.

Slaves like Richard Pierpoint, who fought on the side of the British during the American Revolution are often known as “Black Loyalists,” but the name is misleading.  Slaves who fought in British regiments often had no choice, or did so to gain freedom and pursue their vision of equality and justice in a territory where slavery and colonialism continued to thrive. Members of British regiments enlisted blacks only as non-combatant labourers, craftsmen, scouts and guides.

Following British defeat, the Butler’s Royal Rangers settled in Niagara and Pierpoint re-located on 200-acres of land near present-day St. Catherines. In 1794, Pierpoint and a number of formerly enslaved men petitioned the government of Upper Canada to grant them land adjacent to each other rather than dispersed among white settlers. The Petition of Free Negroes, as it was known, aimed to create a Black community where members would help and support each other. The petition was rejected for unknown reasons.

In the War of 1812, at age 68, Pierpoint petitioned the military for the creation of an all-black unit, by producing a list of black men in the region who had sworn to fight. The petition was initially rejected, but leadership of the unit was eventually given to Captain Robert Runchey, and the unit was named Captain Runchey’s Corps of Coloured Men. The Corps fought at Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812, (they were among the first reinforcements to arrive on the Heights in support of Mohawk Chief John Norton’s Grand River warriors) and were instrumental to the war effort throughout the Niagara region. In 1813, they were reassigned to the Provincial Corps of Artificers, and served throughout the war.

After the war, Pierpoint stayed in Niagara, but found the economic hardships, poverty and racism he experienced to be difficult. In 1821, Pierpoint petitioned the government to be sent on a ship back to his homeland in Senegal. Pierpoint’s petition was again rejected, but he was given a land grant in Garafraxa, near modern-day Fergus.  He took up his land and became a leader in the black community, eventually helping formerly enslaved men and women move through the Underground Railroad.

*Compiled with the help of files at the Harriet Tubman Institute at York University

February 3: Marie-Joseph Angélique

Marie-Joseph Angélique was a Portuguese-born Black slave owned by Thérèse de Couagne de Francheville in New France (later the province of Quebec) near Old Montréal. In 1734, Angélique was charged with arson after a fire leveled forty-six buildings in the merchant’s quarter. It was alleged that Angélique caused the fire while attempting to flee her bondage. Captured several months after the fire, she was paraded through the streets of Old Montréal.

At trial, the Prosecutor became frustrated by the lack of evidence against her and special judicial measures were applied.  For example, permission was sought by the Prosecutor to torture her prior to the passing of a sentence. The specific torture method, known as “question ordinaire,” involved the application of increasing pressure by use of a hammer on wooden planks, the outcome of which was to crush a prisoner’s legs.

Marie-Joseph Angélique was convicted on the basis of public knowledge, tortured and then hanged.  While it remains unknown whether or not she set the original fire, Angélique is viewed by many as “an avatar of liberation”, an exceptional, outspoken freedom-fighter and symbol of resistance.

Compiled from the Hanging of Angélique by Toronto historian and poet, Afua Cooper.

February 2:  Olivier Le Jeune

The first named enslaved African to reside in Canada was a six-year-old boy who travelled to New France from Madagascar in 1628. The child, originally the property of Sir David Kirke was sold several times, lastly to Father Paul Le Jeune after Quebec was returned from the British to the French. He was given the name Olivier Le Jeune and baptized Catholic.

Starting in the 1700’s, while Canada was still a colony of Britain and France, slaves were traded for profit in Canada and slavery led to rapid investments in various industries in Europe. A small number of African slaves were forcibly brought as chattel by Europeans to New France, Acadia and the later British North America. Slaves in Canada were traded between industrialists in Eastern Canada and slave-owners in Africa and the Caribbean.

Nation-building in countries like the United States, Canada and many European nations was predicated on the labour of slaves and indentured servants.  Slavery was central to the development of commercial industries, financial institutions, the trade in iron and cotton, and even in the development of Canadian cultural institutions.