Celebrating 150 years of Black History in Canada

February is Black History Month. This is a great time to learn about and celebrate Canada’s rich and diverse history. This year, Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday. In collaboration with this, we will be looking back and celebrating 150 years of Black history in Canada.

Celebrate and Win!

What is your most inspiring moment in Canadian Black history? Please email us at communications@seiuhealthcare.ca by February 28th, 2017 and let us know. By submitting your moment, you will be automatically entered to win one of four $50 gift cards. Make sure to include your full name, phone number, email address and workplace. Winners will be contacted by email by March 7th, 2017.

Canadian Black History Highlights

Below you will find a timeline of some of the biggest moments and victories in our country’s Black history.

1892 - Anderson Abbot

Anderson AbbotOn November 21st, 1892, Toronto’s Anderson Abbot, who was the first Canadian-born person of colour to graduate from medical school, is appointed aide-de-camp of the New York Commanding Officers Department. An aide-de-camp is a military officer acting as a confidential assistant to a senior officer. At the time, this was the highest military honour bestowed to a Black person in North America. 

1944 - Racial Discrimination Act

On March 14th, 1944, Ontario becomes the first province to respond to social change when it passes the Racial Discrimination Act of 1944. This legislation prohibited the publication and display of any symbol, sign or notice that expressed ethnic, racial or religious discrimination. This was a major victory for all Black Canadians and the first of several provincial acts aimed at having people of all races viewed as equals. 

1946 - Jackie Robinson

On April 18, 1946, Jackie Robinson plays his first game for the Montreal Royals of the Class AAA International League, becoming the first Black player in modern “organized” baseball. Robinson would later graduate to the Major Leagues, where he would be a six-time all-star. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 and is the only player in Major League Baseball history to have his number retired by all 30 teams.

Click here to see a “Heritage Minute” video about the above:


On November 8th, 1946, Halifax, Nova Scotia’s Viola Desmond sits in the “White-only” section of a theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. She is dragged out of the theatre by police and later charged with defrauding the Government of Nova Scotia of the difference in the tax between a ground floor (White-only) and balcony seat, which amounted to one cent. Desmond, who believed she was mistreated due to her race, stood up for her rights and took the charges to court. This energized public opinion both locally and internationally. Her case, which she did not win, was instrumental in raising awareness about the reality of Canadian segregation.

Click here to see a “Heritage Minute” video about the above:

1963 - Leonard Braithwaite

Leonard BraithwaiteOn September 25, 1963, Toronto’s Leonard Braithwaite becomes the first African-Canadian to be elected to the provincial legislature. Braithwaite would serve as the Liberal member for Etobicoke, Ontario until 1975 and helped revoke a section of the Ontario Separate Schools Act that had allowed for racial segregation in public schools.

1967 - Caribana Cultural Festival

Caribana Cultural Festival

On July 28, 1967, ten Torontonians with common West Indian heritage founded the Caribana Cultural Festival to display their rich cultural traditions. With approximately two-thirds of Canada’s West Indian population living in the Greater Toronto Area, Caribana continues to be a huge success to this day, promoting cultural pride, mutual respect and social unity. Close to a million people attend the festival each year.

1972 - Rosemary Brown

Rosemary BrownRosemary Brown was born in Jamaica and immigrated to Canada in 1951, where she would make a huge impact. On August 30, 1972, as a member of the New Democratic Party, Brown won her seat in the riding of Vancouver-Burrard, becoming the first Black woman elected to Canadian Provincial legislature. She spent 14 years in the legislature, where she created a committee to remove sexism from British Columbia’s educational material. In 1975, she became the first Black woman to run for leadership of a Canadian federal political party (NDP). With the slogan “Brown is Beautiful”, she broke colour barriers in the federal landscape. Brown would finish second in the leadership race, ahead of three other candidates.

1975 - Oscar Peterson

Born in Montreal, Quebec, jazz pianist Oscar Peterson won his first Grammy Award on March 1, 1975. Peterson would go on to win seven others, including the Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1997. Peterson’s other achievements include being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1978 and Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2013.

Click here to view one of Oscar Peterson’s live performances:

1995 - Donovan Bailey

On August 6, 1995, Oakville, Ontario’s Donovan Bailey assumes the title of “World’s Fastest Human” by winning the 100-metre sprint at the World Track Championships in Sweden. Montreal’s Bruny Surin won silver in the same race. Just under a year later, Bailey would win gold in the 100-metre sprint at the 1996 Olympic Games, setting a new world record with a time of 9.84 seconds.

Click here to see Donovan Bailey’s Olympic gold medal victory in 1996:

2005 - Michaëlle Jean

Michaelle JeanOn September 27, 2005, Michaëlle Jean, who was born in Haiti, is sworn in as Canada’s first Black governor general. She emphasized freedom as a central part of the Canadian identity. Jean’s personal mandate was to “break down solitudes”, hoping to bridge the gap between English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians. Jean also called for the protection of the environment, the shielding of culture against globalization and an end to the marginalization of young people.

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