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Cowboys and Cowgirls in Canada

Cowboys and cowgirls are people employed to tend cattle or horses. The first cowboys to work on the Canadian prairies arrived in the 1870s. The traditional cowboy lifestyle has since given way to a more contained, corporate model of ranching. But the romanticized image of the cowboy on the “open range” lives on as a symbol of the prairies. Today, the terms cowboy and cowgirl can refer to ranch workers or rodeo competitors.

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Delos Davis

Delos Rogest Davis, KC, teacher and lawyer (born 4 August 1846 in Maryland, died 13 April 1915 in Anderdon Township, ON). Davis was the third Black lawyer in Canada and the first Black person appointed to the King’s Counsel in all of the British Empire.

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Jackie Robinson and the Montreal Royals (1946)

On 15 April 1947, Jackie Robinson played in his debut game with the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play in the major leagues in the modern era. Prior to that point, professional baseball in the United States was segregated, with African Americans playing in the Negro leagues. When Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s colour barrier in 1947, he entered American history books. What many baseball fans may not realize, however, is that Robinson was embraced by Canadian fans one year earlier as a member of the Montreal Royals, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

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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.

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Sir David Kirke

Sir David Kirke, trader and privateer, first governor of Newfoundland (born at Dieppe, France c1597; died near London, England 1654). Kirke, with Sir William Alexander, Earl of Stirling, formed the Company of Adventurers, which was granted patents by King Charles I. It gave them the right to trade and settle in Canada. Kirke was the owner of the first recorded Black chattel-slave in New France, Olivier Le Jeune

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Maestro Fresh Wes

Wesley Williams (a.k.a. Maestro Fresh Wes, Maestro), rapper, actor, author, motivational speaker (born 31 March 1968 in Toronto, ON). A pioneering hip-hop recording artist, Maestro Fresh Wes is often regarded as the “godfather of Canadian hip hop.” His debut album, Symphony in Effect (1989), was the first album by a Black Canadian artist to be certified platinum in Canada. It yielded the hit single “Let Your Backbone Slide,” one of the most successful and influential Canadian songs of all time. In 2019, it became the first rap song to be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. Maestro has been nominated for 13 Juno Awards and won two, including the inaugural award for Rap Recording of the Year in 1991. He was named No. 1 on CBC Music’s 2013 list of the greatest Canadian rappers. He has become a successful actor, author and motivational speaker while remaining a prominent figure in Canadian hip hop.

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Tatiana Maslany

Tatiana Gabrielle Maslany, actor (born 22 September 1985 in Regina, Saskatchewan). Versatile film and television actor Tatiana Maslany is perhaps best known for her multiple performances as various clones in the hit sci-fi series Orphan Black (2013–17). In 2016, she became the first Canadian actor to win a Primetime Emmy Award for a Canadian television series. She has also won five Canadian Screen Awards, two Gemini Awards, two ACTRA Awards and numerous other honours.

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Dionne Brand

Dionne Brand, CM, FRSC, poet, writer, filmmaker, educator, activist (born 7 January 1953 in Guayaguayare, Trinidad). Dionne Brand is one of Canada’s most accomplished poets. She is known for her experimental poetry, which challenges assumptions of gender identity, sexuality and race. She has published books, contributed to anthologies, and directed and edited several documentaries for the National Film Board. She has also held various positions teaching literature, creative writing and women’s studies at universities across Canada and the United States. Winner of the Governor General’s Award and the Griffin Poetry Prize, and a former poet laureate of Toronto, Brand was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2017 for her contributions to Canadian literature.

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Jarome Iginla

​Jarome Iginla, hockey player (born 1 July 1977 in Edmonton, AB). Jarome Iginla played 20 seasons in the National Hockey League, including 16 with the Calgary Flames. He is the all-time leader for the Calgary Flames in games played (1219), goals (525) and points (1095).

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Rose Fortune

Rose Fortune, entrepreneur (born 1774 at Virginia; died 20 February 1864 at Nova Scotia). Rose Fortune, a Black Loyalist originally from the US, is best-known for her talent as a businesswoman at a time when neither women nor Black persons were encouraged to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities (see Black Canadians) and when the feminist movement in Canada was decades away. Born during the American Revolution to enslaved persons, Fortune emigrated to Canada at age ten. Her family settled in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, a popular destination for black Loyalists.

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Charles Lightfoot Roman

Charles Lightfoot Roman, MD, CM, surgeon, author, researcher, lecturer (born 19 May 1889 in Port Elgin, ON; died 8 June 1961 in Valleyfield, QC). Charles Lightfoot Roman was one of the first Black Canadians to graduate from McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine and became a recognized expert in industrial medicine. He was also one of the first Black Canadians to enlist for service in the First World War and was the only known Black person to serve with the Canadian General Hospital No. 3 (McGill). Lightfoot Roman was also likely the first Black Grand Master of a traditional Masonic lodge.

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John Black Aird

John Black Aird, lawyer, senator, corporate director and lieutenant governor (b at Toronto 5 May 1923; d there 6 May 1995). Following graduation from Osgoode Hall Law School, Aird joined a Toronto law firm which currently bears his name.

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Dan Hill

Daniel Grafton Hill IV, singer, songwriter, guitarist, writer (born 3 June 1954 in Toronto, ON). Dan Hill is a successful adult contemporary singer and songwriter. Known for his plaintive voice and unabashedly sentimental lyrics, he achieved international stardom at age 23 with the hit single “Sometimes When We Touch.” In addition to his solo work, Hill has enjoyed a long career as a pop and country songwriter. He has amassed over 100 million in sales for his songs, which have been recorded by such artists as Céline Dion, Britney Spears, Alan Jackson and Reba McEntire. Hill has won five Juno Awards, a Grammy Award, five SOCAN Awards for outstanding radio airplay in Canada, and six ASCAP Awards for airplay in the United States. He was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2021.

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Leonard Braithwaite

​Leonard Austin Braithwaite, CM, OOnt, QC, lawyer, politician (born 23 October 1923 in Toronto, ON; died 28 March 2012 in Toronto). Braithwaite was the first Black Canadian elected to a provincial legislature. He served as a Liberal member of the Ontario Legislature from 1963 to 1975.

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Bobby Hull

Hull won the Art Ross Trophy 3 times, the Hart Trophy twice and the Lady Byng Trophy once, scoring 610 goals and 1170 points in 15 NHL seasons. In 1972 he accepted $1 million to jump from the NHL to the Winnipeg Jets, giving immediate credibility to the fledgling World Hockey Association.