Montreal·Black Changemakers

How this community leader helped create institutions to combat racism

Clarence Bayne is a lifelong educator, and has been active in Montreal’s Black and Caribbean community for decades. He created or has been involved with a number of groups that attempted to create better opportunities for Black people.

Clarence Bayne has made many contributions to Montreal's Black and Caribbean community

Clarence Bayne founded the Black Theatre Workshop, a renowned Black theatre company based in Montreal, as well as many other groups since coming to the city in the 1960s. (Julian Haber)

CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province's Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.

In the 1960s, Montreal's Black community was in the midst of a transformation.

Once made up of people with roots in the Maritimes and the U.S., an influx of immigrants from the Caribbean started arriving in Canada due to various federal government initiatives.

Clarence Bayne, who is from Trinidad and Tobago, was part of that wave of immigrants. He came to study at the University of British Columbia, then made his way to Montreal for a job, and later enrolled at McGill University.

The Black people who lived here already knew not to go to a restaurant on St-Laurent Boulevard, sit down and expect to be served. But Bayne and his Black colleagues didn't know that. It took them awhile for them to realize that the time they spent waiting to be served in those restaurants wasn't normal.

They saw themselves as people, but they realized that at those restaurants, they were different. They were Black.

"This discovery … made us angry and more determined and to decide to become more involved in creating institutions to combat racism and discrimination," he said.

Bayne is a lifelong educator. He has a PhD in economics from McGill, and is a professor emeritus at Concordia University's John Molson School of Business.

He was part of the team that went to Montreal Mayor Jean Doré in the early 90s to advocate for the city to recognize Black History Month. He has been recognized for his contributions as a builder in Montreal's Black and Caribbean community many times — the most cherished award among them, he said, is his Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award.

The prize is given out every year by the Black Theatre Workshop — a nationally recognized, Montreal-based Black theatre company that Bayne himself co-founded — to someone who has made a significant contribution to African-Canadian artistic and cultural life in Canada.

He has been involved in many organizations and groups since the 1960s. They were all made up of people who came together because they felt they had no choice, he said. In doing so, they formed a network of changemakers.

"These agencies represent deliberate and calculated attempts to represent ourselves and to be seen," Bayne said.

One group, the Quebec Board of Black Educators, came out of the realization that Black children going to school in Montreal were failing out. He and his fellow university-educated colleagues asked why there were dozens of Black students in Montreal's universities from Caribbean and African countries, but barely a handful of Black university students from Little Burgundy.

They made educators at school boards realize, he said, that the system wasn't serving Black people as well as they thought, and then set out to help them change that.

Bayne is the current president of the Black Studies Center and the Black Community Resource Centre, and was involved with the Black Community Council of Quebec, an umbrella group made up of various organizations from across the province.

Bayne doesn't see himself as someone who dedicated his life to creating change.

"Every moment of my life was directed toward my survival and the improvement of the opportunities that came my way," he said.

"I considered it existing, and doing better than just mere existence at some point."

The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Meet all the changemakers here.

Written by Kamila Hinkson, with files from Rowan Kennedy