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Black History Month In Canada… Anne C. Cools

Anne C. Cools migrated to Canada from Barbados to Canada as a teen and proceeded to make her mark on her adopted country almost immediately.

Anne C. Cools – Activist and Political Trailblazer

Senator Cools was the first black person to become a Canadian senator, and the first black woman senator in North America. These are just two of the many firsts and other leading roles she has taken on in her life. Continue reading “Black History Month In Canada… Anne C. Cools”

John’s Believe It Or Not… February 12th

* 1835 – First meeting of the Council of Assiniboia held in Fort Garry. * 2002 Milosevic goes on trial for war crimes * 1793 Congress enacts first fugitive slave law * 1924 Rhapsody In Blue – by George Gershwin – performed for first time * 1915 Lorne Greene is born

It’s Monday! Did You Know…

* 1835 – First meeting of the Council of Assiniboia held in Fort Garry.

In 1670 Charles II of England granted a royal charter to the Company of Associates trading into Hudson’s Bay. Instead of the British Monarch governing the territory conferred, the charter gave the Company the rights of governance. There were some restrictions: any laws the Company might devise had to accord with the laws of England (as laid out at the time of the charter); after 1763, capital cases were to be tried in courts in the Canadas (afterward United Canada/ the Province of Canada). Continue reading “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 12th”

Black History Month In Canada… William Neilson Hall

William Neilson Hall – Royal Navy Gunner & Victoria Cross Winner

In February 2010 Canada Post released a stamp to celebrate the remarkable story of William Hall, the first Black to be honored with the Victoria Cross.

William Hall was the son of Jacob and Lucy Hall, former slaves who fled the US and landed in Halifax as refugees of the War of 1812. The Halls eventually moved to Horton Bluff, on the Minas Basin in Nova Scotia, where William and 6 other children were born. Like many Nova Scotians growing up in the age of sail, William chose to go to sea. He was only 15 years old when he joined the crew of a merchant ship. He served for three years in the American Navy and in 1852 joined the British Navy as an able seaman. During the Crimean War, he saw action with a gun crew in the siege of Sevastopol (in present-day Ukraine). Continue reading “Black History Month In Canada… William Neilson Hall”

John’s Believe It Or Not… February 11th

* 1869 – Patrick Whelan Hanged for the Murder of D’Arcy McGee. * 1990 Nelson Mandela released from prison * 1916 Birth control pioneer arrested * 1858 Virgin Mary appears to St. Bernadette * 2012 Pop superstar Whitney Houston dies at age 48

It’s Sunday! Did You Know…

* 1869 – Patrick Whelan Hanged for the Murder of D’Arcy McGee.

Patrick James Whelan, convicted murderer, tailor (born c. 1840 near Dublin, Ireland; died 11 February 1869 in Ottawa, ON). Whelan was arrested for the April 1868 assassination of Member of Parliament and Father of Confederation Thomas D’Arcy McGee. He was convicted in September 1868 and sentenced to death. The authorities suspected that Whelan carried out a Fenian conspiracy to murder McGee and promptly arrested him within 24 hours of the murder; however, it was never fully proved that Whelan was acting as a Fenian sympathizer. Whelan maintained his innocence throughout his trial and until he was hanged publicly in Ottawa in early 1869. There is room for reasonable doubt as to whether Whelan did in fact murder McGee or was simply part of a group of people who did. McGee was the only federal politician to be assassinated, and Whelan one of the last people to be hanged publicly in Canada. Continue reading “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 11th”

Black History Month In Canada… Mifflin Wistar Gibbs

Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, born as a free person in Philadelphia and became a successful entrepreneur, civil rights activist, politician, and a diplomat.

Mifflin Wistar Gibbs – Successful Entrepreneur & Civil Rights Activist in Canada & the USA

Born into a free Black family in Philadelphia, Gibbs joined Frederick Douglass and others in the campaign to abolish slavery in the United States. An apprenticed carpenter, he was also an ambitious businessman. In 1850, Gibbs moved to San Francisco and became one of the city’s most prosperous Black merchants. As social and political restrictions on Black settlers increased in California, he became a leading spokesman for his community, taking a prominent role in civil rights protests. He also helped to found and publish the first Black newspaper in California. Despite his accomplishments, or perhaps because of them, Gibbs soon found himself on the move once more.

