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”

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                                                   

Black History Month in Canada… Viola Davis Desmond

Viola Davis Desmond took a courageous stand against racial discrimination in Nova Scotia in 1946.

Viola Davis Desmond’s Stand Against Racial Discrimination

Viola Irene Desmond (née Davis), businesswoman, civil libertarian (born 6 July 1914 in Halifax, NS; died 7 February 1965 in New York, NY). Viola Desmond built a career and business as a beautician and was a mentor to young Black women in Nova Scotia through her Desmond School of Beauty Culture. It is, however, the story of her courageous refusal to accept an act of racial discrimination that provided inspiration to a later generation of Black persons in Nova Scotia and in the rest of Canada. In December 2016, it was announced that Desmond would be the first Canadian woman depicted on the face of a Canadian banknote — the $10 note in a series of bills released in 2018. Continue reading “Black History Month in Canada… Viola Davis Desmond”

Black History — Dr. Dan

Dr. Daniel Williams was a great medical hero in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Thanks to Jill Dennison I was able to learn about this great man and share his story with my readers. Jill is an avid blogger and I encourage my readers to check out her site!

Filosofa's Word

As I mentioned in a post last week, I want to take some time this month to highlight the accomplishments of some of our African-American brothers and sisters in honour of Black History Month.  We all know about Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Bessie Coleman, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X and many others who are routinely highlighted during Black History Month, so I wanted to take an opportunity to seek out some who we may not have heard of before.  Today, I am focusing on one remarkable man …

Daniel Hale WilliamsDaniel Hale Williams III, was born in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania in 1856, five years before the start of the Civil War. His father, Daniel Hale Williams II, was a barber, having inherited a barbershop, but more importantly, he also worked with the Equal Rights League, a black civil rights organization.

When Daniel was only ten years old, his father died, and young…

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Black History Month in Canada… Donovan Anthony Bailey

As a Canadian sprinter, Donovan Bailey set records at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Donovan Anthony Bailey – Olympian Hero

Donovan Anthony Bailey, Oakville Ont., track and field sprinter (born 16 December 1967 in Manchester Parish, Jamaica). Donovan Bailey won the gold medal for Canada in the men’s 100m at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia, and set a world record with a time of 9.84 seconds. He later won a second Olympic gold medal when he led Team Canada to a first-place finish in the men’s 4x100m relay. During his athletic career, he also won four medals (three gold and one silver) at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships.

Donovan Bailey was born in Manchester Parish, in the mountainous region of Jamaica, the fourth of five sons to George and Daisy Bailey. Before going to Mount Olivet Primary School each morning, Donovan would take care of the family’s pigs, chickens, and goats.

Donovan visited Canada when he was seven years old and moved to Canada when he was 12. He settled in Oakville, Ontario, with his father and his older brother, O’Neil, and attended Queen Elizabeth Park High School. O’Neil Bailey was an outstanding track and field athlete who won the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations Outdoor Provincial Championships four times in boys’ long jump (1980, 1981, 1982 and 1984). O’Neil also excelled in the 100m and football, where he was a star high school halfback. Donovan was also a fast runner in high school, having clocked 10.65 seconds in the men’s 100m at the age of 16. However, his primary passion and focus was basketball.

After graduating from high school, Bailey attended Sheridan College in Oakville and earned a diploma in business administration, with a focus on marketing and economics. During the 1986–87 school year, Bailey played basketball as a forward for the Sheridan Bruins in the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association.

After graduating from Sheridan College, Bailey worked as a property and marketing consultant and had a business of importing and exporting clothing. By the age of 22, he owned a house and a Porsche 911 convertible.

“I could have left high school and run track right away, but that wasn’t what I wanted,” Bailey told Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated in 1996. “I wanted a nice house, money, fast cars. I was taught to work real hard, to work on my own.”

In 1990, Bailey was watching the Canadian Track & Field Championships when he noticed that some of the competitors were athletes he had beaten in high school. This motivated him to return to competitive sprinting on a part-time basis.

