From Wednesday morning staff worship, February 9, 2011
The first recorded person of African heritage to set foot in what would become Canada arrived on our shores some 400 years ago. It is believed that, in 1604, Mathieu Da Costa arrived with the French explorers Pierre Du Gua De Monts and Samuel de Champlain.
Slavery existed in Canada from 1628. Upper Canada, now Ontario, was a pioneer in the movement to end slavery. In 1793 Governor John Graves Simcoe passed the Anti-slavery Act. This law freed slaves aged 25 and over and made it illegal to bring slaves into Upper Canada, which became a safe haven for runaway slaves.
In 1779, in an effort to win the War of American Independence, the British invited all black men, women and children to join the British cause and win their freedom for doing so. Many accepted the invitation, and as a result 10 percent of the United Empire Loyalists coming into the Maritimes were Black.
Between 1800 and 1865, approximately 20,000 black people escaped to British North America via the Underground Railroad.
In 1858, nearly 800 free black people left the oppressive racial conditions of San Francisco for a new life on Vancouver Island. Governor James Douglas had invited them to settle in British Columbia. Though still faced with intense discrimination, these pioneers enriched the political, religious and economic life of the colony. For example, Mifflin Gibbs became a prominent politician, Charles and Nancy Alexander initiated the Shady Creek Methodist Church, and John Deas established a salmon cannery. The group also formed one of the earliest colonial militia units, the Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps.
During the First World War, patriotic black Canadians attempted to join combat units but were prevented. However, they still contributed to the war effort. In 1916, a segregated battalion made up of black Canadians, the Number 2 Construction Battalion, was formed. It was responsible for crucial work building bridges, digging trenches and clearing roads.
In the Second World War, black Canadians’ persistent efforts to join the armed forces was rewarded with success and they went on to serve with distinction in all branches of the military.
According to the 2001 Census, 662,215 Canadians identified themselves as Blacks. The majority of black Canadians live in five Canadian cities. As of 2001, Toronto, Montréal, Ottawa-Gatineau, Vancouver and Halifax were home to approximately 78.4 percent of all black Canadians. The black population of Canada is made of people from all over the world—multigenerational Canadians and recent immigrants.
And so this morning we give thanks for black sisters and brothers who have helped make Canada what it is today.
Let us give thanks for:
The Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander, from Hamilton, Ontario, World War II veteran, lawyer and the first black person to become a Member of Parliament in 1968 and served in the House of Commons until 1980. He was also federal Minister of Labour in 1979–1980. In 1985, Lincoln Alexander was appointed Ontario’s 24th Lieutenant Governor, the first member of a visible minority to serve as the Queen’s representative in Canada.
For the The Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander and all who serve in parliament, we give thanks!
The Honourable Jean Augustine, the first black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, introduced the bill to officially recognized February as Black History Month in December 1995. The motion was carried unanimously by the House of Commons.
For the Honourable Jean Augustine and all who introduce bills to right historic oversights and wrongs, we give thanks!
Carrie Best was born in 1903 in Halifax. In 1946, Mrs. Best founded The Clarion, the first Black-owned and published Nova Scotia newspaper. Her radio show, called The Quiet Corner, aired for 12 years and was broadcast on four radio stations throughout Canada’s Maritime Provinces. In 1968, she was hired as a columnist for the Pictou Advocate, a newspaper based in Pictou, Nova Scotia. The column ran until 1975 under the heading of “Human Rights.”
For Carrie Best, and all who broadcast and publish for Human Rights, we give thanks!
Thornton and Lucie Blackburn were fugitive slaves from Kentucky who originally settled in Detroit. However, their former owner tracked them down there and tried to return them to slavery. In a highly publicized escape that left Detroit engulfed in riots, the Blackburns were able to make it to Canada. The Canadian Courts defended them against the threat of extradition. This was seen nationally and internationally as a symbol of Upper Canada’s role as a safe haven for black refugees. The Blackburns worked tirelessly in their new community of Toronto for the abolition of slavery and to help other Underground Railroad refugees settle in Canada.
For Thornton and Lucy Blackburn, and all who help refugees, we give thanks!
Anne Clare Cools was born in 1943 in Barbados, West Indies. A pioneer in addressing domestic and family violence, in 1974 she founded one of Canada’s first women’s shelters, Women in Transition Inc., and was its Executive Director. Recommended by Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, she was summoned to the Senate in January 1984, becoming the first black person in the Senate of Canada and first black female senator in North America.
For Senator Anne Clare Cools and all who have immigrated to Canada and served politically to shape our country, we give thanks!
Mathieu Da Costa arrived with the French explorers Pierre Du Gua De Monts and Samuel de Champlain 1604. Da Costa, a free man, worked as an interpreter, providing an invaluable link with the Mik’maq people encountered by the Europeans. His name is the first name of a black person recorded in Canada’s history.
