“African Canadian students need to feel affirmed, be aware of the contributions made by other Blacks in Canada, have role models, and understand the social forces that have shaped and influenced their community…They need to feel empowered.”—Rosemary Sadlier, a Toronto writer/activist and president of the Black History Society

Black History Month is upon us now and for Black Canadians, it is a time to reflect on their heritage. However, some of you may have wondered: what have Black Canadians contributed to Black History? Most of us have learned about famous American leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr and Frederick Douglass. But when asked to name a Black Canadian contributor, most may not be able to do so. In elementary and even High School, I did not have a chance to learn about Black history and the many different Black Canadian leaders who had great influence within C a nada . Much of the Black youth today will most likely be unaware of the Black Canadian contributions to Canadian history and this is most troubling.

On Sunday January 29, 2006, a new internet site was launched to highlight Canada’s Black history, as the Ontario Black History Society kicked off Black History Month. The site was produced by the Historica Foundation of Canada which publishes the online Canadian Encyclopedia and it was funded by the Toronto Dominion Bank. The site is the brainchild of the Vice-President of Toronto Dominium (TD), Scott Mullin who says that “he got the idea for the website after reading a Toronto Star report on a panel at last year’s opening of Black History Month which explored why many Black youth identify with a particular U.S Black experience—the condition reflected in pop cultural portrayal of poverty, violence and isolation.”

The site features categories such a slavery, early settlement and human rights. One particular category interested me: ‘Black Contributions’ of which a number of Black Canadian ‘firsts’ were named. Here are a few honorable names:

Rosemary Brown (1930-2003): social worker, academic, politician and feminist. Photo courtesy of BlackHistoryCanada.ca

  • Lincoln Alexander became the first African-Canadian to serve in Cabinet following his 1979 appointment as Minister of Labour. He became the first Black Lieutenant-Governor of O ntario .
  • Jean Augustine was the first African-Canadian woman in Cabinet and was responsible, with the Ontario Black History Society, for having February officially declared Black History Month across C anada.

The site also offers a variety of historical pictures with each category, displaying things like Canadian Black men who served in The Voluntary Military Company from Vi ctoria, B.C from 1860-1864, and a painting depicting a slave auction in the New World.  These pictures add a sense of culture, pride, integrity and display the many different key aspects of Black Canadian history.

The Volunteer Military Company from Victoria, BC, served during the American Civil War. Photo courtesy of BlackHistoryCanada.ca

The site is very organized and quite informative. It is easy to navigate and the categories are each identified by a picture and clicking on that picture will open the category up. Each section gives factual information as an introduction to the category but unfortunately not all the information is provided on the actual website. There are links, however, that will connect you to more information pertaining to that particular subject. To the naked eye it may look a bit dull with its grey background and simplistic layout but once you start to take a look around and seek out different areas on the site, you will find yourself amazed at the information provided.

Young Black Canadians will find learning about their history beneficial to their identity. A celebration of Black Canadians as done through this site will make most feel at home within Canadian society. Their self-esteem will be most likely be boosted knowing that their identity is affirmed within the foundations of C anada . Learning more about the contributions that Black Canadians have made allows Black youth to have more pride in being a Canadian and not having to feel ashamed for not being of a particular background such as Jamaican or Trinidadian. Black youth will hopefully be able to find role models they can admire and maybe they would feel empowered to achieve great goals for themselves.

Black Canadian history has never really been fully discussed within our education system but this new site is a step in the right direction. Insightful information can be readily accessed with just one click of a button providing access to millions of people. Black History should be celebrated everyday and with this new site, Black Canadians will be able to access information pertaining to their history all year round and have a new appreciation of their heritage.

Visit www.blackhistorycanada.ca for more information.

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