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Alfonso Gagliano

Alfonso Gagliano, politician (born 1942 in Italy; died 12 December 2020). Alfonso Gagliano was the Member of Parliament for the Montreal neighbourhood of Saint-Leonard from 1984 until 2002. Following the 1997 election, he served as Minister of Public Works and Government Services in the cabinet of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. He was also chair of the electoral commission of the Liberal Party in Quebec. Gagliano resigned from cabinet and the House of Commons to accept a position as ambassador to Denmark. He was fired by Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2004 for his role in the sponsorship scandal.

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Annamie Paul

Annamie Paul, leader of the Green Party of Canada 2020–present, lawyer, activist (born 3 November 1972 in Toronto ON). Annamie Paul has worked as an advisor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and with various international organizations devoted to preserving human rights and fighting climate change. In 2020, she was elected as the leader of the Green Party of Canada. She became the first Black Canadian and the first Jewish woman to be elected as leader of a major federal political party in Canada.

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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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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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Black History in Canada until 1900

Black people have lived in Canada since the beginnings of transatlantic settlement. Although historically very few arrived directly from their ancestral homeland in Africa, the term "African Canadian" is used to identify all descendants of Africa regardless of their place of birth. “Black Canadian” is also used as a more general term. The earliest arrivals were enslaved people brought from New England or the West Indies. Between 1763 and 1900, most Black migrants to Canada were fleeing enslavement in the US. (See also Black Enslavement in Canada.)

See also Black History in Canada: 1900–1960 and Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present.

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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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Thomas D'Arcy McGee

Thomas D’Arcy McGee, journalist, politician, poet (born 13 April 1825 in Carlingford, County Louth, Republic of Ireland; died 7 April 1868 in Ottawa, ON). Thomas D’Arcy McGee was dedicated to the cause of Irish national liberation. This pushed him towards revolutionary anti-British doctrine in his early years. However, he matured to become a staunch defender of British constitutional monarchy and a Father of Confederation. He was an advocate for minority rights at a time when the politics of ethnic and religious identity were intensely fraught. He was an incredibly eloquent public speaker and a passionate advocate for Canadian interests. However, his political transformation ultimately damaged his popularity with Irish nationalists, particularly the Fenians. He was assassinated in 1868.

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Palbinder Kaur Shergill

Palbinder Kaur Shergill, QC, judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in New Westminster (born in Rurka Kalan, Punjab, India). Shergill spent 26 years practising law before she was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. She was the first turbaned Sikh woman to be appointed as a judge in Canada.

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Leo Kolber

Ernest Leo Kolber, OC, businessman, philanthropist, senator (born 18 January 1929 in Montreal, QC; died 9 January 2020 in Montreal). Leo Kolber was a pillar of Canada’s business, political and philanthropic communities for more than 50 years. He was perhaps best known as a long-time advisor to the Bronfman family. Kolber also ran the successful real estate firm Cadillac Fairview Corporation, as well as holding companies that administered the Bronfman family trust. He served in the Senate of Canada from 1983 to 2004, most notably as chairman of the Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce. He was also the Liberal Party’s chief fundraiser for many years and chair of the Advisory Council on National Security from 2005 to 2007. An Officer of the Order of Canada, he was recognized for his many charitable and philanthropic contributions.

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Fred Christie Case (Christie v York)

The Fred Christie Case (Christie v York, 1939) is a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that allowed private businesses to discriminate on the basis of freedom of commerce. In July 1936, Fred Christie and two friends went to the York Tavern attached to the Montreal Forum to have a beer. The staff refused to serve them because Christie was Black. Christie sued, eventually bringing his case to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the York Tavern was within its rights to refuse to serve people on the basis of race. The case reveals an era of legalized racism, while its facts hide the subtle ways that racism operated in early 20th-century Canada.

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Douglas Jung

Douglas Jung, CM, OBC, politician, lawyer, soldier (born 25 February 1924 in Victoria, BC; died 4 January 2002 in Vancouver, BC). Douglas Jung was a member of Force 136, a group of Chinese Canadian soldiers who fought behind enemy lines in the Pacific theatre during the Second World War. After the war, Jung became a lawyer in British Columbia and was the first Chinese Canadian lawyer to appear before the BC Court of Appeal in 1955. On 10 June 1957, Douglas Jung was elected as the first Chinese Canadian member of Parliament.

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Bessie Starkman

Besha (Bessie) Starkman (Perri), organized crime boss (born 14 April 1889 or 21 June 1890 in Poland; died 13 August 1930 in Hamilton, ON). During the Prohibition era she became known as Canada’s first high-profile female crime boss. With her common-law spouse, mobster Rocco Perri, she ran a bootlegging and drug-smuggling enterprise. Starkman was gunned down in the garage of her home and her murderers were never caught. Her funeral was one of the largest ever seen in Hamilton.

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Donald Oliver

Donald H. Oliver, QC, CM, ONS, senator 1990–2013, lawyer, businessman (born 16 November 1938 in WolfvilleNS). Halifax lawyer Donald Oliver has been involved as a senior official in the Progressive Conservative Party since 1972. In 1990, he became the second Black Canadian and the first Black Canadian man to be appointed to the Senate of Canada. Oliver served as a senator until 2013. He is a Member of both the Order of Canada and the Order of Nova Scotia.

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Masumi Mitsui

Masumi Mitsui, MM, farmer, soldier, Canadian Legion official (born 7 October 1887 in Tokyo, Japan; died 22 April 1987 in Hamilton, ON). Masumi Mitsui immigrated to Canada in 1908 and served with distinction in the First World War. In 1931, he and his comrades persuaded the BC government to grant Japanese Canadian veterans the right to vote, a breakthrough for Japanese and other disenfranchised Canadians. Nevertheless, Matsui and more than 22,000 Japanese Canadians were displaced, detained and dispossessed by the federal government during the Second World War (see Internment of Japanese Canadians).

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James McGill

James McGill, fur trader, merchant, politician, philanthropist (born 6 October 1744 in Glasgow, Scotland; died 19 December 1813 in Montreal, Lower Canada). James McGill was one of Montreal’s most prominent citizens in the 18th and early 19th centuries. He grew a successful career as a fur trader into a business empire. McGill also held various positions in public office, including three terms in Lower Canada’s legislature. His will contained the endowment for McGill University. James McGill’s achievements cannot be separated from the fact that he enslaved Black and Indigenous people and profited from this practice.

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Vivienne Poy

Vivienne May Poy (née Lee), fashion designer, author, philanthropist, entrepreneur, senator (born 15 May 1941 in Hong Kong). Vivienne Poy is a fashion designer who founded Vivienne Poy Mode in 1981. In 1998, she became the first Canadian of Asian descent to be appointed to the Senate. She is an accomplished author and publisher of histories and biographies. She was also governor of McGill University and chancellor of the University of Toronto, and played a key role in founding Asian Heritage Month in Canada.

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George Brown

George Brown, journalist, politician, senator, cattle breeder (born 29 November 1818 in Alloa, Scotland; died 9 May 1880 in Toronto, ON). George Brown played an instrumental role in Confederation. A Reformer who helped bring responsible government to Upper Canada, he orchestrated the great coalition of 1864, which pushed British North America toward Confederation. He participated in the Charlottetown Conference and the Quebec Conference in 1864 and is considered a Father of Confederation. Brown’s journalistic legacy is also significant. His Globe newspaper ushered in the beginning of Canada’s big newspaper business. The widely read Globe was a vigorous force in Upper Canada politics in the 1850s. Today, it is Canada’s major daily newspaper, the Globe and Mail.