For Mathieu Da Costa, and all those who came but will forever remain nameless, we give thanks!
Viola Davis Desmond was an African-Canadian who ran her own beauty parlor and beauty college in Halifax. On November 8, 1946, she decided to go see a movie in the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow. She refused to sit in the balcony, which was designated exclusively for Blacks. Instead, she sat on the ground floor, which was for Whites only. She was forcibly removed and arrested. Viola was found guilty of not paying the one-cent difference in tax on the balcony ticket. She was sentenced to 30 days in jail and paid a $26 fine. The trial mainly focused on the issue of tax evasion and not on the discriminatory practices of the theatre. Dissatisfied with the verdict, the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, with Viola’s help, took the case to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. The conviction was upheld. But on April 15, 2010, the province of Nova Scotia granted an official apology and a free pardon to Viola. Viola’s 83-year-old sister, Wanda Robson, was there to accept the apology. Premier Darrell Dexter also apologized to Viola’s family and all black Nova Scotians for the racism she was subjected to in an incident he called unjust.
For Viola Davis Desmond, and all blacks who have suffered unjust treatment in Canadian courts, we offer our regret.
The Very Rev. Dr. Wilbur Howard was the first Black Moderator of The United Church of Canada, 1974-1977. The church is grateful for the contributions of Dr. Howard, and many other African Canadians, for their role in shaping our life and ministry.
For Wilbur Howard, and all black ministers and members of the United Church of Canada, we give thanks!
Michaëlle Jean, journalist and stateswoman, served as the 27th Governor General of Canada. Jean was a refugee from Haiti, coming to Canada in. After receiving a number of university degrees, Jean worked as a journalist and broadcaster for CBC, as well as undertaking charity work, mostly in the field of assisting victims of domestic violence.
For Michaelle Jean, and all who live as role models for young black Canadians, we give thanks!
Michael Lee-Chin first came to Canada in the early 1970s to attend McMaster University. After earning a civil engineering degree he returned to his native Jamaica to work, but was soon back in Canada. In 1987, he bought Advantage Investment Counsel, now AIC Limited, one of the country’s biggest mutual-fund companies with assets of more than 12 billion dollars. Michael Lee-Chin is also known as a philanthropist. In 2003, he made headlines when he donated $30 million to the Royal Ontario Museum.
For Michael Lee-Chin and all who live with generous spirits, we give thanks!
Elijah McCoy, born in Ontario, showed an early interest in machines and tools and an aptitude for mechanics. His parents sent him to Edinburgh, Scotland to study mechanical engineering. He worked on the railroad where he developed and patented a particular type of lubricating cup that dripped oil onto the moving parts of a train while it was in motion. It is said that buyers of the lubricating oil cup asked specifically for the “Real McCoy” because it was extremely reliable and they wanted no substitutes. That was just one of the more than 50 products he developed and patented. For example, in response to his wife’s desire for an easier way to iron clothes, he invented and patented the portable ironing board.
For Elijah McCoy and all who invent things that make hard work easier, we give thanks!
On January 18, 1958, Willie O’Ree stepped on the ice at the Montreal Forum to play his first game in the NHL for the Boston Bruins — and made history as the first black player in the NHL. He was known for his speed and checking abilities, but his career was cut short by an injury. Today, Willie O’Ree is the director of the NHL’s diversity program. He travels across Canada and the United States promoting and teaching the game of hockey to children from all cultural backgrounds.
For Willie O’Ree and all who break through barriers of race in sports, we give thanks!
Harriet Tubman, a runaway slave from Maryland, became known as the “Moses” of her people and the “conductor” who led hundreds of slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad. In 1850, when the far-reaching United States Fugitive Law was passed, she guided fugitive slaves further north into Canada. When angry slave owners posted rewards for her capture, she continued her work despite great personal risk. St. Catharines, Ontario was on the route and offered employment opportunities, making it a common destination for the former fugitives, including Harriet Tubman, who lived there from 1851 to 1857. Many of the people she rescued were relatives of those already in St. Catharines including her own parents, brothers and sisters and their families.
For Harriet Tubman and all who worked for the Underground Railway, we give thanks!
Portia White embarked on her stellar singing career at her father’s Baptist Church in Halifax. Before she began singing professionally, she supported her musical career by teaching in rural black schools in Halifax County, and eventually made her professional debut in Toronto. Soon afterwards, she performed in New York City to rave reviews. Portia White went on to international success, performing more than 100 concerts, including a command performance before Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
For Portia White and all who open hearts though song, we give thanks!
AnWe pray in thanks for all the many contributions of black Canadians to our culture and we pray in hope for an end to racism and racial barriers in this country.
We pray also for CCS in our work to expose racism and to live in unity across boundaries.
We pray, O God, trusting that your reign of wholeness will come!
MV # 209 – Go Make a Difference