In 1991, Bailey won the 60m race at the Ontario indoor championships and was chosen to represent Canada at the 1991 Pan American Games in Havana, Cuba, where he won a silver medal as part of the men’s 4x100m relay.

At the 1992 Canadian Track & Field Championships, Bailey finished second in the men’s 100m. The following year, he won bronze in the 100m and silver in the 200m at the national championships.

Despite his success at the national level, Bailey did not represent Canada at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona and was only an alternate for the Canadian relay team at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.

Bailey was upset by these decisions and, while in Stuttgart, he complained to anyone who would listen, including Dan Pfaff, who coached Bailey’s high-school friend Glenroy Gilbert. Pfaff, an assistant track coach at Louisiana State University (LSU), told Kenny Moore of Sports Illustrated in 1995, “I’ve never seen anyone run so fast who looked so bad.” He invited Bailey to train with Gilbert at LSU.

According to Pfaff, Bailey wasn’t fit and had terrible form. After three months of coaching, weightlifting and sprint training and an improved diet, Bailey was able to cut one-third of a second off his 100m time and ran 10.03 seconds at the Duisburg track meet in Germany in June 1994.

At the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta, Bailey was a strong contender in a very competitive men’s 100m. In addition to Bruny Surin, Michael Marsh and Linford Christie, the field included Fredericks (who had beaten Bailey in Lausanne), Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Tobago (the reigning World Championships bronze medallist), Michael Green of Jamaica (the reigning Commonwealth Games silver medallist) and Dennis Mitchell of the United States (the reigning Goodwill Games champion).

Bailey won his opening heat of the Olympic Games on 26 July 1996 but finished second to Christie in his quarter-final heat and second to Fredericks in his semifinal heat. Surin, meanwhile, finished a surprising fifth in his semifinal heat and failed to make the final. In the men’s 100m Olympic final on 27 July 1996, Christie was disqualified for two false starts. With the competition down to seven sprinters, Bailey once again got off to a slower start, but by the middle of the race, he had the most energy and momentum. He caught the halfway leaders, Boldon and Mitchell, and beat Fredericks by five one-hundredths of a second to win Olympic gold.

Bailey’s winning time of 9.84 seconds was also a world record at the time. Even though he no longer holds the world record for the men’s 100m, Bailey is currently tied with Surin as the Canadian record holder in distance. Bailey became the second Canadian to win the Olympic gold medal in the men’s 100m, following Percy Williams of Vancouver, British Columbia, who won gold at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam.

Bailey won a second gold medal in Atlanta in the men’s 4x100m relay. Bailey, Surin, Gilbert, and Esmie ran an outstanding final relay on 3 August 1996, defeating the favored American squad that included two sprinters (Mitchell and Marsh) from the men’s 100m final.

The Canadian team got off to a great start, and by the time Surin handed the baton over to Bailey, he lifted his hands in the air, knowing that Canada would win. Right before Bailey crossed the finish line, Don Wittman of CBC Sports reported: “If you’re Canadian, you have to love Saturday nights in Georgia!”

Donovan Bailey - 1996 Olympic Champion
Donovan Bailey – 1996 Olympic Champion

Today’s Sources:

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                        

Black History Month in Canada… Marie-Josephe Angelique

Marie-Joseph Angelique 1705-1734, was Portugese-born and sold into slavery as a young teen, ending up in Montreal, New France. She is a symbol of Black resistance.

Marie-Josephe Angelique: Symbol of Black resistance in Canada

Marie-Joseph Angélique (born circa 1705 in Madeira, Portugal; died 21 June 1734 in Montréal, QC). Angélique was an enslaved Black woman owned by Thérèse de Couagne de Francheville in Montréal. In 1734, she was charged with arson after a fire leveled Montréal’s merchants’ quarter. It was alleged that Angélique committed the act while attempting to flee her bondage. She was convicted, tortured and hanged. While it remains unknown whether or not she set the fire, Angélique’s story has come to symbolize Black resistance and freedom.

