Hamilton remembers Lincoln Alexander

Messages of respect, admiration and sorrow came in quickly for Lincoln Alexander from those who remembered him in Hamilton, his hometown.

Reverend Francis Chisholm remembers Lincoln Alexander

10 years ago
Duration 1:10
Chisholm knew Alexander for over 30 years

From all across Hamilton tributes poured in for Lincoln Alexander.

Lieutenant Governor Daivd Onley announced Friday morning that Alexander, Canada's first black member of the House of Commons and first black lieutenant governor of Ontario, had died at the age of 90. After that condolences and memories came in quickly from Hamilton.

Though he was respected and admired across Canada his legacy left the deepest impression on Hamilton. The Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway is named after him as is an elementary school on Ravebury Drive and one of the city's premiere concert centres.

Here's what Hamiltonians have been saying about Linc:

Maxine Carter, City of Hamilton Access and Equity co-ordinator

Julia Chapman/CBC

In the late '90s Maxine Carter persuaded Alexander to be the keynote speaker at a United Way volunteer appreciation dinner.

When he showed up at the sold-out banquet hall of more than 1,000 people, she saw his charisma first hand.

It was 10 minutes before he was to speak but when he entered the hall he was mobbed like a rock star.

It took 30 minutes to get to his seat. He insisted on stopping and talking to each and every person who wanted to say hello.

"People were swarming every step he took. They would stop him to chat and ask,  'do you remember me?'.

He was really touched," she said.

Carter said Alexander left a legacy because he cut a path for others by being the first black MP and first black lieutenant governor.

"It matters to a lot of people, especially children, to have a role model like that. If they can see that, they can aspire to it. If you see it, it is possible."

Evelyn Myrie, executive director of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion

"He signified how one could rise above oppression," Myrie said. "He is a symbol of hope for anyone who has suffered discrimination."

Myrie worked extensively with Alexander as the clerk of the iconic Stewart Memorial Church, organizing anniversary celebrations. Alexander had been the official clerk of the church, and sang in the choir there in the 1960s.

"He reached a lot of high places, but he never looked down on people. That's why he was so loved in Hamilton."

Andrea Horwath, MPP for Hamilton Centre, Ontario NDP leader

During my by-election when I was first elected in 2004, I was busily going up and down the streets of Hamilton and I had no idea that it was a street that he lived on but there he was, he came to the door and he gave he some words of encouragement and he said, 'Girl, I think you're going to get this one so you just get back out there and knock on doors.' It was quite funny, I'll never forget it. Words of encouragement and a positive push. It kept the steam under me for the rest of the day.

The one thing about him that I'll never ever forget is that it didn't matter who your are or if you disagreed or agreed with him, when he stopped to talk to you, he pulled you in like he had some kind of tractor beam, he focused on the conversation you were in and didn't let himself get distracted. He was giving you his full attention and full respect. I think more people need to follow in Linc's footsteps in that way. Take the time to listen to people because it's an extremely important skill.

Mayor Bob Bratina

As a news reporter in the 1960s, I covered Mr. Alexander in the courts when he was acting on behalf of clients. And then when he had a federal election victory, I covered his campaign headquarters. It was really exciting, they had a fabulous party and unfortunately all the buzz and the talk and noise was drowning out a fellow in the corner who was playing piano — Oscar Peterson.

That's the find of excitement and international stature. I remember shortly after his election, there was a big article in Ebony magazine about the first Canadian black Member of Parliament.

Mid 1960's. American South. Lots of things were going on. Mr. Alexander was familiar with Martin Luther King and his work and we had many conversations subsequently. But we had many interesting conversations. His impulse was not really to discuss race issues. He was a lawyer, a prominent citizen so he didn't want to be put in one small corner about what his position would be.

Diefenbaker noticed him right away, and I believe Diefenbaker's quote was 'That man is cabinet material.'

Andrew Hughes

Kaleigh Rogers/CBC

"He was quite a man. It’s a shame to see him go.

We saw him downtown all the time, always downtown.

We live in the downtown area and we frequent Jackson Square quite a bit and we would see him down here quite a lot."

Chief of Police, Glenn De Caire

It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of The Honourable Lincoln Alexander today. On behalf of all the men and women of the Hamilton Police Service, I would like to express our deepest sympathies and condolences to his family.

We are humbled to have had the honour of having The Hon. Lincoln Alexander as our Honourary Chief of Police. In this role, he has represented the great men and women of the Hamilton Police Service with dignity and pride. He has left an important lasting legacy in the City of Hamilton.

We will remember him.

Lesley Redden

Kaleigh Rogers/CBC

"I’m very saddened. He made a significant contribution in a lot of different ways.

