If Dr. James Walker was going to dedicate the Olivier Le Jeune Memorial Award he was recognized with at last Sunday’s Black History Month launch, the late Burnley “Rocky” Jones would undoubtedly be the beneficiary.
They became close friends after meeting at a demonstration outside the United States consulate in Toronto in March 1965 to support the Selma March, organized by the Friends of the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee at the University of Toronto.
A prominent civil rights activist, politician, legal mind, institution builder and avid hunter, Jones died in July 2013 at age 71.
Walker, a history professor at the University of Waterloo, said Jones – the grandson of Private Jeremiah Jones, who single-handedly captured a German machine gun nest and its crew during the 1917 battle for Vimy Ridge in France – inspired him to study African-Canadian history.
“I was a student of Canadian history and I knew about the Underground Railroad,” said the 2003-2004 Bora Laskin National Fellow in human rights research. “That was all I knew about African-Canadian history. From Rocky, I Iearned about Black Nova Scotians and their challenges and I decided to go back to school to get a grasp of the history of Black Nova Scotia in order to participate in the kind of social justice work that Rocky did, using my own strengths.”
In 1970, Walker and Jones collaborated to develop Dalhousie University’s Transition Year Program, aimed at Black and aboriginal school dropouts.
A 2013 Royal Society of Canada Fellow, Walker said he was delighted to be receiving an award named after Olivier Le Jeune, who was the first enslaved African to live in Canada.
“Olivier did trailblaze in the sense that he was the first permanent settler of African descent,” said Walker. “I am kind of proud to be associated with his name and thankful to be honoured for my trailblazing efforts.”
Walker introduced the first African-Canadian history course at the University of Waterloo in 1971 and, two years later, pioneered the first graduate level African-Canadian history course in Canada. He also authored The Black Loyalists and is completing the draft of a book with Dr. George Elliott Clarke on the Black movement in Canada in the 1960s. Jones contributed to the draft before his death.
In addition to Olivier Le Jeune, awards were also presented in the names of other trailblazers.
Retired 93-year-old judge, George Carter, was presented with an award named after Reverend Addie Aylestock, who was Canada’s first Black female ordained minister.
Born in Toronto to parents who migrated from Barbados in 1920, Carter served in the Infantry Corps in World War II and completed law studies at Osgoode Hall before being called to the Bar in 1949. Appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 1969, he was sworn in as a provincial judge in 1980. Carter retired from the Bench in 1996.
Bernice Carnegie, the co-founder of the Herbert H. Carnegie Future Aces Foundation, was the recipient of the Mathieu Da Costa Award and the organizers of the Owen Sound Emancipation Festival – the longest continuous running event of its kind in North America held every August 1 since 1862 – were honoured with the Harriet Tubman Award.
Da Costa was the first recorded free Black in Canada and Tubman played a pivotal role in the function of the Underground Railroad that was the pipeline for freeing hundreds of slaves and leading them to freedom in Canada
Former Ontario minister Mary Anne Chambers was rewarded for distinguished community service with the Dr. Daniel Hill Award.
“It’s truly an honour to be receiving this award,” she said.
Hill and his wife Donna, along with some friends, co-founded the Ontario Black History Society in 1978. He completed his doctorate in 1960 (his thesis was Negroes in Toronto: A Sociological Study of a Minority Group) and was the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s first full-time director and commissioner, a provincial Ombudsman, a prominent writer and community activist.
Hill was appointed to the Orders of Ontario and Canada before his death in June 2003.
Planet Africa Group was recognized for affirming communities through the media.