Search for "Black History Month"

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Black History in Canada: 1900–1960

Black Canadian communities continued to expand through migration despite racist measures implemented against them. Many communities were tied to the rail industry, as many Black Canadians worked as porters. Others worked in important sectors like mining and farming. Communities bonded together through many associations that advocated for their rights, such as unions and the Universal Negro Improvement Association of Canada (UNIA). Despite the hostility, Black Canadians contributed to Canada’s victory in both World Wars. Famous Black musicians like Oscar Peterson also brought international fame and prestige to Canada’s music scene. The Black community helped redefine Canada’s post-war image, as the country became the proving ground for racial integration in professional sports. This heralded the landscape of sports and entertainment that we see today.

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

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Racial Segregation of Black People in Canada

Racial segregation is the separation of people, or groups of people, based on race in everyday life. Throughout Canada’s history, there have been many examples of Black people being segregated, excluded from, or denied equal access to opportunities and services such as education, employment, housing, transportation, immigration, health care and commercial establishments. The racial segregation of Black people in Canada was historically enforced through laws, court decisions and social norms.

See also Anti-Black Racism in Canada.

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Peter Martin

Peter Martin, loyalist, soldier (born c. 1753; died before 1816). Martin was one of at least twenty noted Black Loyalists who relocated to Upper Canada after the American Revolution and was one of many Black inhabitants in Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario). (See also Black Loyalists in British North America.) Martin was instrumental in reporting the Chloe Cooley incident to the Executive Council of Upper Canada, which influenced the creation of the 1793 Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada.

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Chloe Cooley

Chloe Cooley was one of hundreds of Black women enslaved in the French and British colonies that became Canada. Although little is known about Chloe Cooley, who was enslaved in Upper Canada, her struggles against her enslaver, Sergeant Adam Vrooman, precipitated the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada of 1793. The Act was the first legislation in the British colonies to restrict the slave trade. (See also Black Enslavement in Canada.)

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

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John Ware

John Ware, cowboy, rancher (born circa 1845–50 in the United States; died 11 September 1905 near Brooks, AB). John Ware is legendary in the history of Alberta for his strength, skilled farming techniques and skilled horsemanship. Born enslaved, he became a successful rancher who settled his first ranch near Millarville (near Calgary, Alberta) and his second ranch near Brooks, Alberta. Despite widespread anti-Black racism and discrimination, he was widely admired as one of the best ranchers and cowboys in the West. (See also Black Canadians.)

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

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Heritage Minutes

The Heritage Minutes collection is a bilingual series of history-focused public service announcements. Each 60-second short film depicts a significant person, event or story in Canadian history. They are produced by Historica Canada, the not-for-profit organization that also publishes this encyclopedia. First released in 1991, the Heritage Minutes have been shown on television, in cinemas and online. They have become a recognizable part of Canadian culture. The collection currently includes 99 episodes.

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Black History Month in Canada

Black History Month (BHM) is a month dedicated to discussing and learning about Black people. It is set in February. Black History Month is in appreciation of Black culture and arts. There is also an emphasis on history, especially local Black history. The month seeks to highlight Black people’s historical contributions to society.

See Black History in Canada until 1900; Black History in Canada: 1900–1960; Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present.

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Ray Lewis

Raymond Gray (“Rapid Ray”) Lewis, CM, sprinter (born 8 October 1910 in Hamilton, ON; died 14 November 2003 in Hamilton, ON). Ray Lewis was the first Canadian-born Black athlete to earn an Olympic medal. He won a bronze medal in the 4 x 400 m relay at the 1932 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles. He was also part of the Canadian team that won the silver medal in the 4 x 400 m event at the 1934 British Empire Games in London, England. Lewis was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2000.

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Black Enslavement in Canada

In early Canada, the enslavement of African peoples was a legal instrument that helped fuel colonial economic enterprise. The buying, selling and enslavement of Black people was practiced by European traders and 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, settlers in what would eventually become Canada were involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Canada is further linked to the institution of enslavement through its history of international trade. Products such as salted cod and timber were exchanged for slave-produced goods such as rum, molasses, tobacco and sugar from slaveholding colonies in the Caribbean.

This is the full-length entry about Black enslavement in Canada. For a plain language summary, please see Black Enslavement in Canada (Plain Language Summary).

(See also Olivier Le Jeune; Sir David Kirke; Chloe Cooley and the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada; Underground Railroad; Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; Slavery Abolition Act, 1833; Slavery of Indigenous People in Canada.)

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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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Portia White

Portia May White, contralto, teacher (born 24 June 1911 in Truro, NS; died 13 February 1968 in Toronto, ON). Portia White was the first Black Canadian concert singer to win international acclaim. She was considered one of the best classical singers of the 20th century. Her voice was described by one critic as “a gift from heaven.” She was often compared to the celebrated African American contralto Marian Anderson. The Nova Scotia Talent Trust was established in 1944 specifically to enable White to concentrate on her professional career. She was named a “person of national historic significance” by the Government of Canada in 1995.

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Herb Carnegie

Herbert H. Carnegie, CM, O Ont, hockey player, philanthropist (born 8 November 1919 in Toronto, ON; died 9 March 2012 in Toronto). Arguably the first Black Canadian hockey star, Herb Carnegie is widely regarded as the best Black player never to play in the National Hockey League (NHL). Carnegie played in the 1940s and 1950s, mostly in the Quebec and Ontario Junior A and senior leagues. He was a member of the Black Aces, the first all-Black line in hockey outside the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes. Following his retirement from hockey in 1954, he established the Herbert H. Carnegie Future Aces Foundation. He was also an accomplished senior golfer. He was made a Member of the Order of Canada and has been inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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Colored Hockey League

The Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes (CHL) was an all-Black men’s hockey league. It was organized by Black Baptists and Black intellectuals and was founded in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1895. It was defunct during and after the First World War, reformed in 1921 and then fell apart during the Depression in the 1930s. Play was known to be fast, physical and innovative. The league was designed to attract young Black men to Sunday worship with the promise of a hockey game between rival churches after the services. Later, with the influence of the Black Nationalism Movement — and with rising interest in the sport of hockey — the league came to be seen as a potential driving force for the equality of Black Canadians. Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp in honour of the league in January 2020.