Notable Black CanadiansFeb 17, 2021 - By Sue McCarthy
The Hunt Club Community Association wishes to help you celebrate Black History Month by recognizing the accomplishments and legacies of notable Black Canadians. Canada’s theme for Black History Month in 2021 is “The Future is Now’, a chance to celebrate the transformative work that Black Canadians and their communities are doing now.
Members of our Hunt Club community have compiled a list of several notable black Canadians. These individuals have helped contribute to the movement and progress of equal rights, or have inspired many others, through their accomplishments or expression. Below you will find a quick summary of each person, but we encourage you to click the links and explore their lives even further. Their struggles and experiences are the stories that inspire, and help create a better understanding as we move forward.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary: 1823–1893
Mary Ann Shadd Cary (October 9, 1823 – June 5, 1893) was an American-Canadian anti-slavery activist, journalist, publisher, teacher, and lawyer. She was the first black woman publisher in North America and the first woman publisher in Canada. Shadd Cary edited The Provincial Freeman, established in 1853. Published weekly in southern Ontario, it advocated equality, integration and self-education for black people in Canada and the United States. Read more (wikipedia.org)
Anderson Ruffin Abbott: 1837-1913
Anderson Ruffin Abbott, doctor, surgeon (born 7 April 1837 in Toronto, Upper Canada; died 29 December 1913 in Toronto, ON). Abbott was the first Canadian-born Black person to graduate from medical school. He served the Union army as a civilian surgeon during the American Civil War. Read more (thecanadianencyclopedia.ca)
Elijah McCoy: 1844-1929
Born in Colchester, Ontario, to parents who had escaped from slavery in Kentucky and arrived in Canada via the Underground Railroad, Elijah McCoy showed an early interest in machines and tools and an aptitude for mechanics. At a time when it was difficult for Black people to obtain training in the United States, his parents sent him to Edinburgh, Scotland to study mechanical engineering. Read more (canadianencyclopedia.ca)
Delos Davis: 1846-1915
Delos Rogest Davis, KC, teacher and lawyer (born 4 August 1846 in Maryland, died 13 April 1915 in Anderdon Township, ON). Davis was the second Black lawyer in Canada and the first Black person appointed to the King’s Counsel in all of the British Empire.
Delos Davis was born to enslaved African parents in Maryland. In 1850, his family escaped to Canada by way of the Underground Railroad and settled in Colchester Township, near Windsor, Ontario. Read more (canadianencyclopedia.ca)
Albert Jackson: 1857–1918
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. Read more (canadianencyclopedia.ca)
Carrie Best: 1903-2001
Poet, writer, journalist and activist. Founded The Clarion, the province’s first black-owned and published newspaper in Nova Scotia in 1946. In 1952 she began hosting The Quiet Corner radio program. Carrie was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1979. Read more (thecanadianencyclopedia.ca)
Portia White: 1911-1968
Truro, Nova Scotia
Portia White embarked on her stellar singing career at her father’s Baptist Church in Halifax. Before she began singing professionally, she supported her musical career by teaching in rural Back schools in Halifax County, and eventually made her professional debut in Toronto. Soon afterwards, she performed in New York City to rave reviews.
Portia White went on to international success, performing more than 100 concerts, including a command performance before Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Read more (canada.ca)
Viola Desmond: 1914-1965
Canadian businesswoman of Black Nova Scotian descent. In 1946 she challenged racial segregation at a cinema in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia by refusing to leave a whites-only area of the Roseland Theatre. Read more (thecanadianencyclopedia.ca)
Related Article: Song for Viola Desmond
Kathleen Kay Livingstone: 1919-1975
Kathleen “Kay” Livingstone (1918-1975) was born in London, Ontario, in 1918. Her parents, James and Christina Jenkins founded the Dawn of Tomorrow, a pioneering publication for Canada’s Black community in 1921. From a young age, she was interested in the performing arts, studying music in Toronto and Ottawa. Read more (canada.ca)
Lincoln Alexander: 1922-2012
The Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander was born in 1922 in Toronto. He served with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, between 1942 and 1945. He was educated at Hamilton’s McMaster University where he graduated in Arts, and Toronto’s Osgoode Hall School of Law where he passed the bar examination in 1965. Mr. Alexander was appointed a Queen’s Counsel and became a partner in a Hamilton law firm from 1963 to 1979. He was the first Black person to become a Member of Parliament in 1968 and served in the House of Commons until 1980. He was also federal Minister of Labour in 1979–1980. Read more (canada.ca)
Oscar Peterson: 1925-2007
Oscar Emmanuel Peterson, CC, CQ, OOnt, jazz pianist, composer, educator (born 15 August 1925 in Montréal, QC; died 23 December 2007 in Mississauga, ON). Oscar Peterson is one of Canada’s most honoured musicians. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. He was renowned for his remarkable speed and dexterity, meticulous and ornate technique, and dazzling, swinging style. Read more (thecanadianencyclopedia.ca)
