Arts·Black Light

Black History Month 2020: The top events across Canada

From Whitehorse to Halifax, these are your must-see picks.

From Whitehorse to Halifax, these are your must-see picks

See Ekow Nimako's Lego sculptures at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. (Courtesy of the Aga Khan Museum)

Black Light is a weekly column by Governor General Award-winning writer Amanda Parris that spotlights, champions and challenges art and popular culture that is created by Black people and/or centres Black people.

It's almost Black History Month, a.k.a. the 28 or 29 days when institutions make their token acknowledgements to the communities they ignore the rest of the year.

This is the fourth time I've compiled a roundup of events happening across the country, and each year I debate (with myself) which will make the cut. This year, I've skipped the unimaginative celebrations that think adding a single djembe drummer, a young spoken word artist and a Powerpoint of Rosa Parks is enough to check BHM off their to-do list. I also decided not to include parties, fundraisers or galas.

What you'll find instead is a list of events and projects that deeply engage Black life through art. It's encouraging to realize that more cities and towns across the country are pushing to create this kind of programming.

If you are not able to access any of these places, you can check out 28 Moments of Black Canadian History, a docuseries created by Black youth in Montreal and Ottawa. Each edition gives space to a young person who talks about their experiences of living Black in Canada. Episodes end with lessons on topics such as the history of Zami or Mathieu Da Costa. Enjoy!


Rashaan Rori Allwood and Nadine Anyan in Concert

Feb. 1

Vancouver Public Library

Black musicians have been playing classical music for centuries and these two emerging musicians will be diving into the catalogues of these artists, creating a sonic timeline from the 18th century to the present day.

An Orchestral Rendition of Dr. Dre: 2001

Feb. 1


An orchestra made up of horns and strings and DJs and MCs is coming together to present some of Dr. Dre's biggest hits. As far as I can tell, the Compton native won't actually be there, but that shouldn't stop you from attending.

Decolonizing Voices: A Celebration of Canadian Black HERstory + Tonye Aganaba

Feb. 6

Museum of Anthropology

Chantal Gibson, Adelene da Soul Poet and Nya Lewis are all coming together for an evening of readings and artist talks topped by a special performance by multidisciplinary artist Tonye Aganaba, who will explore the connections between Black and Indigenous people in Canada.

Root: An Afrocentric Art Experience for Black History Month

Feb. 7

Commercial Street Cafe

Naomi Grace and Tony Aganaba are the featured artists at this exhibition, which will be up for the month. On Feb. 7 they'll launch the show with an evening of live music, collaborative art and food. 

Hip-Hop Feminism: The Southern Dance Movement

Feb. 24

Green College, University of British Columbia

This lecture by Adeerya Johnson will explore the way hip hop dance has fostered connection and community between Black girls in the American south and the rise of Black female hip hop artists.


SAMRU celebrates Black History Month 

Feb. 4 - 29

Mount Royal University

From film screenings and speaker series to live music and variety shows, the Students Association of Mount Royal University (SAMRU) has a pretty stellar lineup of events to check out throughout the month. 

Wordfest Presents: Cheryl Foggo

Feb. 8

Memorial Park Library

On the 30th anniversary re-release of her book Pourin' Down Rain: A Black Woman Claims Her Place in the Canadian West, Cheryl Foggo will be celebrated with an afternoon of live music, an onstage interview and a book signing.

Respect! Honouring Aretha

Feb. 21-22

Jack Singer Concert Hall

I probably don't need to tell you why the late great Aretha Franklin is a legend. One of the greatest singers of all time will be celebrated by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and vocalists Capathia Jenkins and Ryan Shaw. 

Respect! Honouring Aretha plays Calgary's Jack Singer Concert Hall on Feb. 21 - 22. (Courtesy of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra)

We Are the Roots: Black Settlers and Their Experiences of Discrimination on the Canadian Prairies

Feb. 22

Flipp Realty Hall at Studio Bell

This film (which is available to watch on Vimeo, by the way!) sheds light on the little-known stories of African-American settlers who arrived in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the early 20th century. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with artists, academics and filmmakers.

We Shall Overcome: A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Feb. 27

Arts Commons, Jack Singer Concert Hall

Martin Luther King Jr.'s life has fascinated poets, painters, novelists, filmmakers — and musical directors like Damien Sneed. For this special concert, Sneed tells Dr. King's story through the music of Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone.


