Think you know what a 7th-generation Canadian family looks like? Think again.
Her family has been in Canada for more than 200 years, but people don't believe her because she's Black
This is Cazhhmere. Her family has been in Canada for more than 200 years — but people never believe her when she says she's Canadian.
They ask, "where are you from?" She answers, "Canada."
You'd have to go back seven generations for a different response. Cazhhmere's grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents are all Canadian. Her ancestors were among the first Black settlers in Nova Scotia.
"On paper, my family is the most Canadian family you've ever seen," Cazhhmere says. Her relatives are politicians, military veterans, boxing legends — and yet she's constantly questioned about her background.
"People have a hard time grasping the concept of someone who is not white being from Canada," she says.
After dealing with the question "but where are you from?" for her entire life, Cazhhmere — a prolific filmmaker who has directed over 100 music videos — decided to explore her family's rich Canadian history. The documentary Deeply Rooted traces the story of the Downey-Collins family in Nova Scotia.
'The Fighting Downeys'
Cazhhmere's family is full of superstars. Among the most famous: a series of boxing champions known as "The Fighting Downeys."
Robert John Downey Sr., Cazhhmere's grandfather, was a member of the Black Watch 2nd Battalion Army Boxing Team and the Canadian amateur lightweight boxing champion for 1960.
Cazhhmere's great-uncle, David Downey Sr., is Canada's longest reigning middleweight boxing champion. He was inducted into the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.
David's son, Raymond "Sugar Ray" Downey, followed in his footsteps — literally. As a 9-year-old, Raymond was let out of school early one day and bumped into his father, who was on his way to the boxing gym. Raymond tagged along.
"I was just amazed at what I saw," he says. Eventually, Raymond's talent and determination earned him a bronze medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea and a spot in the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame.
'Many people don't know that Canada had an all-Black battalion.'
Members of the Downley-Collins families have served in the military since WWI. They've served in all capacities, in every war.
George Alexander Downey, Cazhhmere's great-grandfather, was a veteran of both world wars. He served in the No. 2 Construction Battalion — an all-Black battalion.
"Many people don't know that Canada had an all-Black battalion at a time when the rest of the world wasn't letting blacks join the military," says Cazhhmere.
The No. 2 Construction Battalion was featured on a Canadian stamp in 2016.
In addition to his legacy as a decorated boxer, Cazhhmere's grandfather Robert John "Bobby" Downey Sr. served in the military between 1957 - 1986. As a military chef, he prepared banquets for Prince Charles and Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Terry Downey, Cazhhmere's mother, grew up on an army base. "We were the typical army military family. Other than we were black," she says.
Her brother played hockey, her sister was a figure skater. "My family did very typical Canadian things — as did I, growing up" says Cazhhmere.
Halifax wouldn't be the same without the Downey-Collins family
Graham Downey, Cazhhmere's uncle, was the first Black city councillor in Halifax and the first black deputy mayor in Nova Scotia.
In the 1960s and 70s, Edward William Thomlinson (Billy) Downey owned Halifax's hottest nightclub: The Arrows Club. The Arrows Club was open until 3:30 a.m. nightly; it hosted big-name acts like Tina Turner and Teddy Pendergrass.
"We thought we owned Halifax in them days," says Cazhhmere's uncle Robert Downey Jr. "Graham was on city council. My uncle David was the middleweight champion of Canada. And Uncle Billy ran the hottest club in town."
Deeply Rooted is the story of Cazhhmere's family's past and present — and an exploration of what it means to be a seventh-generation Canadian when the colour of you skin isn't what people expect.
"[Generations of my family have] contributed in numerous ways to Canadian history and society," says Cazhhmere. "There aren't very many people in Canada (that I know) that can say that about their family."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.