Amid an increasingly hostile racial climate, Gibbs helped lead an exodus of approximately 800 Black residents from California who were seeking the protection of British law in Victoria. After arriving in 1858, he returned briefly to California in 1859 to marry Maria Ann Alexander of Kentucky, with whom he would have five children. The couple returned to Vancouver Island where, within a few short years, Gibbs would play an important role in several aspects of the history of the local Black community.

As a politician, businessman, and defender of human rights, Gibbs was the recognized leader of the Black community in Vancouver Island during its early years between 1858 and 1870 and is still a revered historical figure in the Black community of British Columbia.

Through his political abilities, Gibbs made Black residents a force in colonial politics and, when elected to Victoria City Council, became the first Black person to hold public office in British Columbia, revealing a clear vision for the future of the colony within Confederation that was rare in the hurly-burly politics of the day.

He became one of the leading merchants of early Victoria and placed himself on the cutting edge of entrepreneurial activity in British Columbia by investing in resource development and encouraging trade links outside of the area at an early date.
In person and in the press, he acted as a spokesperson for the West Coast’s African Canadian community, encouraging their integration into Vancouver Island society and intervening repeatedly when efforts were made to segregate them in the churches and theatres of Victoria.

Mifflin and Maria Gibbs separated in the late 1860s. Returning to the United States in 1870, Gibbs studied law in Oberlin, Ohio (where his wife Maria had settled, and where four of their five children graduated from Oberlin College). He toured the Reconstruction South and settled in Little Rock, Arkansas, soon becoming the first black elected municipal judge in the United States. His long and sometimes dangerous efforts on behalf of the Republican Party earned him an ambiguous reward: at the age of 74, Republican President William McKinley in 1897 named Gibbs U.S. consul in Tamatave, Madagascar. After four years Gibbs resigned in 1901 at 78 for health reasons. He returned to publish an autobiography, Shadow and Light, in 1902, with an introduction by Booker T. Washington.

Back in Little Rock, Gibbs launched Capital City Savings Bank, became a partner in the Little Rock Electric Light Company, gained control of several pieces of local real estate, and supported various philanthropic causes. He died in Little Rock on July 11, 1915, at the age of 92.

Talk at Mifflin Wistar Gibbs' Plaque Unveiling by Yvonne Shorter Brown
Talk at Mifflin Wistar Gibbs’ Plaque Unveiling by Yvonne Shorter Brown (YouTube)

Today’s Sources:

* CBC News Canada                                                             

* Government of Canada                                                    

* Black Past Remembered & Reclaimed                         

John’s Believe It Or Not… February 10th

* 1763 – France signs the Treaty of Paris and cedes Canada to Britain * 1906 British battleship HMS Dreadnought launches with its revolutionary design * 1962 Soviets exchange American for captured Russian spy
* 1989 Brown elected chairman of the Democratic Party * 1957 Laura Ingalls Wilder – chronicler of American frontier life – dies

It’s Saturday! Did You Know…

* 1763 – France signs the Treaty of Paris and cedes Canada to Britain

The Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years’ War between France, Britain, and Spain. It marked the end of that phase of European conflict in North America and created the basis for the modern country of Canada.
Continue reading “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 10th”

Black History Month In Canada… Rosemary Brown

Rosemary Brown – Social Worker and Political Trailblazer

“To be black and female in a society which is both racist and sexist is to be in the unique position of having nowhere to go but up,” said Rosemary Brown.

A staunch feminist and a socialist, and Canada’s first Black female member of a provincial legislature, Rosemary Brown battled for equality and human rights in her lifetime. Black women have endured discrimination in Canada and much worse — over the course of history.

Rosemary Brown has the distinction of being Canada’s first Black female member of a provincial legislature and the first woman to run for leadership of a federal political party. Brown was born in Jamaica to a politically minded family. She immigrated to Canada in 1951 to pursue post-secondary studies in social work at McGill University (BA) and the University of British Columbia (Masters of Social Work). As a young student, Brown encountered both sexism and racism first-hand when applying for housing or summer jobs, or simply fitting into university life.
Continue reading “Black History Month In Canada… Rosemary Brown”

John’s Believe It Or Not… February 9th

* 1760 – Captain John Byron begins tearing down the fortifications of Louisbourg on orders from British PM William Pitt. * 1825 Presidential election decided in the House * 1950 McCarthy accuses State Department of communist infiltration * 1960 Joanne Woodward earns first star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame * 1942 Normandie burns in New York

It’s Friday! TGIF! Did You Know…

* 1760 – Captain John Byron begins tearing down the fortifications of Louisbourg on orders from British PM William Pitt. 

