Lincoln Alexander, parliamentarian and public servant

From the time he was elected to represent the people of the federal riding of Hamilton-West to his appointment to represent the Queen, Lincoln Alexander's was a career of firsts.

Ontario lawyer was first black Canadian to serve as an MP and to hold a vice-regal position

Lincoln Alexander, Canada's first black lieutenant-governor

37 years ago
Duration 2:31
The son of West Indian immigrant parents is sworn in as the Queen's representative in Ontario.

On Sept. 20, 1985, Lincoln Alexander became the 24th lieutenant-governor of Ontario. 

The first black person to hold a vice-regal position in the country, the achievement was just one more "first" for the former politician who had also been the first black Canadian elected to Parliament.

Ontario Lt.-Gov. Lincoln Alexander reads the throne speech at Queen’s Park in Toronto on April 26, 1987. (The Canadian Press/John Felstead)

As we hear in this CBC News report, Alexander's appointment to this office was a day "he never dreamed possible."

During his first official speech to the legislative chamber, Alexander spoke of the appointment as "recognition that Canadian society has changed immeasurably over the last 30 years."

The son of immigrant parents from the West Indies, he paid tribute to the "vibrant and envied multicultural and multiracial society" of Canada that had led to his appointment.

He also cautioned that "we have come a long way, but we have a long way to go."

This was the latest achievement in a successful work life which began with a law degree in the 1950s. 

In 1965, the year he was appointed as Queen's Counsel, he made an unsuccessful bid as a Conservative candidate to be the MP for Hamilton-West. 

Three years later, Alexander tried again, and was elected to the House of Commons. When he spoke to CBC News the day after his election, he was asked what he felt got him to "the victor's seat" this time. 

'I went out on the street'

Lincoln Alexander, the day after his election as MP for Hamilton-West

3 years ago
Duration 0:44
Lincoln Alexander speaks to the press about the secret of his success in gaining a seat in opposition to the Trudeau government in 1968.

Chalking it up to his willingness to "go out and 'press the flesh' as they say," he explained that his team thought he "had a personality" and "perhaps we could use the word charisma, which had to be sold."

"I went out on the street and met as many people as I possibly could, and tried to impress them with my personality."

A year later, when the CBC program The Day It Is featured an interview with the "fledgling" MP, it was noted that Alexander was not only the first elected black member of the House of Commons, but as the only Progressive Conservative elected in an urban riding in Ontario, he had the distinction of surviving "the Trudeaumania onslaught in urban centres." 

'There was a little feeling of apprehension'

Lincoln Alexander reflects on his first year as a Member of Parliament

3 years ago
Duration 2:10
Lincoln Alexander, one year into his first term as an MP, talks about what he has learned.

When he was asked by what his first year sitting in the House was like, Alexander said he knew "very little about government and how it was run," admitting to "a little feeling of apprehension" about sitting "where the greats have gone ahead of you."

Alexander said sitting in opposition was informative and gave him opportunities to participate by asking questions and made him feel "part of the parliamentary structure."

He later was in the spotlight with that same prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, when he was part of the infamous "fuddle-duddle" incident in the House of Commons in 1971

Lincoln Alexander, May 27, 1980, at the time of his farewell to the House of Commons where he had been an MP since 1968.

Alexander continued to win the seat, for three more elections, and in 1979 was a cabinet minister in the short-lived Joe Clark government

He won his seat again in the February 1980 election, but soon resigned, as he was appointed chairman of the Ontario Worker's Compensation Board, and it was after serving five years in that position that he became lieutenant-governor. 

Alexander died in October 2012 at the age of 90. 

His birthday, Jan. 21, was declared Lincoln Alexander Day in Ontario in 2013. In 2014, an act of Parliament was passed, recognizing that same day across Canada each year on the anniversary of his birth.