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Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present

Black people have lived in Canada since the 17th century. Some of the earliest arrivals were enslaved persons brought from what we now call the United States of America and from the Caribbean. From the 18th century to the 1960s, most Black immigrants to Canada were fleeing enslavement and/or discrimination in the United States. Since then, changes to Canadian immigration policy have led to an influx of immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa. In the 2016 Canadian census, 1.2 million people reported being Black. According to Statistics Canada, Black Canadians formed about 3.5% of the total population and 15.6% of the racialized population in 2016. Despite ongoing challenges, including discrimination and systemic racism, Black Canadians have excelled in sectors and industries across the country.

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Nursing Sisters

Women have cared for wounded soldiers throughout Canada's wartime history. "Nursing sisters" carried out official duties with the military during the North West Rebellion, the South African War, the First and Second World Wars, and the Korean War.

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Immigration Policy in Canada

Immigration policy is the way the government controls via laws and regulations who gets to come and settle in Canada. Since Confederation, immigration policy has been tailored to grow the population, settle the land, and provide labour and financial capital for the economy. Immigration policy also tends to reflect the racial attitudes or national security concerns of the time which has also led to discriminatory restrictions on certain migrant groups.

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Mi’k ai’stoowa (Red Crow)

Mi’k ai’stoowa, also known as Red Crow, warrior, peacemaker, Kainai (Blood) leader (born ca. 1830 near the junction of St. Mary’s and Oldman rivers, AB; died 28 August 1900 near the Belly River on the Kainai reserve, AB). Head chief of the Kainai, Mi’k ai’stoowa was a skilled negotiator and passionate advocate for his people. Mi’k ai’stoowa sought improved conditions for the Kainai in the wake of monumental changes amid the decline of the bison in traditional territories in the 1860s and 1870s, the encroachment of European settlers and the disastrous effects of smallpox epidemics.

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James Barry

James Miranda Steuart Barry, FRS (probably born Margaret Anne Bulkley), military surgeon, physician (born c. 1789–99; died 25 July 1865 in London, England). Posted across the British Empire, Barry reformed medical standards in the British army. His final and highest-ranking position was as inspector-general of military hospitals in the Province of Canada in the 1850s. After his death, it was reported that Barry’s assigned sex at birth was female. This has sparked significant debate about his identity.

Note on pronouns: This article refers to James Barry with masculine pronouns, as this was how Barry referred to himself throughout his life.

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Irene Uchida

Irene Ayako Uchida, OC, geneticist (born 8 April 1917 in Vancouver, BC; died 30 July 2013 in Toronto, ON). Dr. Uchida pioneered the field of cytogenetics in Canada, enabling early screening for chromosomal abnormalities (i.e., changes in chromosomes caused by genetic mutations). She discovered that women who receive X-rays during pregnancy have a higher chance of giving birth to a baby with Down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities. She also discovered that the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome may come from either parent, not only the mother.

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Black Cross Nurses in Canada

The Black Cross Nurses (BCN) is an auxiliary group intended for female members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The BCN was modeled on the nurses of the Red Cross. Its first chapter was launched in Philadelphia in May 1920. Under the leadership of Henrietta Vinton Davis, the BCN quickly became one of the UNIA’s most popular and iconic auxiliary groups. Offering a safe and inviting place for the Black community, UNIA halls became important cultural hubs in many cities and towns across Canada, where BCN divisions were also established. Although they were not professionally trained nurses, members of the BCN were expected to provide care and advice on matters of health and hygiene.

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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 mural on the side of a building in downtown Toronto commemorating the Yonge Street music scene of the 1960s.

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Josiah Henson

Josiah Henson, spiritual leader, author, founder of the Black community settlement at Dawn, Canada West (born 15 June 1789 in Charles County, Maryland; died 5 May 1883 in Dresden, ON). Born enslaved, Henson escaped to Upper Canada in 1830.

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Harry DeWolf

Harry George DeWolf, naval officer and veteran of the Second World War, vice-admiral, Chief of Naval Staff, Royal Canadian Navy (born 26 June 1903 in Bedford, NS). DeWolf was best known as the commanding officer of HMCS Haida, one of Canada’s eight Tribal Class destroyers during the Second World War. DeWolf entered the navy in 1918 and retired in 1961. A new class of offshore patrol vessels has been named in his honour.

