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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.

Article

Kay Livingstone

Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone (née Jenkins), organizer and activist, broadcaster, actor (born 13 October 1919 in London, ON; died 25 July 1975). Kay Livingstone founded the Canadian Negro Women’s Association in 1951 and organized the first National Congress of Black Women in 1973. An established radio broadcaster and actor, Livingstone also devoted a great deal of her life and energy to social activism and organizing. Her tireless work to encourage a national discussion around the position of racialized people in society, particularly Black women, led Livingstone to coin the term visible minority in 1975.

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Indian Agents in Canada

Indian agents were the Canadian government’s representatives on First Nations reserves from the 1830s to the 1960s. Often working in isolated locations far from settler communities, Indian agents implemented government policy, enforced and administered the provisions of the Indian Act, and managed the day-to-day affairs of Status Indians. Today, the position of Indian agent no longer exists, as First Nations manage their own affairs through modern band councils or self-government.

Article

Black Enslavement in Canada

In early Canada, the enslavement of African peoples was a legal instrument that helped fuel colonial economic enterprise. Enslavement was introduced by French colonists in New France in the early 1600s, and lasted until it was abolished throughout British North America in 1834. During that two-century period, Canada was involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Within the country’s borders, people were bought, sold and enslaved. Canada was further linked to the institution of enslavement through international trade. The country exchanged products such as salted cod and timber for slave-produced goods such as rum, molasses, tobacco and sugar from slaveholding colonies in the Caribbean.

(See also Chloe Cooley and the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada; Underground Railroad; Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; Slavery Abolition Act, 1833.)

Editorial

Arrival of Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia (1783)

“Freedom and a Farm.” The promise was exciting to the thousands of African-Americans, most seeking refuge from enslavement, who were encouraged by the British to fight in British regiments against the Americans. They joined the tens of thousands of American refugees who had sided with the British during the American Revolutionary War (1775–83), and who pinned their hopes for a brighter future on the British slogan. After the war, the refugees left the newly independent states for British North America and pledged their loyalty to King George III.

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Albert Jackson

Albert Jackson, letter carrier (born c. 1857–58 in Delaware; died 14 January 1918 in Toronto , ON). Albert Jackson is thought to be the first Black letter carrier in Canada (see Postal System). Jackson was born into enslavement in the United States, and escaped to Canada with his mother and siblings when he was a toddler in 1858. In 1882, Jackson was hired as a letter carrier in Toronto, but his co-workers refused to train him on the job. While his story was debated in the press for weeks, the Black community in Toronto organized in support of Jackson, meeting with Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald to have Jackson reinstated. Jackson returned to his post days later and served as a letter carrier for almost 36 years.

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Viola Desmond

Viola Irene Desmond (née Davis), businesswoman, civil rights activist (born 6 July 1914 in Halifax, NS; died 7 February 1965 in New York, NY). Viola Desmond built a career and business as a beautician and was a mentor to young Black women in Nova Scotia through her Desmond School of Beauty Culture. In 1946, Viola Desmond challenged racial discrimination when she refused to leave the segregated Whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Viola Desmond was arrested, jailed overnight and convicted without legal representation for an obscure tax offence as a result. Despite the efforts of the Nova Scotian Black community to assist her appeal, Viola Desmond was unable to remove the charges against her and went unpardoned in her lifetime. Desmond’s courageous refusal to accept an act of racial discrimination provided inspiration to later generations of Black persons in Nova Scotia and in the rest of Canada. In 2010, Lieutenant-Governor Mayann Francis issued Desmond a free pardon. In December 2016, the Bank of Canada announced that Viola Desmond would be the first Canadian woman to be featured by herself on the face of a banknote — the $10 note released on 19 November 2018. Viola Desmond was named a National Historic Person by the Canadian government in 2018.

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William Peyton Hubbard

William Peyton Hubbard, politician, inventor, baker, coachman (born 27 January 1842 in Toronto, ON; died 30 April 1935 in Toronto). Hubbard was Toronto’s first Black elected official, serving as alderman (1894–1903, 1913) and controller (1898–1908), and as acting mayor periodically. A democratic reformer, he campaigned to make the city’s powerful Board of Control an elected body. Hubbard was also a leading figure in the push for public ownership of hydroelectric power, contributing to the establishment of the Toronto Hydro-Electric System.

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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. As did many other underage and older enlistees at the time, Jones lied about his age when he signed up. Jones was recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal by his commanding officer for his heroic actions during the Battle of Vimy Ridge; however, he did not receive the medal during his lifetime. Thanks to advocacy of Senator Calvin Ruck and members of the Jones family, Jones was awarded the medal in 2010, 60 years after his death.

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Joseph Lewis

Joseph Lewis, alias Levi Johnston, also Lewes and Louis, fur trader (born c. 1772–73 in Manchester, New Hampshire; died 1820 in Saskatchewan District). Joseph Lewis was a Black fur trader, originally from the United States, who participated in the fur industry’s early expansion into the Canadian Northwest in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He is one of very few Black people involved in the fur trade whose name was documented in existing texts. Joseph Lewis is further notable for being the first Black person in present-day Saskatchewan, as well as, in all likelihood, Alberta.

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Sleeping Car Porters in Canada

Sleeping car porters were railway employees who attended to passengers aboard sleeping cars. Porters were responsible for passengers’ needs throughout a train trip, including carrying luggage, setting up beds, pressing clothes and shining shoes, and serving food and beverages, among other services. The vast majority of sleeping car porters were Black men and the position was one of only a few job opportunities available to Black men in Canada. While the position carried respect and prestige for Black men in their communities, the work demanded long hours for little pay. Porters could be fired suddenly and were often subjected to racist treatment. Black Canadian porters formed the first Black railway union in North America (1917) and became members of the larger Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1939. Both unions combatted racism and the many challenges that porters experienced on the job.