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All about Black History Month


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As January ends and we head into February, it’s time to celebrate Black History Month. Find out more about this month-long celebration that takes place every year.

What is it?

Black History Month is a time to celebrate and remember all the ways that black Canadians have contributed to Canada’s history and culture. Throughout February, this celebration provides a chance to learn about African cultures.

When did it start?

Carter G. Woodson

Carter G. Woodson (Wikimedia)

The history of Black History Month dates back to 1926 in the United States. At that time, an African-American historian named Carter G. Woodson founded a week that focused on celebrating the accomplishments of African Americans. He decided on a week in February because two important men were born in that month.

Abraham Lincolm and Frederick Douglass

Abraham Lincoln (left) and Frederick Douglass (right) (Wikimedia)

The first was Frederick Douglass, a former slave in the 1800s who spoke out for the freedom of slaves, as well as equal rights for women. And the second was Abraham Lincoln. As the 16th president of the United States, Lincoln fought for the freedom of all slaves throughout the country. While Woodson’s idea began as a one-week celebration, it eventually became a month-long event called Black Heritage Month in the United States in 1976. And, in 1995, Canada’s government officially recognized February as Black History Month.

How can you take part?

Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic site in Dresden, Ontario

Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site (Wikimedia/NearEMPTiness/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Many events take place across Canada during Black History Month, including concerts, performances, and activities for kids and adults. And, all year long, there are specific places you can visit throughout the country to learn more about African history, culture, and the contributions that black Canadians have made to Canada:

  • The Black Cultural Centre in Nova Scotia is a museum that focuses on the history and culture of African Nova Scotians.
  • The Amherstburg Freedom Museum in Ontario preserves African-Canadian artifacts.
  • In Chatham, Ontario, the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum collects and preserves African-Canadian historical objects.
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site in Dresden, Ontario, is dedicated to Rev. Josiah Henson. He lived in the 1800s and worked to lead slaves to freedom. The historic site includes a museum, as well as Henson’s original home.

There are even virtual museums you can visit to examine the history of African-Canadians and their role in building Canada, including:

5 famous black Canadians

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    ​Viola Davis Desmond

    Viola Davis DesmondIn 1946, Viola Desmond refused to sit in the balcony of the Roseland theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, and sat on the floor reserved for white people instead. She was arrested and found guilty of not paying the full tax on a floor-seat ticket. She was jailed and fined. In 2010, the government of Nova Scotia finally pardoned Viola and apologized to her family — 45 years after her death. In 2017, Viola was chosen to be the new face of the Canadian $10 bill.

  • [+]

    ​Willie O'Ree

    Willie O'Ree (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
    Willie O'Ree (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

    Fredericton-born Willie O’Ree was the first black player in the National Hockey League. He made his debut with the Boston Bruins in the 1957-58 season and later played in the Western Hockey League before retiring in 1979. In 2008, his hometown of Fredericton, New Brunswick, named its new hockey arena after him — Willie O’Ree Place.

  • [+]

    ​Elijah McCoy

    Elijah McCoyBorn in Ontario to parents who had escaped from slavery in Kentucky via the Underground Railroad, Elijah grew up to be an amazing inventor. He studied mechanical engineering in Scotland and became known for inventing a device that lubricated a train’s moving parts while the train was still moving. He also invented the portable ironing board and held more than 50 patents.

  • [+]

    ​Lincoln Alexander

    Lincoln Alexander {THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)Lincoln Alexander was a lawyer, member of parliament, cabinet minister and a war veteran, but he is probably best known as the former lieutenant governor of Ontario. Alexander was the first black member of parliament in Canadian history.

    Lincoln Alexander {THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

  • [+]

    ​Donovan Bailey

    Donovan Bailey
    Donovan Bailey (AP Photo/Hans Edinger)

    Although born in Jamaica, Donovan Bailey emigrated to Canada as a teenager. He is one of the country’s most highly decorated track athletes and once held the world record for the 100-metre sprint. He won three world championships and two gold medals at the 1996 Olympics.