Monday, 2 February 2015

BLACK HISTORY MONTH IN CANADA

AFRICAN CANADIAN HISTORY

BY: BLAIR NEWBY

The history and contributions of African Canadian History is often absent in Canadian History books and within in classrooms across the nation. In an attempt to raise awareness of Black history in Canada, In 1995 a motion was made in the House of Commons by the Hon. Jean Augustine PC, CM, CBE (the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament), to have February officially recognized as Black History Month. Although, I certainly contend that the history of African Canadians should not only be studied during one month of the year, I do have to admit that it provides an opportunity to reflect on and honour the contributions and achievements made by people of African descent that often is unfortunately not examined. This past September, over dinner, I had the great fortune to hear Hon. Jean Augustine describe the efforts she made to have February officially designated as Black History Month. It was such a treat to her it first hand from Hon. Jean Augustine, that after that evening, I wanted to research further into how Black History Month was introduced into Canada. As such, I thought I would share the history behind Black History Month in Canada for my post today.

Hon. Jean Augustine
The first thing that must be acknowledged is that Black History Month in Canada is modelled after Black History Month in the United States. In 1926, African American scholar Carter G. Woodson proposed to mark February, Negro History Week. Woodson chose the month of February because it coincided with African American former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ and President Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays. Over the years what began as Negro History Week transformed into Negro History Month. You may be wondering then, how it became popular in Canada. Well interestingly, it was sleeping car porters who worked on the rails and travelled between Canada and the United States who introduced the idea to the Canadian public. In fact in 1950, Stanley G. Grizzle, CM, O. Ont., a World War II veteran and sleeping car porter planned the first Black History Month program in Canada at the Shaw Street British Methodist Episcopal Church. And over the years through the efforts of the Canadian Negro Women’s Association Black History Month programs started to become a tradition.

Stan Grizzle
To bring further awareness to the history African Canadians, founders of the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) petitioned the Toronto City Council to proclaim February as Black History Month. As a result of their efforts, in 1979 Canada's first proclamation declaring February, Black History Month was issued. Fourteen years later, in 1993 the OBHS made history once again, by successfully petitioning the Ontario Provincial Government to have it recognized provincially. As previously noted, two years later the Hon. Jean Augustine introduced a motion in the House of Commons to have Black History Month recognized nationwide.

Black History Month continues to be celebrated year after and year and this year in recognition of Black History Month, the iSchool will be hosting a program on February 11th. This year’s program features Governor General Award Winning author and historian, Dr. Karolyn Smardz Frost. For more information please visit the event page, Digging for History: Toronto and the Underground Railroad. 

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