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Black History Month: Canadian Edition

February marks Black History Month in the US and Canada (the UK and Ireland both celebrate, but in October). The month was designated to recognize and acknowledge the lasting impacts and accomplishments of people within the African diaspora. In celebration of this, we are going to highlight four history-making Afro-Canadians. 

Jean Augustine: Conquering Parliament

Jean Augustine

Jean Augustine was the first black female to be elected as a member of the Canadian Parliament in 1993. She was also the first to serve as a cabinet minister, being appointed as Secretary to the Prime Minister in 2008. Augustine came from a school-teacher background, where she also served as a principal. In her tenure as a member of Parliament, she introduced and successfully passed legislation to create Black History Month in 1995. Additionally, she has fought for racial equity, gender equality, and human rights throughout her entire career. Recently, she served as the first-ever Fairness Commissioner of Ontario. Read more on Augustine here.

Viola Desmond: A $20 fine, then the $10 bill

Viola Desmond on the $10 Bill

In 1946 (a decade before Rosa Parks), a cinema owner in Nova Scotia asked Viola Demond to move from the front seats of the cinema to the “colored balcony.” Desmond maintained that she had a right to sit wherever she liked within the theater. Putting up a fight caused her to be arrested and fined $20 for breaking city segregation laws. During the arrest, Desmond was never informed of her rights and the police detained her overnight for the violation. In 2018, Desmond’s actions against segregation were memorialized when she became the first Canadian woman to grace a piece of national currency. Read more on Desmond here

d'bi.young antifrika: an inspiring poet

d'bi.young antifrika

Born in Jamaica, d’bi.young antifrika moved to Canada in 1993, where they quickly became enthralled with spoken word and dub poetry. In 2008, antifrika established a mentorship program geared towards supporting black artists in Canada; in 2014, it was renamed the Watah Theatre Institute and became an officially recognized nonprofit. In 2015, antifrika was recognized as the YWCA Toronto Women of Distinction. They were celebrated with the Canadian Poet of Honour Award. Hear a piece of antifrika’s work here.

Stanley G. Grizzle: A Long Road

In his early years, Stanley G. Grizzle was a sleeping car porter, meaning that he was tasked with the upkeep of sleeping cars on the train. Often, the men who worked these positions were derogatorily called “George,” as the passengers didn’t care to learn their names. However, led by Grizzle, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters negotiated with the Canadian Pacific Railway to obtain name tags for all porters. In 1942, Grizzle was conscripted into the army and served in the Second World War. Upon his return, Grizzle unsuccessfully ran to win a seat in Parliament. Instead, he switched paths and entered the Ministry of Labor in Ontario. Later, he became a citizenship judge, serving as the first Black Canadian in this position. 

Judge Stanley Grizzle

These are only some of the amazing stories of Afro-Canadians making history, both past and present. For a few more examples, check out this slideshow (made by me!). 

Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence, University Intern

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