By the sheer force of their character and determination to succeed, Blacks have prospered in Canada despite myriad challenges, retired senator Donald Oliver said at the federal government’s Black History Month (BHM) launch last Sunday.
“We are a people of countless success stories and a people who have made critical and enduring contributions to this society,” he said. “During Black History Month and throughout the year, I would like to see Black Canadians as we really are.”
Seven years ago, Oliver moved for the Senate to officially recognize February as Black History Month. The motion was unanimously approved.
He said Black History Month is a time to remember and share the profound contributions Blacks have made to Canada.
“It’s also a time to appreciate what life was once like for Blacks and other people of colour in Canada,” said Oliver, who retired from the Senate in November 2013. “Life was not always easy for people of colour and although we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go.”
Oliver acknowledged the Canadian government and specifically Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney for actively promoting Black History Month and for celebrating Canada’s diversity and its advantages throughout the year.
With 2015 declared “The Year of Sport in Canada”, Kenney said it was fitting that the federal government pay tribute to national athletes – past and present – who broke barriers.
“We thought it would be a wonderful thing to choose as the federal theme for our Black History Month celebrations, the remarkable achievements of Black athletes through Canada’s history,” said Kenney, who is also the Minister of Employment & Social Development. “We have great role models to offer in sports.”
The 10 athletes, whose images are on the Canadian government’s BHM poster, are baseball’s Hall-of-Famer and Cy Young award winner Ferguson Jenkins, track and field athletes Barbara Howard, John Armstrong Howard, Harry and Valerie Jerome and Marjorie Turner-Bailey, hockey player Willie O’Ree, hurdler Perdita Felicien, soccer player Candace Chapman, who was a member of the 2012 Olympic bronze medal team and Anthony Bennett, who was the first Canadian to be the number one pick in the National Basketball Association draft.
A commemorative stamp bearing the image of the late Nelson Mandela was also unveiled at the event at the historic St. Lawrence Hall – a national historic site – which hosted the first convention of Coloured Freemen outside the United States in 1851.
Just a stone’s throw from the building is the site at 143 King St. W. where Mary Ann Shadd published a weekly newspaper – The Provincial Freeman – for most of its six years of existence before folding in 1859.
Four years ago, Heritage Toronto unveiled a plaque to recognize her significant contributions as North America’s first Black female publisher and an advocate of women’s rights and the abolition of slavery. The plaque is located at the former publishing house.