During Black History Month Canada, people in Canada celebrate the many achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and their communities who, throughout history, have played major roles in making Canada the culturally diverse, compassionate, and prosperous nation that it is today.
Black History Month in Canada
Since Mathieu Da Costa, a navigator and interpreter whose presence in Canada dates back to the early 1600s, black people have played an important role in shaping Canada’s heritage and identity.
There has not always been a celebration of black history in Canada. There is little mention that some of the Loyalists who came here after the American Revolution and settled in the Maritimes were people of African descent, or of the many sacrifices made in wartime by soldiers of African descent as far back as the War of 1812.
There are many Canadians who are unaware that Black people were once enslaved in the territory that is now Canada or how those who fought enslavement helped to lay the foundation for a diverse and inclusive society in Canada.
During Black History Month, we celebrate the contributions that Black people have made to society in all fields. We are celebrating resilience, innovation, and determination to create a more inclusive and diverse Canada — a country where everyone can thrive.
Recognizing Black History Month in Canada
It was founded in 1978 that the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) was formed. Dr. Daniel G. Hill and Wilson O. Brooks, among its founders, formally proposed the designation of February as Black History Month to the City of Toronto. In 1979, the first-ever Canadian proclamation was issued by Toronto.
In Nova Scotia, Black History Month was observed for the first time in 1988, and then renamed African Heritage Month in 1996.
The OBHS petitioned to proclaim February as Black History Month in Ontario in 1993. Following that success, Rosemary Sadlier, president of the OBHS, introduced the idea of having Black History Month recognized across Canada to the Honourable Jean Augustine, the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament.
The House of Commons recognized Black History Month in Canada in 1995 through a motion introduced by Dr. Augustine. This motion was passed unanimously by the House of Commons.
Senator Donald Oliver, the first African-American elected to the Senate, proposed the Motion to Recognize the Contributions of Black Canadians and February as Black History Month in February 2008. It was unanimously approved and adopted on March 4, 2008. As a result of the adoption of this motion, the parliamentary position of Canada on Black History Month is complete.
The history of Black History Month dates back to 1926 in the United States. At that time, an African-American historian named Carter G. Woodson founded a week that focused on celebrating the accomplishments of African Americans.
He decided on a week in February because two important men were born in that month.
Frederick Douglass (left) was an antislavery activist and Abraham Lincoln (right) served as the 16th president of the United States. (Wikimedia)
The first was Frederick Douglass, a former slave in the 1800s who spoke out for the freedom of slaves, as well as equal rights for women.
And the second was Abraham Lincoln. As the 16th president of the United States, Lincoln fought for the freedom of all slaves throughout the country.
While Woodson’s idea began as a one-week celebration, it eventually became a month-long event called Black Heritage Month in the United States in 1976.
And, in 1995, Canada’s government officially recognized February as Black History Month.
How can you take part?
Black History Month in Canada is marked by a number of events, including concerts, performances, and activities for kids and adults. Find out what’s going on in your community by visiting your local library or school.