Afro Prairie Film Festival

Feb. 19 - 23

Cinematheque and various locations

With a keynote address by Alison Duke, an acting masterclass with Tonya Williams and a full program and award ceremony for Black Canadian shorts, this film festival is one of the most exciting events happening in the country during February. If you're in the 'Peg, make sure to check it out.

Still from Our Dance of Revolution. The documentary plays the Afro Prairie Film Festival. (Courtesy of the Afro Prairie Film Festival)

Brandon, Man.

Flags of Unsung Countries and This Too Shall Pass

Jan 16 to March 14

Art Gallery of Southern Manitoba

I've already written about why you should check out Liz Ikiriko's exhibition Flags of Unsung Countries, but that exhibition happens alongside another by abstract painter Gloria C. Swain. Her geometric patterns explore the sharp edges of Black life while also suggesting a strategy for how to break through.

Liz Ikiriko. Homegoing, 2017. (Courtesy of the artist)


They Forgot That We Were Seeds

Feb. 9 to April 19

Carleton University Art Gallery

This show brings together powerful Black and Indigenous women visual artists who reimagine Canadian history to create a decolonized future. You can see the work of artists like Deanna Bowen, Bushra Junaid and Meryl McMaster.

They Thought We Were Seeds: Bushra Junaid, Two Pretty Girls, 2016, Archival photographs and archival texts printed on backlit fabric panels. (Courtesy of the artist)

AfroRoots Dance Festival

Feb. 29

The Cultural Arts Studio

Whether you're into Afro Beats or Afro-Brazilian, Soca or Kizomba, this one-day festival has a bit of everything. Programming includes workshops, seminars, symposiums and an end-of-day village celebration.

Peterborough, Ont.

A Lineage of Transgression

To Feb. 23


This exhibition uses film, audio, collage and photocopies to explore the possibilities of language as a tool to undermine, subvert and challenge the way history and systemic institutions have defined Blackness and womanhood. It features work by Kameelah Janan Rasheed and Jamilah Malika Abu-Bakare and is curated by Liz Ikiriko.

Black History Month Proclamation Ceremony Honouring Beau Dixon

Feb. 2

Emmanuel United Church

Beau Dixon is a prolific actor, musician and playwright who will be honoured at this event featuring calypso music by Winston Fredick, African dance by Mayelin Lovet and music by the TISA choir. The man of the hour will also perform some music and a reading from one of his plays.



To Feb. 28

Tangled Art Gallery

The experience of Black artists with hidden disabilities is explored in this group exhibition. Curated by Gloria C. Swain, featured artists include Tamyka Bullen, Peter Owusu-Ansah and Kyisha Williams.

Documenting Black Families

To March 20

BAND Gallery

What began as a small Instagram account capturing archival photos from Black families across Kitchener, Ont., has now morphed into a collaborative exhibition featuring archival photographers from England, West Africa, the Caribbean and Canada.

Caroline, or Change

Jan. 31 to Feb. 16

Winter Garden Theatre

Set in the '60s, this Tony-Award winning musical by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori arrives in Toronto to tell the story of ordinary people living in the midst of world-changing historical moments. With music that traverses blues, soul, gospel, classical and traditional Jewish melodies, it also marks the musical stage debut of Canada's Queen of R&B, Jully Black.

Jully Black stars in Caroline, Or Change. (Photo: Dahlia Katz)

Handle with Care

Jan. 31 to Feb. 29

The Gladstone Hotel

Wedge Curatorial Projects is known for discovering some of the most exciting Black visual artists in the world and their shows are always must-see events. This exhibit features the work of Canadian artist Dainesha Nugent-Palache and American artist Adrienne Elise Tarver.


Feb. 1 - 29

Harbourfront Centre

It's the 25th anniversary of Toronto's longest-running Black History Month festival and this edition features an array of exciting programming including workshops hosted by the legendary writer Trey Anthony, dance performances featuring Jon Boogz and Lil Buck, workshops by Yung Yemi and a mural by Krystal Ball.

Black History Month at OCAD U

Feb. 3 - 29

OCAD University

An array of events align under this year's theme of Roots, encouraging audiences to consider the past when envisioning the future.

143 (I Love You)

Feb. 6 to March 28

Union Station

Thousands of people move through Union Station every day, and throughout February and March commuters will see an exhibition of illustration and photography that explores how Black communities experience love. It features works by Yannick Anton, Ishmil Waterman, Gillian Mapp, Alexis Eke and more.

