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Jamaican Maroons in Nova Scotia

The ancestors of the Maroons of Jamaica were enslaved Africans who had been brought there by the Spanish in the 16th and 17th centuries, and later by the British (who captured Jamaica from Spain in 1655), to work its lucrative sugar plantations. The word maroon was widely used to describe a runaway, and maroonage to denote the act and action of escaping enslavement, whether temporarily or permanently. After a series of wars with the colonial government in Jamaica, one group of Maroons was deported to Nova Scotia in 1796. While Maroon communities existed in Nova Scotia for only four years before they were sent to Sierra Leone, their legacy in Canada endures.

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Denham Jolly

Brandeis Denham Jolly, C.M., teacher, entrepreneur, publisher, broadcaster, philanthropist, civil rights activist, community leader (born 26 August 1935 in Industry Cove, Jamaica). Jolly began his business career by purchasing and operating rooming houses and nursing homes. He later purchased and became the publisher of Contrast, a Black community newspaper in Toronto and established FLOW 93.5, the first Black-owned radio station and the first station in Canada to showcase Black music and the stories of the Black community. Jolly also was involved with or founded and led community groups — such as the Black Action Defence Committee — that sought to end police violence targeting young Black men. Jolly also contributed generously to several causes including scholarships for promising young Black Canadians.

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Black Volunteers in the Canadian Expeditionary Force

During the First World War, up to 1,300 Black men volunteered for service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). While the men of No. 2 Construction Battalion are the best-known example of Black participation in the war, another 300 to 500 enlisted in other units of the CEF. Of these, about 100 served on the front lines. Black soldiers participated in all major battles of the CEF, from its arrival in France until the Armistice. (See also Black Canadians and Conscription in the First World War.)

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Jennifer Hodge de Silva

Jennifer Hodge de Silva, née Hodge, documentary filmmaker (born 28 January 1951 in Montreal, QC; died 5 May 1989 in Montreal). Jennifer Hodge de Silva was a pioneering African Canadian filmmaker of the 1970s and 1980s. She was the first Black filmmaker to work consistently with both the National Film Board and the CBC. She produced an acclaimed and influential body of work known as realist social issue documentary. Her highly regarded film Home Feeling: A Struggle for Community (1983), co-directed with Robert McTair, is widely taught in film studies programs throughout Canada.

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Jully Black

Jully Ann Inderia Gordon, singer, songwriter, actor, TV personality (born 8 November 1977 in Toronto, ON). Jully Black is known as “Canada’s Queen of R&B.” In 2013, CBC Music named her one of the 25 Greatest Canadian Singers Ever. Her rich and soulful alto voice has drawn comparisons to Tina Turner and Amy Winehouse. She has won a Juno Award from 10 nominations and has written songs for Destiny’s Child, Nas, Sean Paul and Missy Elliott, among others. She also started her own recording, management and publishing company, and her own fitness enterprise. Black has appeared onstage in productions of trey anthony’s play Da Kink in My Hair and Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s musical Caroline, or Change; the latter earned Black a 2020 Dora Award. She is also a popular television and radio host and panel guest. She was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2021.

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George Dixon

George Dixon, boxer (born 29 July 1870 in Africville, NS; died 6 January 1908 in New York, New York). George Dixon was the first Black world champion in boxing history and the first Canadian to ever win a world championship. Despite his small stature (5 feet 3.5 inches and between 87 and 115 pounds), Dixon amassed several notable accomplishments across a 20-year career and was the first boxer to win championships in multiple weight classes — bantamweight (1890) and featherweight (1891–96; 1897; 1898–1900). A cerebral fighter known as a “pioneer of scientific boxing,” he is credited with inventing various fundamental training techniques, including shadowboxing and the use of the heavy bag. As a dominant Black fighter in the post-Civil War United States, Dixon was subjected to fierce racism. He died in poverty from alcoholism at the age of 37. He was an inaugural inductee into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame, and was also named to The Ring Magazine Hall of Fame and the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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Anderson Abbott

Anderson Ruffin Abbott, doctor, surgeon (born 7 April 1837 in Toronto, Upper Canada; died 29 December 1913 in Toronto, ON). Abbott was the first Canadian-born Black person to graduate from medical school. He served the Union army as a civilian surgeon during the American Civil War.

