Did you know that even though Black History Month started in America, it doesn't only apply to those residing in the United States? Black Canadians and people of Black and African descent have been shaping Canadian history through their contributions and accomplishments, including making Canada the culturally diverse nation it is today.
The first celebration of Black History Month was in 1926, when an African American man decided to commemorate black people's achievements and contributions to increase Black History's awareness in the United States. This event then became known as Negro History Week in 1926, which later turned to Black History Week and then expanded into Black History Month.
Here are some things you may not have known about Black History within Canada:
The first arrival of black people in Canada dates to the early 1600s, by Mathieu de Costa, a free man in Nova Scotia.
During the American Revolution, the British offered escaped Black slaves land to fight on their side. Nearly 10,000 Black Loyalists fought for the British and about 1,200 settled in the Maritimes. After the American Revolution, loyalists of African descent came to settle in the Maritimes in 1783.
Josiah Henson & Harriet Tubman
Let's not forget about the people who fought slavery and built a foundation for Canada's diverse and inclusive society. In 1830, Josiah Henson, an American slave who fled to Canada, after gaining freedom, he dedicated the rest of his life to helping free other slaves. There’s also Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery in Maryland in the United States and famously led hundreds of black slaves through an underground railroad to freedom in Canada during 1850s.
First Black Immigrants in BC
In 1858, the first Black immigrants arrived in British Columbia from California, initially settling in Victoria and on Salt Spring Island. Then in the early 1900s, they started building homes in the Strathcona area.
Sam Langford was a boxer from Nova Scotia who was denied opportunities to fight in the championship due to racial discrimination. In 1906 he was allowed to compete, fighting Jack Johnson, an American boxer, and then becoming the first black person to hold a heavyweight title.
Honourable Jean Augustine
Black History Month was officially recognized in Canada by the House of Commons in December 1995 after the first Black Canadian woman, the Honourable Jean Augustine, was elected to parliament, appointed to the federal cabinet and became the first Fairness Commissioner of the Government of Ontario, Augustine is a politician, social activist, and educator. She continued to serve as Minister of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women and as a member of the Citizenship and Immigration Committee.
Donovan Bailey is a Jamaican-Canadian athlete who holds three world championships in the 100-metre sprint and won two gold medals at the Olympics in 1996.
Elijah McCoy was born in Ontario to former escaped slaves from the United States. In 1872, McCoy invented the automatic lubricator, which spreads oil on train engines during movement. McCoy's invention allowed trains to operate for long periods of time without stopping, which saved time and money.
Viola Davis Desmond was a controversial case in Nova Scotia. In 1946, Desmond refused to sit on the balcony of a theatre in New Glasgow but instead sat on the floor. She was later arrested and found guilty for not paying the full tax to sit on a floor seat reserved for white people. Desmond, who was jailed and fined, passed away in 1965. In 2010, the government of Nova Scotia pardoned her and apologized to her family.
Black History Month is a time to learn about the contributions and achievements made by Black and people of African descent. We hope you learned something new and celebrate the impact of Black heritage and culture in Canada.