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George Klein

George Johnn Klein, design engineer (b at Hamilton, Ont 15 Aug 1904; d at Ottawa 4 Nov 1992). Possibly the most productive inventor in Canada in the 20th century, he spanned in his career the "stick and string" era of aviation to the Space Shuttle. Klein worked 1929-69 at the National Research Council and as a consultant after retirement. He designed the NRC's first wind tunnels and undertook research on fitting skis to aircraft, which led in turn to designing the Weasel army snowmobile (mass-produced in the US as the M-29) and ultimately to studying the mechanics of snow, on which he became an authority. Gearing systems were a lifelong specialty.

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Scott Moe

Scott Moe, 15th premier of Saskatchewan (2018–present), Cabinet minister, businessman (born circa 1973 near Shellbrook, SK). In January 2018, Scott Moe won the leadership of the Saskatchewan Party and was sworn in as premier on 2 February 2018. After completing a university degree in agriculture, he worked in the agricultural equipment industry for several years. Moe entered politics in 2011 as an MLA representing the Saskatchewan Party and served several posts in government, including as environment minister. In January 2018, Moe won the leadership of the Saskatchewan Party and replaced Brad Wall as premier.

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John Anderson Extradition Case

John Anderson killed a man in self-defence in the United States while escaping from slavery in 1853. Several years after arriving in Canada, he was threatened with extradition to stand trial for murder in the United States. International agreements made this the law even though Anderson’s chances of getting a fair trial were non-existent. Canadian public opinion opposed the extradition and a protest movement developed in support of Anderson. A Canadian court stopped the extradition while a parallel legal challenge in London led to important changes which shaped Canada’s independent judicial system.

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Max Gros-Louis

Magella “Max” Gros-Louis (or Oné Onti in the Huron-Wendat language, meaning “paddler”), politician, businessman (born on 6 August 1931 in Wendake, QC; died on 14 November 2020 in Quebec City, QC). As chief of the Huron-Wendat for 33 years, Gros-Louis championed several Indigenous causes including the fight for recognition of Indigenous territory and overall equality for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

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Jennifer Jones

Jennifer Judith Jones, curler, lawyer (born 7 July 1974 in Winnipeg, Manitoba). Jennifer Jones has competed as a skip in the Canadian women’s curling championship, the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, 15 times. She is tied for the record with six gold medals. Her championship-clinching shot in the 2005 tournament — known simply as “The Shot” — is considered one of the most iconic curling plays of all-time. Jones is one of only two women to reach 100 wins at the Canadian championships. She also skipped Canada to its second gold medal in Olympic women’s curling, at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. Her rink was ranked No. 1 in Canada between 2005 and 2018. In 2019, a TSN panel named Jones the greatest Canadian women’s curler of all time.

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George Godfrey

George Godfrey, boxer (born 20 March 1853 in Charlottetown, PEI; died 18 October 1901 in Revere, Massachusetts). George Godfrey was a successful Black Canadian boxer who began his career at the age of 26. He won the World Colored Heavyweight championship in 1883 and held the title for five years. Godfrey retired in 1896 after competing in over 100 fights. He was the first of many great Black Canadian boxers from the Maritimes; others included George Dixon and Sam Langford. Godfrey was inducted into the PEI Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.

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Six Nations of the Grand River

Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario, is the common name for both a reserve and a Haudenosaunee First Nation. The reserve, legally known as Six Nations Indian Reserve No. 40, is just over 182 km2, located along the Grand River in southwestern Ontario. As of 2019, Six Nations has 27,559 registered band members, 12,892 of whom live on-reserve. Six Nations is the largest First Nations reserve in Canada by population, and the second largest by size. There are several individual communities within the reserve, the largest of which is Ohsweken, with a population of approximately 1,500. (See also Reserves in Ontario.)

Six Nations is home to the six individual nations that form the Hodinöhsö:ni’ Confederacy (Haudenosaunee). These nations are the Kanyen’kehaka (Mohawk), Onyota’a:ka (Oneida), Onöñda’gega’ (Onondaga), Gayogohono (Cayuga), Onöndowága’ (Seneca) and Skaru:reh (Tuscarora).

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Jack Miner

John (“Jack”) Thomas Miner, also known as “Wild Goose Jack,” conservationist, lecturer (born 10 April 1865 in Dover Center, Ohio; died 3 November 1944 in Kingsville, ON). In 1904, Jack Miner created one of North America’s first bird sanctuaries. He was also one of the earliest to attach bands to the legs of migratory birds for the scientific study of their habits. Over the course of his lifetime he banded over 90,000 ducks and Canada geese, often inscribing bits of biblical scripture on each band. His records of these birds and their migratory patterns helped persuade the Canadian government to ratify the Migratory Birds Convention Act in 1917.

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