Regent Park will always hold a special place in Ainsworth Morgan’s heart.
He lived in the community for 13 years after migrating from Jamaica at age seven and Nelson Mandela Park Public School has been his workplace since 1999.
Formerly Park Public, the school was named after Mandela in November 2001 at a dedication ceremony attended by the South African president and his wife, Graca Machel.
Morgan has fond memories of the historic event that occurred in his second year teaching at the school.
“I took my first child (Azell Bridgeman-Morgan) who was two years old at the time and what I remember vividly about that day was Mandela stopping briefly as he entered the auditorium and moving his body to the sound of the drums that was part of the cultural entertainment,” said Morgan, whose apartment building at 230 Sumach St. near the school was torn down as part of the Regent Park revitalization project and transformed into a state-of-the art community aquatic centre. “In my home, the only pictures outside family members that are on the walls are those of Mandela and Jackie Robinson. They are an inspiration for me and my family.”
Last week, the school hosted a special ceremony for the unveiling of a Canada Post stamp to commemorate Mandela’s life and legacy.
“I feel so truly blessed to be still at this school,” said Morgan, who is the vice-principal. “Mandela was the perfect role model for young people and I am so delighted that our school was chosen to launch this special stamp.”
To mark Black History Month, Canada Post has issued commemorative stamps in the last few years to celebrate outstanding Black Canadians and historic African-Canadian landmarks.
“Over the years, we have had some wonderful people who have done some wonderful things,” said Canada Post president and chief executive officer, Deepak Chopra. “They win Olympic medals, they invent new things, they are singers, actors and heroes in Canada and we celebrate them through our stamp program so that whenever a letter travels through the mail, the stamp on the letter can tell their story.
“While we mostly celebrate people from Canada, sometimes we celebrate people from outside of Canada, especially when they are as special as Nelson Mandela. We only do about 30 or so of these programs for stamps every year. If you think about the heroes or the teams that get selected, they have to meet a very high standard.”
Mayor John Tory said Mandela’s exemplary fortitude and dignity in the face of adversity absolutely qualifies him for the honour.
“He never gave up and he was a person of great courage and someone very suitable for us to honour with a stamp,” said Tory.
Mandela, South Africa’s first Black president, made history during his last visit to Canada in 2001 when he became the first living non-Canadian to receive honorary citizenship.
Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister, Chris Alexander, said Mandela was an exceptional world citizen and inspiration to everyone who values human rights.
“Great citizens go out there every day not just to do their own jobs and look after their families, but to try and make the world a better place,” said Alexander. “They try to end injustice, they stand up for what is right and they help people other than themselves. This is what Nelson Mandela did over a long life of sacrifice and we have a duty today with this stamp and with everything we do as Canadians to remember our role in his story.”
Canada’s leadership in the anti-apartheid movement during Mandela’s imprisonment was decisive and unwavering.
In the early 1960s, late Prime Minister John Diefenbaker opposed South Africa’s membership in the Commonwealth and fellow Conservative Brian Mulroney – in the face of opposition from his caucus, cabinet and the government bureaucracy – challenged White minority rule in the republic when he became PM.
Mulroney, in his first year in office in 1985, implemented sanctions by restricting official contacts between the two countries, cancelling export aid, scrapping a tax agreement and tightening an arms embargo.
At the Commonwealth Conference in Nassau that same year, he led the campaign to persuade then British PM Margaret Thatcher to strengthen her country’s position against apartheid, played a leading role in the drafting of the 1985 Nassau Accord that provided Pretoria (South Africa’s administrative capital) with six months to respond to economic measures and used his maiden speech at the United Nations to condemn the racist regime in South Africa and warn of stern reprisals unless there was “fundamental change”.
Several prominent Black Canadians have been honoured with Canada Post Stamps since 1999 when Portia White – considered one of this country’s greatest vocalists – was recognized with a millennium stamp bearing her image. A domestic stamp to mark Oscar Peterson’s 80th birthday was released on August 15, 2005. Peterson, who died in December 2007, was the first living Canadian to be honoured with a stamp for his outstanding lifetime work.
Trinidadian Joe Flores, who arrived in Vancouver in 1885 and became the city’s first official lifeguard 15 years later; Montreal-born pianist, Oliver Jones; Hall-of-Fame baseball pitcher, Ferguson Jenkins; John Ware, who brought the first set of cattle to southern Alberta in 1882 helping to create that province’s ranching industry; Abraham Shadd, who was the first Black Canadian to hold public office; Viola Desmond, who was the first Canadian to be granted a posthumous pardon; Rosemary Brown, who was the first Black woman elected to a Canadian legislature and William Hall, the first Black Canadian to receive the Victoria Cross for bravery during combat, have also been recognized with stamps.
Last year, two demolished Black neighbourhoods – Africville in Halifax and Hogan Alley in Vancouver – joined the stamp commemoration list.
For more than 150 years, Africville was home to a strong and proud community of Black Nova Scotians. In the 1960s, Halifax’s city government acquired the land and in the process displaced close to 80 Black families and 400 individuals from Canada’s largest and oldest Black community. Parts of the land were used for an off-leash dog park and construction of the approaches to the A. Murray Mackay Bridge. Ottawa declared Africville a heritage site 12 years ago.
Hogan Alley was a four-block strip that, for almost half a century, was the cultural centre of Vancouver’s Black community. The neighbourhood was razed in 1970 with the building of the Georgia Viaduct.