Rosemary Brown: 1930-2003
Rosemary Brown came to Canada from her native Jamaica in 1950 to attend McGill University in Montreal. First elected to the British Columbia legislature in 1972, she served until her retirement in 1986. She also ran for the leadership of the federal New Democratic Party in 1974. Read more (canada.ca)
Zanana Lorraine Akande
Zanana Lorraine Akande (born c. 1937) is a former politician in Ontario, Canada. She was a New Democratic member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario from 1990 to 1994 who represented the downtown Toronto riding of St. Andrew—St. Patrick. She served as a cabinet minister in the government of Bob Rae. She was the first woman from the African Diaspora elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and the first woman from the African Diaspora to serve as a cabinet minister in Canada. Read more (wikipedia.org)
The Honorable Jean Augustine
Jean Augustine (1937) is a trailblazing politician, social activist, and educator. She was the first African-Canadian woman to be elected to the House of Commons, the first African-Canadian woman to be appointed to the federal Cabinet, and the first Fairness Commissioner of the Government of Ontario. Read More (canada.ca)
The Right Honorable Michaëlle Jean
Michaëlle Jean (French pronunciation: [mika.ɛl ʒɑ̃]; born September 6, 1957) is a Canadian stateswoman and former journalist who served as Governor General of Canada from 2005 to 2010, the 27th since Canadian Confederation. She is the first Haitian Canadian to hold this office.
Jean was the third secretary-general of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie from 2015 until 2019. She was the first woman to hold the position and held the position until the end of 2018. Read more (canada.ca)
First Black Chief of Police in Canada
Devon Clunis moved to Winnipeg from Jamaica at age 12. Wanting to make a difference, he joined the Winnipeg Police Service in 1987, where he has performed all manner of duties over the course of 25 years, including: patrols, traffic duty, investigations and community relations.
In November 2012, Clunis was sworn in as Chief of Police of the Winnipeg Police Service, becoming the first Black Canadian to hold the position.
Read a speech delivered by Devon Clunis, Chief of the Winnipeg Police Service, at the Black History Month 2013 launch reception. Read more (canada.ca)
Janaya Khan is a social activist from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Khan is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto as well as an international ambassador for the Black Lives Matter Network. Khan identifies as black, queer, and gender-nonconforming. Much of their work analyzes intersectional topics including the Black Lives Matter movement, queer theory, Black feminism, and organized protest strategies. Read more (wikipedia.org)
Pernell-Karl Sylvester “P. K.” Subban MSC (/ˈsubæn/ SOO-ban; born May 13, 1989) is a Canadian professional ice hockey defenceman for the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League (NHL). Subban was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round, 43rd overall, of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. In 2013, he won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenceman, and tied with Kris Letang as the leading scorer among defencemen. In the summer of 2014, he signed an eight-year, $72 million contract with the Canadiens, running through the 2021–22 season. After the 2015–16 season, Subban was traded to the Nashville Predators, where he spent three seasons before being traded to New Jersey in 2019. Read more (wikipedia.org)
Jully Black, born Jully Ann Inderia Gordon, is a singer, songwriter, actress, and TV personality. Known as Canada’s Queen of R&B, she is a Juno Award-winner and in 2013 CBC Music named her one of the “25 Greatest Canadian Singers Ever.” Read more (wikipedia.org)
Measha Brueggergosman is a Canadian Soprano born June 28, 1977 in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Brueggergosman began singing in the choir of her local Bapitist church, later taking lessons from Mabel Doak and spent summer scholarships at the Boston Conservatory. She got her Bachelors of Music at the University of Toronto in 1999, and a Master of Music at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf, Germany.
She debuted at age 20 by playing a signature lead role in the opera Beatrice Chancy by James Rolfe. The opera portrayed the tale of an enslaved girl in 19th century rural Nova Scotia who murdered her abusive father and master.
Soon after, she won several prestigious competitions, including the Grand Prize at the 2002 Jeunesses Musicales Montreal International Competition and her career rose considerably. She appeared all across Canada and internationally, singing for Queen Elizabeth II (2002), in the US at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall (2001), and in London at Royal Albert Hall (2003). She was one of the soloists featured in the 2005 Naxos recording of the multiple Grammy winning William Bolcom: Songs of Innocence and Experience. Additionally, she won a Juno Award in 2008 for the album Surprise. Today, Brueggergosman is recognized as one of the top sopranos in North America. Read more (canada.ca)