Premier Dalton McGuinty and members of his caucus received a crash course in Black History last week at a reception hosted by the provincial Liberals. They were privy to a collection of African art and historical objects with a focus on the Zulu victory over the first British mission in Zululand in the 1879 Battle of Isandlwana.
This is the second year that Guyanese-born curator, Terence Jackson, has staged an exhibit at Queen’s Park as part of the provincial Liberals Black History Month celebration.
McGuinty said Black History Month is a significant opportunity for all Ontarians to celebrate the rich history, culture and heritage of the Black community and pay tribute to the valuable contributions African-Canadians have made since Mathieu Da Costa set foot in Canada in 1603.
“Black History Month is an important annual celebration, but Black history is important every day of the year because it’s our history and the countless stories in that history are a gift to all Ontarians,” said McGuinty.
He paid tribute to the many trailblazers, saying that they raised families, shared their skills and built communities.
“They used their freedom well and because they did, every citizen is richer for it,” said the Premier. “All of our children have the opportunity they have because of those who came before us. We must study our history so we can better understand the present and build a stronger future.
“That is what Black History Month is all about. It’s a time to reflect on people who helped build this community and this great province.
“Although the history that we recall today is full of stories of hardships, tragedy and, sometimes, terrible loss, it’s also filled with stories of resistance, resilience, survival, innovation, creativity, leadership and triumph. Black History Month inspires all of us.”
Margarett Best, the first Black woman re-elected to the provincial parliament, and newcomer Michael Coteau co-hosted the event. They are the only African-Canadians in the 107-member seat parliament.
McGuinty had high praise for the pair, saying Best is passionate, determined and effective while Coteau brings a fresh perspective and energy to the caucus.
Coteau acknowledged some of the early Black pioneers, including Leonard Braithwaite and Alvin Curling who attended the celebration. Braithwaite was the first African-Canadian elected to a Canadian parliament and Canada’s first Black bencher while Curling – a 20-year Member of Provincial Parliament – was the first Black to hold a cabinet-level position in the province.
One of six rookies in the provincial parliament, Coteau also paid tribute to William Hubbard.
“He’s my favourite story of all the politicians,” Coteau said.
The son of a Virginian refugee, Hubbard was delivering bread on Don Mills Rd. when he noticed a pair of runaway horses dragging a carriage towards the Don River. Hubbard brought the horses under control and in the process saved the life of then Globe publisher, George Brown, who showed his gratitude by encouraging Hubbard to enter politics.
Hubbard served as the city’s acting mayor from 1894 to 1914 and helped change Toronto’s municipal act so that the city could bid on buildings being sold to cover tax arrears. He also played leading roles in the establishment of the Ontario and Toronto hydroelectric commissions.
“These are people who made so many remarkable contributions to the province of Ontario,” said Coteau, a three-time Toronto District School Board trustee. “They represent just a fragment of Ontario’s history. Black History Month is a time when we can reflect on the participation of people of African descent and share their stories.”
By RON FANFAIR