Photo by Ishmil Waterman from the exhibition 143 (I Love You). (Courtesy of the artist)

Black Women in Theatre

Feb. 6 - 8

Artscape Weston Common

This year marks the first edition of an event created for Black female playwrights to present their works in progress. Featuring work by Dian Marie Bridge, Paulina Anthony-O'Kieffe, Anyika Mark and more.

Until We Are Free: Reflections of Black Lives Matter in Canada book launch

Feb. 9

Lula Lounge

Black Lives Matter is a movement that captured the world's attention, and now the experiences of Canadians who fought and organized in this country have been documented in a new book. It includes chapters on the power of art in the pursuit of social justice by Rodney Diverlus, Syrus Marcus Ware and Ravyn Ariah Wyngz.

Toronto Black Film Festival

Feb. 12 - 17

Various locations

With a special tribute to the legendary Spike Lee (who will be in the house) and screenings of 75 films from across 20 countries, the Toronto Black Film Festival continues to be one of the most exciting events in the city each February.

Building Black Civilizations

To Feb. 23

Aga Khan Museum

Ekow Nimako is behind this mind-blowing work of Afrofuturistic world-building. Made entirely out of Lego, the show has been up since September. If you have yet to see it, February will be your last chance to correct that mistake.

Fish and Rum

Feb. 14

Al Green Theatre

Do you know about Newfoundland's connection to ackee and saltfish? Or are you well-versed in Jamaica's connection to Newfoundland screech? This play explores the little-known link between two islands that both love the word "ting."


Century Song

Feb.12 - 16

Centaur Theatre

This one-woman show is a musical journey through the stories of Black women throughout the 20th century co-created and performed by the brilliantly talented and internationally acclaimed soprano Neema Bickersteth.

Elles: leurs histoires

Feb. 14 - 15


This photo project brings together Black female writers, directors and actors to discuss their professional journeys and the inherent precarity in the career paths they've chosen.

Afro Drag: Ancestors Past, Present & Future

Feb. 21


Black queer history and performances by Black Drag artists? Sign me up! This is the third installment of Afro Drag, and with narration by Big Sissy and performances by Aizysse Baga and Powetik Justice, it sounds like it's going to be epic.

Conversations Noires: #BlackAbundance

Feb. 22


This conference skips the regular panels and keynotes. Instead, it brings artists, entrepreneurs and community leaders together to share knowledge, exchange resources and connect through visual and interactive art installations.


The Black History Month Opening Ceremony and Awards

Feb. 1

Frobisher Inn

The Nunavut Black History Society's Facebook page states: "Black History Month may be short but this page makes the most out of the shortest month of the year." With that spirit in mind, they have an event featuring a keynote from celebrated activist Winston La Rose (a.k.a. Mr. Jane and Finch), an awards ceremony and a performance by the Inuksuk High School Dance Crew.


Yukon African Music Festival

Feb. 7 - 8

Various locations

This two-day festival explores a range of sounds from across the continent and the African diaspora alongside workshops, drumming, dancing and arts and crafts.


Controlled Damage + New Voices Symposium

Feb. 4 - 23

Neptune Theatre

I already wrote about why you should make time to see this play about Canadian Civil Rights hero Viola Desmond, but alongside the play, Neptune Theatre is a doing a one-day symposium on February 8. It features playwright Andrea Scott and b current's Artistic Director Catherine Hernandez. They'll both be dropping knowledge and sharing insight into the play while discussing how to create a decolonized theatre practice.

Deborah Castrilli stars in Controlled Damage. (Stoo Metz/Neptune Theatre)

The Power of Poetry: Celebrating Halifax Poet Laureate Dr. Afua Cooper

Feb. 20

Halifax City Hall

Dr. Afua Cooper is a legend in the literary world. She's written numerous books of poetry, children's books and academic texts, so any chance you get to celebrate her, I say take it! On this evening, a collective of writers will come together to honour her work.

Halifax Black Film Festival

Feb. 28 to March 1

Various locations

With panels on Black women in film, a dynamic kids program and an opening night screening of Sprinter (by Jamaican director Storm Saulter), this promises to be another memorable edition of the annual film festival.


Amanda Parris writes a weekly column for CBC Arts and is the host of Exhibitionists on CBC Television and Marvin's Room on CBC Radio. In her spare time, she writes plays and watches too many movies. In her past lives she wrote arts based curriculum, attended numerous acting auditions, and dreamed of being interviewed by Oprah.