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4 Black Canadians who achieved against all odds


Governor General Michaëlle Jean gestures to the audience during a farewell reception in her honour on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, September, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

We all face challenges in life that make it a little harder for us to do the things that we want to do, but some people face more challenges than others! Here are four Black Canadians who didn’t stop trying until they were able to succeed!

Mary Ann Shadd portraitMary Ann Shadd — Extra! Extra! Read all about her!

Though Mary Ann Shadd was good at many things and would eventually become a journalist, newspaper publisher, teacher and a lawyer, she faced several challenges along the way. She was born in Delaware, U.S. in 1823, but when it became illegal for Black children to go to school in that state, her family moved to Pennsylvania. After a law was passed that allowed free Black people to be forced into slavery, Mary Ann’s family moved to Ontario, Canada. Through all of these changes, Mary Ann remained focused on doing well in school. She was the first Black woman in North America and the first woman in Canada to publish a newspaper!

Elijah McCoy portraitElijah McCoy — The real McCoy

When Elijah McCoy was born in Colchester, Ontario, in 1844, Black people in North America were treated poorly. At age 3, Elijah's family moved to the United States. Elijah and other children whose parents had been enslaved were forced to go to low-quality schools. Even so, Elijah learned well and went on to become a mechanical engineer. He created and invented many things — 57 inventions in total! One of his inventions — a device to help lubricate moving parts of machinery — became so popular that people began to copy it. The imitations did not work as well as Elijah’s original. People started to reject these copies, wanting to use nothing but "the real McCoy!"

Like sports? Learn all about the Coloured Hockey League and how their players made hockey history

Michaelle Jean portraitMichaëlle Jean — Representing royalty!

Michaëlle Jean was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. At age 11, her family arrived in Canada as refugees, escaping a cruel leader in her homeland. Life in Canada was difficult at first, and Michaëlle, her mother and sister lived in a small basement apartment in Montreal. Michaëlle worked hard in school. She even learned to speak five languages! She became a popular journalist, and on August 4, 2005, she was appointed Governor-General of Canada (the Queen’s representative in our country) — the first Black Canadian to hold the position. How awesome is that?

(Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr/Wikimedia/CC BY)

Donald McLeod portraitDonald McLeod — Order in the Court

Growing up without a lot of money and only one parent can be really difficult. But Donald McLeod didn't let that stop him. Donald used lessons learned while living in some of Toronto’s toughest neighbourhoods to help him chase his dreams. He listened to people that he trusted and admired, worked as a teacher and a lawyer, and in 2013 he became one of the youngest members of Ontario’s Court of Justice — that means he’s a judge! He always encourages students to strive for "excellence without excuses." 

(Martin Trainor/CBC)

Want to learn more? Read about Mathieu Da Costa, the first person of African heritage to arrive in Canada!