In the middle of the eighteenth century, the French controlled vast areas of the eastern American continent that stretched from the mouth of the St. Lawrence River across the region of the Great Lakes, down the courses of the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers, as far as the outlet of the latter mighty river into the Gulf of Mexico. French forts along this frontier barred the western expansion of the English colonists. The colonies of the English king, George II, which were confined to the Atlantic coast, greatly outnumbered the colonists of France’s King Louis XV. Continue reading “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 9th”

Black History Month In Canada… Thornton and Lucy Blackburn

Thornton and Lucy Blackburn – Former Slaves & Toronto Entrepreneurs

The Blackburns escaped from slavery in Kentucky and fled to Detroit where they lived until they were discovered and arrested in 1833. Lucy was spirited out of jail the night before she was to be sent back to Kentucky. The next morning, her husband was rescued at the jailhouse door by a huge crowd of both blacks and whites, and together the Blackburns fled across the river to Windsor, Ontario. Again they were put in jail, this time to await extradition. However, Lt. Governor John Colbourne refused to send them back, and they moved to Toronto.

While working as a waiter at Osgoode Hall [law school], Blackburn noted that Toronto lacked public transportation. Using the design of vehicles in use in Montreal and London, England, he ordered the construction of a horse-drawn cab with space to carry four passengers. It was built in Paul Bishop’s workshop located in the building on the northeast corner of Sherbourne and Adelaide streets. Mr. Bishop lived in the house immediately to the south where the building still stands today. The taxi, named The City, and the first of its kind in Toronto, arrived in 1837 heralding the start of a successful business venture that lasted into the 1860s. The red and yellow color treatment that Thornton Blackburn used on his cabs has been retained to this day by the TTC [Toronto Transit Commission].

The Blackburns built a small house at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Sackville Street where they lived for almost 50 years. Thornton died in 1890 leaving his wife with a considerable fortune derived from Toronto’s first taxi business. The foundations of the house that Thornton and his wife lived in, which served as a stop on the Underground Railroad, have been recently found and preserved.

In 1985 archaeologists digging on this site uncovered fascinating clues to Toronto’s history as a terminus of the famous Underground Railroad. From 1834 to 1890 this site had been the home of Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, refugee slaves from Kentucky who started Toronto’s first taxicab company.

Thornton and Lucie Blackburn escaped on July 3, 1831, by taking a steamboat up the Ohio River from Louisville to Cincinnati and then a stagecoach to Michigan. Their recapture in Detroit two years later resulted in the “Blackburn riots of 1833”. Detroit’s Black community staged a dramatic rescue and aided the Blackburns across the border to safety in Canada. Despite two extradition requests by Michigan’s governor, they were allowed to remain free and begin their new lives in Canada.

The Blackburns became well-known members of Toronto’s African Canadian community. They helped to build Little Trinity Anglican Church and contributed to efforts organized to assist other freedom-seekers, both in Toronto and at Buxton in southwestern Ontario. Thornton participated in the “North American Convention of Coloured Freemen” at St. Lawrence Hall in September of 1851 and was an associate of George Brown in anti-slavery activities (note that the Blackburns and Brown are close neighbors in the Necropolis cemetery).

The excavation of the Blackburn’s former home remains the only archaeological dig on an Underground Railroad site ever conducted in Toronto.

In 1999, the Department of Canadian Heritage designated Thornton and Lucie Blackburn “Persons of National Historic Significance” in recognition of their generosity to the less fortunate and their lifelong resistance to slavery and racial oppression.

10 Sackville Street - home of the Blackburns for 50 years.
10 Sackville Street – home of the Blackburns for 50 years.

Today’s Sources:

* Cabbagetown People                                                                  

(Note: Cabbagetown is a neighborhood in central Toronto.)

* CBC News Canada                                                   

John’s Believe It Or Not… February 8th

* 1944 – Tommy Prince poses as an Italian farmer to fool Germans while fixing com lines. * 1943 Americans secure Guadalcanal. * 1587 Mary Queen of Scots beheaded. * 1915 Birth of a Nation opens. * 1990 Del Shannon dies of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

It’s Thursday! Did You Know…

* 1944 – Tommy Prince poses as an Italian farmer to fool Germans while fixing com lines.

Canadians are typically seen as some of the most peaceful and non-confrontational people on the planet. But under this layer of politeness and goodwill, Canada has produced some of the fiercest and bravest soldiers the world has ever seen. Continue reading “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 8th”