Honouring Our Past, Shaping Our Future: Canada’s Journey Through Black History Month

Black History Month

As February’s winter chill continues across Canada, it brings with it a heartwarming opportunity to dive into the rich tapestry of Black Canadian history. This month is not just a period of reflection and celebration; it marks Black History Month, a time dedicated to honouring the diverse histories, cultures and contributions of Black Canadians. The 2024 theme, “Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; a Future to Build,” encapsulates this spirit perfectly. It celebrates the rich past and present contributions and accomplishments of Black people in Canada while aspiring to embrace new opportunities for the future.

This theme holds particular significance as it aligns with the 10th year of the International Decade for People of African Descent. It recognizes that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected. Throughout the nation, numerous events and activities are organized, providing a unique opportunity for both learning and celebration.

During this time, and all year long, GUS Canada proudly supports Black voices, emphasizing the importance of amplifying the diverse voices that reflect Canada and make a significant impact in their communities. As we usher in Black History Month, let us embrace the stories and achievements of Black Canadians, acknowledging their role in the ongoing narrative of our country. The 2024 theme invites us to not only look back with pride but also to look forward with hope, as we continue to build a future that honours and elevates Black excellence.

Significant Events in Black History in Canada

1600s: Early Presence and Enslavement

The early presence of Africans in Canada dates back to the 1600s. Mathieu Da Costa, recognized as the first known African in Canada, arrived in 1604. He was a multilingual interpreter who was crucial in aiding French explorers and facilitating communications with Indigenous peoples. In 1628, Oliver LeJeune became the first recorded enslaved African in Canada. “This period also witnessed the enactment of King Louis XIV’s Edict in 1689, which authorized the enslavement of Pawnee Native Americans and Africans in New France.

1700s: Expansion and Resistance

The 1700s marked an expansion of slavery and resistance against it. The African enslaved population in Halifax grew, highlighting the expansion of slavery in Canada. During the American War of Independence, African Americans who joined the British forces, known as Black Loyalists, were promised freedom and settled in Nova Scotia. The resistance of Chloe Cooley to enslavement in 1793 led to the passage of the Act Against Slavery in Upper Canada, signalling the beginning of the decline of African enslavement in the region.

1800s: Communities and Abolition

The 1800s were significant for the establishment of Black communities and the abolition of slavery. The Underground Railroad, active from 1800 to 1865, was a network that helped approximately 30,000 Black individuals escape slavery in the United States of America and find refuge in Canada. The British Empire’s Slavery Abolition Acts of 1807 and 1833 ended the slave trade and slavery in British colonies, including Canada. This period also saw the formation of vibrant Black communities by war veterans and refugees, the establishment of abolitionist newspapers like the Voice of the Fugitive and Provincial Freeman and the migration of Black families from San Francisco to Vancouver Island in 1858 and from Oklahoma to Alberta in 1879.

1900s: Civil Rights and Representation

The 1900s marked significant strides in civil rights and representation. In 1946, Viola Desmond’s defiance against racial segregation in a Nova Scotia movie theatre sparked the civil rights movement in Canada. Willie O’Ree broke the colour barrier in ice hockey as the first Black player in the National Hockey League in 1958. Lincoln Alexander became the first Black Member of Parliament in 1968 and later served as the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

2000s: Modern Movements and Acknowledgments

The 2000s have witnessed modern movements and significant acknowledgements. Michaëlle Jean served as the first Black Governor General of Canada from 2005 to 2010. Black History Month was officially recognized in Canada in 2008, thanks to the initiative of Senator Donald Oliver. The International Decade for People of African Descent from 2015 to 2024 is a United Nations proclamation aimed at promoting and protecting the rights of people of African descent. The Black Lives Matter movement has also gained significant momentum in Canada, reflecting a global call for racial justice and equality.

Events to Participate in During Black History Month in Canada

Ontario’s Black History Month Events

  1. Discovery through the Arts: Celebrations & Revelations 2024 (Ottawa: Feb. 8, 2024; Toronto: Feb. 11, 2024) A collaborative event showcasing the Caribbean and African diaspora experience through music and visual arts.
  2. Art Gallery of Ontario Exhibitions (Until April 1, 2024, Toronto) Features two exhibitions: “Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art 1950s-Now” and “June Clark: Unrequited Love,” both of which explore the intersection of Caribbean culture and broader historical narratives.
  3. Harbourfront Centre: Kuumba (Feb. 1-29, 2024, Toronto) An annual festival celebrating Black history through a program of visual art, music, dance, film screenings, and workshops.
  4. Toronto Black Film Festival 2024 (Feb. 14-19, 2024, Toronto) A platform for African, Caribbean, African American, and Black Canadian filmmakers, honoring actress Pam Grier in 2024.
  5. Obsidian Theatre Company: Three Sisters (Feb. 29-Mar. 17, 2024, Toronto) An adaptation of Chekhov’s classic play set in Nigeria, exploring themes of colonialism and emancipation.
  6. Toronto Public Library Black History Month Programming (Feb. 1-29, 2024, Various Library Branches, Toronto) A series of programs including film screenings and talks at library branches throughout the city.

Quebec’s Black History Month Celebrations

  1. Carrefour jeunesse-emploi de Côte-des-Neiges: Monnaie Money 14th Annual Black History Month Talent Show (Feb. 24, 2024, Montreal) A talent show featuring youth acts, promoting diverse voices and community unity.
  2. Fondation Dynastie: Semaine Dynastie and Gala Dynastie (April 21-April 27, 2024, Montreal) A week-long event with awards galas, a summit, and talks, extending the celebration beyond February.
  3. Les Productions Nuits d’Afrique Inc (Feb. 1-Mar. 8, 2024, Montreal) A concert series titled “Women of the World Raise their Voices,” featuring women artists from various countries.

British Columbia’s Black History Month Events

  1. BCBHAS Black History Month 2024 at Royal BC Museum (Feb. 10, 2024, Victoria) An event featuring descendants of Black pioneers, exhibits, and live music, offering a glimpse into the rich Black history in BC.
  2. Performance at Belfry Theatre (Feb. 19, 2024, Victoria) A night of enthralling performances by Addena Sumter-Freitag and Maureen Washington.
  3. Ross Bay Cemetery Tour (Feb. 25, 2024, Victoria) A guided tour highlighting the graves of Black pioneers and influential figures in the migration of Blacks to the British Colony.
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