Search for "Black History"

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Article

Black Fur Traders in Canada

The role of Black people within the history of the fur trade is rarely considered. Black people were rarely in a position to write their own stories, so often those stories went untold. This owes to a complex set of factors including racism and limited access to literacy. Black people are also not the focus of many historical documents. However, historians have identified several Black fur traders working in different roles, and even an entire family of Black fur traders who left their mark on history.

Article

Joseph Lewis

Joseph Lewis, alias Levi Johnston, also Lewes and Louis, fur trader (born c. 1772–73 in Manchester, New Hampshire; died 1820 in Saskatchewan District). Joseph Lewis was a Black fur trader, originally from the United States, who participated in the fur industry’s early expansion into the Canadian Northwest in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He is one of very few Black people involved in the fur trade whose name was documented in existing texts. Joseph Lewis is further notable for being the first Black person in present-day Saskatchewan, as well as, in all likelihood, Alberta.

Article

Salome Bey

Salome Bey, singer, actress, songwriter (born 1939 in Newark, New Jersey; died 8 August 2020 in Toronto, ON). Salome Bey was an award-winning jazz, blues and R&B singer. Known as “Canada’s First Lady of the Blues,” she often appeared with her daughters Jacintha Tuku and Saidah Baba Talibah, who accompanied her as the Relatives. Bey wrote and starred in Indigo, a Dora Award-winning history of the blues, and was part of the all-star lineup of Canadian singers who produced the charity single “Tears Are not Enough,” Bey received a Toronto Arts Award and the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for lifetime achievement from the Black Theatre Workshop of Montreal. She was inducted as an honorary member of the Order of Canada.

Article

Jackie Shane

Jackie Shane, singer (born 15 May 1940 in Nashville, Tennessee; died 22 February 2019 in Nashville). Jackie Shane was a pioneering transgender performer who was a prominent figure in Toronto’s R&B scene in the 1960s. Her cover of William Bell’s “Any Other Way” reached No. 2 on the CHUM singles chart in 1963. Her 1967 live album, Jackie Shane Live, was reissued in 2015 and was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize’s 1960–1970 Heritage Award. Any Other Way, an anthology album of songs from Shane’s career and monologues from her live shows, was released in 2017. It was nominated for a 2019 Grammy Award for Best Historical Album. Shane is featured in a mural on the side of a building in downtown Toronto commemorating the Yonge Street music scene of the 1960s.

Article

Viola Desmond

Viola Irene Desmond (née Davis), businesswoman, civil rights activist (born 6 July 1914 in Halifax, NS; died 7 February 1965 in New York, NY). Viola Desmond built a career and business as a beautician and was a mentor to young Black women in Nova Scotia through her Desmond School of Beauty Culture. In 1946, Viola Desmond challenged racial discrimination when she refused to leave the segregated Whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Viola Desmond was arrested, jailed overnight and convicted without legal representation for an obscure tax offence as a result. Despite the efforts of the Nova Scotian Black community to assist her appeal, Viola Desmond was unable to remove the charges against her and went unpardoned in her lifetime. Desmond’s courageous refusal to accept an act of racial discrimination provided inspiration to later generations of Black persons in Nova Scotia and in the rest of Canada. In 2010, Lieutenant-Governor Mayann Francis issued Desmond a free pardon. In December 2016, the Bank of Canada announced that Viola Desmond would be the first Canadian woman to be featured by herself on the face of a banknote — the $10 note released on 19 November 2018. Viola Desmond was named a National Historic Person by the Canadian government in 2018.

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William Peyton Hubbard

William Peyton Hubbard, politician, inventor, baker, coachman (born 27 January 1842 in Toronto, ON; died 30 April 1935 in Toronto). Hubbard was Toronto’s first Black elected official, serving as alderman (1894–1903, 1913) and controller (1898–1908), and as acting mayor periodically. A democratic reformer, he campaigned to make the city’s powerful Board of Control an elected body. Hubbard was also a leading figure in the push for public ownership of hydroelectric power, contributing to the establishment of the Toronto Hydro-Electric System.

Editorial

Editorial: The Arrival of Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia

“Freedom and a Farm.” The promise was exciting to the thousands of African Americans, most seeking to escape enslavement, who fought in British regiments during the American Revolutionary War (1775–83). Following the war, they joined tens of thousands of Loyalists — American refugees who had sided with the British. Between 80,000 and 100,000 Loyalists eventually fled the United States. About half came to British North America. The main waves arrived in 1783 and 1784. The territory that now includes the Maritime provinces became home to more than 30,000 Loyalists. Most of coastal Nova Scotia received Loyalist settlers, as did Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island (then called St. John’s Island).

Article

George Dixon

George Dixon, boxer (born 29 July 1870 in Africville, NS; died 6 January 1908 in New York, New York). George Dixon was the first Black world champion in boxing history and the first Canadian to ever win a world championship. Despite his small stature (5 feet 3.5 inches and between 87 and 115 pounds), Dixon amassed several notable accomplishments across a 20-year career and was the first boxer to win championships in multiple weight classes — bantamweight (1890) and featherweight (1891–96; 1897; 1898–1900). A cerebral fighter known as a “pioneer of scientific boxing,” he is credited with inventing various fundamental training techniques, including shadowboxing and the use of the heavy bag. As a dominant Black fighter in the post-Civil War United States, Dixon was subjected to fierce racism. He died in poverty from alcoholism at the age of 37. He was an inaugural inductee into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame, and was also named to The Ring Magazine Hall of Fame and the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Article

Jeremiah Jones

Jeremiah “Jerry” Alvin Jones, soldier, farmer, truck driver (born 30 March 1858 in East Mountain, NS; died 23 November 1950 in Halifax, NS). Jeremiah Jones was a Black Canadian soldier who served during the First World War. Jones was 58 years old (13 years above the age limit) when he enlisted with the 106th Battalion in 1916. As did many other underage and older enlistees at the time, Jones lied about his age when he signed up. Jones was recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal by his commanding officer for his heroic actions during the Battle of Vimy Ridge; however, he did not receive the medal during his lifetime. Thanks to advocacy of Senator Calvin Ruck and members of the Jones family, Jones was awarded the medal in 2010, 60 years after his death.

