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Caribbean music is an important component of musical life in Canada on two grounds: firstly, significant numbers of Caribbean peoples have immigrated to Canada, particularly beginning in the 1960s, and have continued the musical traditions of their homelands in the new environment; and secondly as early as the 1920s successive styles of Caribbean-derived music began to form part of the fabric of Euro-American pop music and thus part of the musical experience of many Canadians over the years.
Though Queen Elizabeth II has appeared on the $20 bill since she was eight years old, identifiable Canadian women have only appeared on a Canadian banknote once. In 2004, the statue of the Famous Five from Parliament Hill and Olympic Plaza in Calgary, and the medal for the Thérèse Casgrain Volunteer Award were featured on the back of the $50 note. They were the first Canadian women to appear on our currency. However, in 2011, they were replaced by an icebreaker named for a man (see Roald Amundsen). The new bill was part of a series of notes meant to highlight technical innovation and achievement, but the change sparked controversy. Other than the image of a nameless female scientist on the $100 note issued in 2011, and two female Canadian Forces officers and a young girl on the $10 bill issued in 2001, Canadian women were absent from Canadian bills.
On 8 March 2016, International Women’s Day, the Bank of Canada launched a public consultation to choose an iconic Canadian woman who would be featured on a banknote, released in the next series of bills in 2018. More than 26,000 submissions poured in. Of those, 461 names met the qualifying criteria, and the list was pared down to a long list of 12 and finally a short list of five. The final selection will be announced on 8 December 2016.
But how did we get here?
Alfred Schmitz Shadd, educator, physician, farmer, politician, pharmacist, editor, civic leader (born 1870 in Raleigh Township, Kent County, ON; died 1915 in Winnipeg, MB).
Mabel Adeline (Addie) Aylestock, minister of the British Methodist Episcopal Church (born 8 September 1909 in Glen Allan, ON; died 25 July 1998 in Toronto, ON). The first Black woman to be ordained in Canada, Aylestock helped organize congregations in several communities in Ontario, as well as in Québec (Montréal) and Nova Scotia (Africville and Halifax).
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.
Vancouver’s “Citizen of the Century” was a portly Barbadian-born barman named Joe Fortes. Living in a small cottage near the bandstand in Alexandra Park, Fortes was the first official lifeguard at English Bay beach. He taught hundreds of Vancouverites how to swim.
Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, politician, judge, diplomat, banker, entrepreneur (born 17 April 1823 in Philadelphia, PA; died 11 July 1915, in Little Rock, AR). Gibbs was a notable figure in both American and Canadian history. In just over a decade in colonial British Columbia, he prospered in business, advocated for the Black community, served as an elected official and helped guide British Columbia into Confederation. Gibbs was the first Black person elected to public office in what is now British Columbia.
The Coloured Corps (also known as Runchey's Company of Coloured Men, or Black Corps) was a militia company of Black men raised during the War of 1812.
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.
Afua (Ava Pamela) Cooper, educator, historian, performance artist, poet (born 8 November 1957 in the Whithorn district of Westmoreland, Jamaica), is considered one of the most influential and pioneering voices in the Canadian dub poetry and spoken word movement. Her poems are published in numerous regional, national and international journals and anthologies. Afua Cooper also has CDs of her performances that make her work well known to the global community. In addition to her renown as a performance artist, she is an internationally-ranked historian. She has taught Caribbean cultural studies, history, women's studies and Black studies at Ryerson and York universities, at the University of Toronto and at Dalhousie University.
As we mark Black History Month in Canada in February, it’s worth reflecting on the legacy of Canada’s Black communities and the prejudice Black people have faced.
Prior to 1960, black Africans comprised a very small, scattered and almost unknown group of newcomers to Canada, although Africans of European and Asian ancestry had a clearer presence. According to the 2016 census, 1,067,925 Canadians reported being of African origin (682,570 single and 385,355 multiple responses). Of that number, 230, 110 people reported Central and West African origins; 355, 040 reported North African origins; 260, 145 reported Southern and East African origins and; 239, 560 reported other African origins.
Leonard Braithwaite served with the Canadian Air Force as a Safety Equipment Operator from 1943 to 1946. However, he was rejected multiple times at a Toronto recruiting station because he was Black. Read and listen to the story of how Braithwaite overcame adversity and served overseas.
Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.
The history of Black Canadian voting rights is marked by contrasting shifts. Enslaved during the period 1600–1834, Black persons could not vote. Emancipated, they were entitled to the rights, freedoms and privileges enjoyed by British subjects, including the franchise; however, racial discrimination did at times impede Black Canadians’ right to vote. The rights and freedoms of Black women were further restricted by virtue of their sex.
Black communities in Canada represent an array of experiences, below are some that relate to the right to vote.
Jully Ann Inderia Gordon, singer, songwriter, actor, TV personality (born 8 November 1977 in Toronto, ON). Known as “Canada’s Queen of R&B,” Jully Black is an award-winning R&B and soul singer-songwriter. In 2013, CBC Music named her one of the 25 Greatest Canadian Singers Ever. Her rich and soulful alto voice has garnered comparisons to Tina Turner and Amy Winehouse. Her album Revival (2007) was certified gold in Canada and won the Juno Award for R&B/Soul Recording of the Year. She has written songs for Destiny’s Child, Nas, Sean Paul and Missy Elliott, among others, and started her own recording, management and publishing company. Black has appeared on stage in productions of trey anthony’s play Da Kink in My Hair and Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline, or Change. She is also a popular television host and panel guest.
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.
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.
Stanley George Sinclair Grizzle, CM, OOnt, citizenship judge, politician, civil servant, labour union activist (born 18 November 1918 in Toronto, ON; died 12 November 2016 in Toronto, ON). Stanley Grizzle had an illustrious career as a railway porter, soldier, civil servant, citizenship judge and activist for the rights of Black Canadians.
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.