February is Black History Month in Canada. It is a time for all Canadians to honour and celebrate the legacy of Black Canadians and their communities in this country.
The 2022 theme for Black History Month in Canada is “February and Forever: Celebrating Black History today and every day,” which focuses on recognizing the contributions that Black Canadians make to Canada daily.
Black history in Canada
The role Black Canadians and their communities have played in Canada have largely been ignored as a key part of Canada’s history.
However, people of African descent have helped shape Canada’s heritage and identity since the arrival of Mathieu Da Costa, a navigator and interpreter, in the early 1600s. He was the first recorded free Black person to arrive in the territory now known as Canada. Part of an exploring party that travelled from France to the New World in the early 17th century, Da Costa’s communication and translation skills were said to have helped bridge the cultural gap between the early French explorers and the First Nations people here.
Some of the Loyalists who came to Canada after the American Revolution and settled in the Maritimes were people of African descent, and many Black soldiers made sacrifices in wartime as far back as the War of 1812.
And while most people are well aware of the history of slavery in the United States, fewer know that African people were also once enslaved in the territory now known as Canada. Slavery was abolished everywhere in the British Empire, which included British North America, in 1834 when the Slavery Abolition Act came into effect, and those who fought enslavement are recognized for helping to lay the foundation of a diverse and inclusive society in Canada.
The inception of Black History Month in Canada
Black History Month in North America dates back to 1926. Harvard-educated African American historian Carter G. Woodson first proposed setting aside a time devoted to honouring the accomplishments of African Americans and raising awareness of Black history in the United States, which led to the establishment of Negro History Week in the US in 1926.
Canada soon followed suit. In the early 1970s, the name was changed to Black History Week, and in 1976 it was expanded to Black History Month.
In December 1995, Canada’s House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in Canada. And in 2008, a motion to recognize the contributions of Black Canadians and February as Black History Month was adopted, receiving unanimous approval.
Celebrating Black History Month
We can honour Black History Month by learning more about the legacy of Black Canadians and their communities in Canada.
The Government of Canada has produced a series of videos, which can be found on YouTube, highlighting Canada’s Black history. And there are a number of organizations across the country devoted to the promotion and awareness of Black Canadian history, including the British Columbia Black History Awareness Society, the Black Loyalist Heritage Society and Black History Month – Montreal.
To celebrate Black History Month, Canadian Heritage is hosting a virtual celebration on Facebook Live on February 17, 2022, at 7 pm EST (4 pm PST), where there will be themed performances, tributes, interviews and much more.