Article

Sleeping Car Porters in Canada

Sleeping car porters were railway employees who attended to passengers aboard sleeping cars. Porters were responsible for passengers’ needs throughout a train trip, including carrying luggage, setting up beds, pressing clothes and shining shoes, and serving food and beverages, among other services. The vast majority of sleeping car porters were Black men and the position was one of only a few job opportunities available to Black men in Canada. While the position carried respect and prestige for Black men in their communities, the work demanded long hours for little pay. Porters could be fired suddenly and were often subjected to racist treatment. Black Canadian porters formed the first Black railway union in North America (1917) and became members of the larger Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1939. Both unions combatted racism and the many challenges that porters experienced on the job.

Article

Anne Cools

Anne Clare Cools, administrator, community worker, senator (born on 12 August 1943 in Barbados, British West Indies). An influential Black Canadian activist, Anne Cools served four months in jail for her role in the Sir George Williams Affair, for which she was pardoned in 1981. She founded Women in Transition, one of Canada’s first shelters for female victims of violence. She also served on the National Parole Board of Canada. In 1984, she became the first Black Canadian to be named to the Senate. She served as a Liberal, Conservative and independent senator for more than 30 years, and was known as the Dean of the Senate for her knowledge of parliamentary history and procedure.

Article

Félix Auger-Aliassime

Félix Auger-Aliassime, tennis player (born 8 August 2000 in Montreal, QC). Félix Auger-Aliassime is one of the world’s rising tennis stars. In 2015, he became the youngest player ever to win a professional match and the youngest player ever to reach the Top 800 in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) rankings. In 2015, he and Denis Shapovalov won Canada’s first Junior Davis Cup title, as well as the junior boys doubles title at the US Open. By the age of 20, Auger-Aliassime had reached the final of five ATP Tour events. During the 2019 ATP Tour season, he rose 91 places in the world rankings, from No. 108 to No. 17.

Article

George Godfrey

George Godfrey, boxer (born 20 March 1853 in Charlottetown, PEI; died 18 October 1901 in Revere, Massachusetts). George Godfrey was a successful Black Canadian boxer who began his career at the age of 26. He won the World Colored Heavyweight championship in 1883 and held the title for five years. Godfrey retired in 1896 after competing in over 100 fights. He was the first of many great Black Canadian boxers from the Maritimes; others included George Dixon and Sam Langford. Godfrey was inducted into the PEI Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.

Article

Indian Agents in Canada

Indian agents were the Canadian government’s representatives on First Nations reserves from the 1830s to the 1960s. Often working in isolated locations far from settler communities, Indian agents implemented government policy, enforced and administered the provisions of the Indian Act, and managed the day-to-day affairs of Status Indians. Today, the position of Indian agent no longer exists, as First Nations manage their own affairs through modern band councils or self-government.

Article

Canadian Film History: Notable Films and Filmmakers 1980 to Present

Filmmaking is a powerful form of cultural and artistic expression, as well as a highly profitable commercial enterprise. From a practical standpoint, filmmaking is a business involving large sums of money and a complex division of labour. This labour is involved, roughly speaking, in three sectors: production, distribution and exhibition. The history of the Canadian film industry has been one of sporadic achievement accomplished in isolation against great odds. Canadian cinema has existed within an environment where access to capital for production, to the marketplace for distribution and to theatres for exhibition has been extremely difficult. The Canadian film industry, particularly in English Canada, has struggled against the Hollywood entertainment monopoly for the attention of an audience that remains largely indifferent toward the domestic industry. The major distribution and exhibition outlets in Canada have been owned and controlled by foreign interests. The lack of domestic production throughout much of the industry’s history can only be understood against this economic backdrop.

This article is one of four that surveys the history of the film industry in Canada. The entire series includes: Canadian Film History: 1896 to 1938; Canadian Film History: 1939 to 1973; Canadian Film History: 1974 to Present; Canadian Film History: Notable Films and Filmmakers 1980 to Present.

Article

Jully Black

Jully Ann Inderia Gordon, singer, songwriter, actor, TV personality (born 8 November 1977 in Toronto, ON). Known as “Canada’s Queen of R&B,” Jully Black is an award-winning R&B and soul singer-songwriter. In 2013, CBC Music named her one of the 25 Greatest Canadian Singers Ever. Her rich and soulful alto voice has garnered comparisons to Tina Turner and Amy Winehouse. Her album Revival (2007) was certified gold in Canada and won the Juno Award for R&B/Soul Recording of the Year. She has written songs for Destiny’s Child, Nas, Sean Paul and Missy Elliott, among others, and started her own recording, management and publishing company. Black has appeared on stage in productions of trey anthony’s play Da Kink in My Hair and Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline, or Change. She is also a popular television host and panel guest. 

Article

Olive Dickason

Olive Patricia Dickason (née Williamson), CM, Métis journalist, historian, university professor, author (born 6 March 1920 in Winnipeg, MB; died 12 March 2011 in Ottawa, ON). Dickason was the first scholar in Canada to receive a PhD in Indigenous history. Her ground-breaking research and books about Indigenous and Métis history and culture transformed how Canadians perceive the origin of their country and Indigenous peoples. Dickason’s work inspired a new generation of scholars, helping to launch Indigenous studies as an area of scholarly research. She received an Order of Canada in recognition of her achievements.

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