He was at my convocation.

I shook his hand to get my degree at the University of Guelph in the spring of 2007.

He had his hand in a lot of things, in a lot of different places and a lot of different ways."

Diana McKenzie

Kaleigh Rogers/CBC

"I know that he was very popular. My impression was that he was always very fair.

He was admired in the community, there’s no question about that.

I think I heard last year that he’d been sick.

It’s sad that he’s gone, though it’s not necessarily a surprise."

Hamilton Health Sciences

The Honourable Lincoln Alexander passed away peacefully at 8:15 a.m. with wife, Marnie, by his side. Lincoln Alexander's legacy will live on within our hospitals, as we remember and honour this great supporter and friend for his devotion to improving the lives of many, within Hamilton and beyond.

Mr. Alexander was a great supporter of our organization and of health care in general. The Alexander Pavilion, which opened in 2009 at St. Peter's Hospital, was named in recognition of Mr. Alexander, and in memory of his late wife, Yvonne.

The staff members, physicians and volunteers at Hamilton Health Sciences are deeply saddened by the passing of the Honourable Lincoln Alexander.

The family has requested privacy at this time of mourning.

Delores Bair

Kaleigh Rogers/CBC

"He was a big part of the community and when my friend told me he had passed, I was taken aback because I thought he was doing well.

When I came to Canada in the 70s he was working as a lawyer and I’ve spoken to him a few times.

The highway is named after him and every time I go by the highway I remember ‘Linc.’"

Mark Rizzo, Board Chair, Hamilton Health Sciences Board of Directors

I have had the good fortune of knowing Linc for the past few years, and he was an inspiring individual in so many ways. From his influence on our political landscape, to his complete devotion to his family, Linc leaves us with a legacy that is truly admirable. As a proud Hamiltonian, he never missed an opportunity to tell others about our great city and people, and always had the community's best interests at heart.

Rachel Decoste

Lincoln Alexander is the one who handed me my degree at Univ. Of Guelph. He was frail so he sat for the entire convocation on a grand throne-like chair. He mustered up the strength to stand up when the only black person in the graduating class walked on the stage to hand her degree, in a symbolic gesture.

That Guelph grad was me.

It was a touching gesture from a man who understood all too well what it's like to be the 'only one' among a monocultural crowd. Despite being the fly in the proverbial milk, Lincoln Alexander rose above the obstacles and uplifted the nation -- especially those of us who are visible minorities.

He saluted me on that sunny day in Guelph in June 2001.

Today, I salute him back.

Madelaine Steller-Cain, Executive Director of Caroline Place Retirement Residence

It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of The Hon. Lincoln Alexander today.  On behalf of the management, staff and residents of Caroline Place Retirement Residence, we would like to express our deepest sympathy and condolence’s to Marni and the Alexander Family.

We are humble to have had the honour of Hon. Lincoln Alexander call Caroline Place home.

A Book of Condolences and a Memory Board have been set up in the lobby of Caroline Place Retirement Residence, 118 Market Street, Hamilton.  Friends and residents as well as the general public are invited to sign the Condolence Book and share their personal memories and pictures of the Greatest Hamiltonian!

 You will be missed.

David Adames, President and CEO, Hamilton Chamber of Commerce

It was with great sadness that we learned this morning of the passing of a truly great Canadian, the Honourable Lincoln Alexander. On behalf of the Board, membership and staff of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, we express our condolences to his family. His legacy of "firsts" will long be remembered across the country and cherished by Hamiltonians. The Honourable Lincoln Alexander cared about his country, province and especially his hometown. Hamilton was greatly enriched by his contributions over many decades for which we are truly grateful. He will be deeply missed.

Eric Nanayakkara

Kaleigh Rogers/CBC

"I know Lincoln Alexander first and foremost as a lawyer.

I also practice law in Hamilton and I know that he was one of the first visible minority lawyers to really take a heavy lead in the community and also the profession.

He’s a source of inspiration for a lot of people and a very proud Hamiltonian until the very end.

He is somebody who left a major footprint on the city and made it a better place."

Bruce Wood, President and CEO, Hamilton Port Authority

Together with the Board of Directors and staff of the Hamilton Port Authority, we mourn the loss of an extraordinary Canadian, the Honourable Lincoln Alexander. We share our deepest condolences with his family, friends and colleagues.   

In Hamilton, and across the country, Canadians will celebrate his achievements for years to come. Mr. Alexander dedicated his life to public service, and was an inspirational figure in the Hamilton community. He broke down barriers and made great strides to improve the lives of his fellow citizens.

We salute his many accomplishments, and are grateful for his leadership and service.