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.
SGT. ROBERT JOHN DOWNEY SR. SEPTEMBER 6th 1937 - JULY 9th 2015 He was the greatest man I've ever known. - Member of the 2nd Battalion, The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada Boxing Team - Eastern Command Army Champion - Canadian Amateur Lightweight Champion (1960) Most of all he was My Granddad and he will forever be the The greatest man I've ever known. He was my very own Dos Equis Guy: The Most Interesting Man In The World. Cooler than Cool #RIP ������
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.
#Work #TBT working on the next installment of the additional content clips for @cbcdocs Documentary "Deeply Rooted". Found this pic of my uncle David Downey Sr., Canada's longest reigning Middleweight Champ getting prepped for a fight.... Next 2 clips coming out soon. And the full documentary release in the fall. #directORdie #FOE
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.
My Great-Grandfather during World War 1 (on the left) George Alexander Downey - A veteran of WWI (No. 2 Construction Battalion - aka "the Black Battalion") and WWII (Veterans Guard of Canada) Most people don't know that Canada had an All Black Battalion at time when the rest of the world wasn't letting Blacks join the Military. I'm talking even before the USA started their own all Black Battalion (i.e. The movie Red Tails) My Great-Grandfather was a member of that Battalion. #LestWeForget #RememberanceDay #RIP #ProudCanadian #902 #DeeplyRooted #BlackHistory #BlackCanadian
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.
My Grandfather Sgt. Robert John "Bobby" Downey Sr. (in the very middle of the stairs, big smile) arriving home in Canada from Germany in the mid-1960's Service Notes: 29 years of service: 1957-1986 - 2nd Battalion, The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada (1957-1970) - Royal Canadian Army Service Corps (1970-1986) - Member of the Black Watch Boxing Team 1957-1965 Served in: - NATO Duty - West Germany (1962-1965) - UN Peacekeeping - Cyprus (1967) - CFS Alert (1975 and 1979) #LestWeForget #RIP #RememberanceDay #IMissYouEveryDay #ProudCanadian #902 #deeplyrooted #BlackHistory #BlackCanadian
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.”