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Jackie Shane

Jackie Shane, singer (born 15 May 1940 in Nashville, Tennessee; died 22 February 2019 in Nashville). Jackie Shane was a pioneering transgender performer who was a prominent figure in Toronto’s R&B scene in the 1960s. Her cover of William Bell’s “Any Other Way” reached No. 2 on the CHUM singles chart in 1963. Her 1967 live album, Jackie Shane Live, was reissued in 2015 and was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize’s 1960–1970 Heritage Award. Any Other Way, an anthology album of songs from Shane’s career and monologues from her live shows, was released in 2017. It was nominated for a 2019 Grammy Award for Best Historical Album. Shane is featured in a public mural in downtown Toronto commemorating the Yonge Street music scene of the 1960s.

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Jeremiah Jones

Jeremiah “Jerry” Alvin Jones, soldier, farmer, truck driver (born 30 March 1858 in East Mountain, NS; died 23 November 1950 in Halifax, NS). Jeremiah Jones was a Black Canadian soldier who served during the First World War. Jones was 58 years old (13 years above the age limit) when he enlisted with the 106th Battalion in 1916. For his heroic actions during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, he was awarded the Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service in 2010 — 60 years after his death.

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Jennifer Holness

Jennifer Holness, producer, screenwriter, director (born 1969 in Montego Bay, Jamaica). Jennifer Holness is the president and co-founder of Hungry Eyes Film & Television, which specializes in telling stories that engage with social issues and representations of Black Canadians. Her credits as producer include the award-winning Love, Sex, and Eating the Bones (2003), Home Again (2012), the Gemini Award-winning miniseries Guns (2009) and the award-winning feature documentary Stateless (2020).

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George Morton and the Fight to Fight: Black Volunteers in the First World War

Archivist Barbara M. Wilson explores the significance of a letter sent to Sir Sam Hughes by George Morton, a letter carrier, barber and civil rights advocate from Hamilton, Ontario. In his letter, dated 7 September 1915, Morton asked the minister of militia and defence why members of the Black community were being turned away when trying to enlist for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War. (See also Black Volunteers in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.)

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Anne Cools

Anne Clare Cools, administrator, community worker, senator (born on 12 August 1943 in Barbados, British West Indies). An influential Black Canadian activist, Anne Cools served four months in jail for her role in the Sir George Williams Affair, for which she was pardoned in 1981. She founded Women in Transition, one of Canada’s first shelters for female victims of violence. She also served on the National Parole Board of Canada. In 1984, she became the first Black Canadian to be named to the Senate. She served as a Liberal, Conservative and independent senator for more than 30 years, and was known as the Dean of the Senate for her knowledge of parliamentary history and procedure.

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Richard Pierpoint

Richard Pierpoint (also Pawpine, Parepoint; Captain Pierpoint, Captain Dick; Black Dick), loyalist, soldier, community leader, storyteller (born c. 1744 in Bondu [now Senegal]; died c. 1838, near present-day Fergus, ON). Pierpoint was an early leader in Canada’s Black community. Taken from West Africa as a teenager and sold into slavery, Pierpoint regained his freedom during the American Revolution. He settled in Niagara, Upper Canada, and attempted to live communally with other Black Canadians. In the War of 1812, he petitioned for an all-Black unit to fight for the British and fought with the Coloured Corps.

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Ted King

Theodore “Ted” Stanley King, civil rights activist, real estate broker, accountant, railway porter (born 14 July 1925 in Calgary; died 7 July 2001 in Surrey, BC). Ted King was the president of the Alberta Association for the Advancement of Coloured People from 1958 to 1961, where he advocated for the rights of Black Canadians. In 1959, King launched a legal challenge against a Calgary motel’s discriminatory policy, decades before human rights protections existed throughout Canada. The case made it to the Alberta Supreme Court. Though it was not successful, King’s case exposed legal loopholes innkeepers exploited in order to deny lodging to Black patrons.

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Mathieu Da Costa

Mathieu Da Costa (depending on the language of the documents that mention his name, also known as “Mateus Da Costa,” “Mathieu de Coste,” “Matheus de Cost” and “een Swart genamd Matheu”), interpreter (dates and places of birth and death unknown). Da Costa is one of the most fascinating and elusive figures in the early history of Canada. Historians consider him the first Black person known to have visited Canada, probably in the company of Pierre Dugua de Mons and Samuel de Champlain. But many aspects of his life remain unclear or unknown.