Angélique was born in Madeira, Portugal, around 1705. Little is known of the first 20 years of her life. She may have been first enslaved in Portugal, an active port of the Atlantic slave trade. It was likely there that Angélique was sold to the Flemish merchant Nichus Block when she was in her early teens. Angélique was taken by boat to North America, possibly stopping in Flanders (what is now northern Belgium), which had close trading ties with Portugal. Angélique arrived in New England, where she was purchased at age 20 by the French merchant François Poulin de Francheville in 1725. Francheville brought Angélique back to his hometown of Montréal to work as a domestic slave. (Between the time Angélique left Europe and arrived in Montréal, she had been sold at least twice.)

When Francheville died in 1733, ownership of Angélique passed to his widow, Therese de Couagne, who is thought to have renamed the enslaved woman from Marie-Joseph to “Angélique,” after her deceased daughter. While enslaved for nine years at the Francheville home, Angélique had three children, none of whom lived beyond infancy. Birth records indicate that the father was Jacques César, a Madagascar-born slave owned by a Francheville family friend. Some researchers believe that the couple was forced by their owners to produce offspring. Angélique also had a lover, an indentured white laborer from France named Claude Thibault, with whom she tried to flee from enslavement and who was believed to have helped her set fire to Montréal.

In December 1733, Angélique asked her mistress for her freedom, a request that Madame de Francheville denied. This infuriated Angélique, who “went on a small reign of terror in the household.” She talked back to her owner, threatened her with death by “roasting,” quarreled with the other servants in the house, threatened them, too, with “burning,” and made life so unbearable for her fellow servant Marie-Louise Poirier that she quit her job. (The Hanging of Angélique, 2006)

In early 1734, Francheville sold Angélique to François-Étienne Cugnet of Québec City for 600 pounds of gunpowder. She was waiting for the ice to thaw on the St. Lawrence River in order to send Angélique by boat. It was rumored that Cugnet would, in turn, sell Angélique into enslavement in the West Indies. Upon hearing news of her sale, Angélique threatened to burn down Francheville’s house with her in it.

Soon after, Angélique ran away with Thibault. Her intent was to return to Portugal, the land of her birth. The couple set fire to Angélique’s bed at Alexis Monière’s home — where Francheville had chosen to move them temporarily — and fled in the direction of New England, where they hoped to catch a ship bound for Europe. Two weeks later, Angélique and Thibault were tracked down by the police in nearby Chambly. Angélique was returned to her owner to await transportation to Québec City, and Thibault was sent to jail. Once she returned to Montréal, Angélique continued to state that she would burn down her mistress’ house because she wanted to be free.

On the evening of Saturday 10 April 1734, a large portion of Montréal — the merchants’ quarter — was destroyed by fire. At least 46 buildings, mainly homes, were burnt, plus the convent and hospital of the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal. Angélique was accused of starting the fire and arrested by police on 11 April. She was taken to court the following morning, where she was charged with arson, a capital crime punishable by death, torture or banishment. In the French legal system of the 18th century, the accused was presumed guilty, and in New France, there were no trials by jury, only inquisitorial tribunals in which the defendant was meant to prove her innocence. Lawyers were banned from practicing in the colony by Louis XIV.

So began one of the most spectacular trials to come out of 18th-century Canada. Over 24 witnesses were called, 23 of whom— including a five-year-old girl — stated that they believed Angélique had set the fire because, at one point or another, she had told them that she would. One witness said that she saw Angélique carrying a pot of live coals up to the roof minutes before the fire started. The court felt that she had intended to flee enslavement, and had set the fire in order to cover her tracks.

After a six week tribunal, Angélique was found guilty and sentenced to death. She was to have her hands cut off and be burned alive. The sentence was appealed to the superior court in Québec City, where the death penalty was upheld and the gruesome aspects of the sentencing lessened. Angélique would be tortured, hanged, and then her body burned. She returned to Montréal to await her death. Throughout her trial, at both the lower court in Montréal and the upper court in Québec, she denied setting the fire.

After the torture, Angélique, dressed in a white chemise and holding a burning torch in her hand (the symbol of her crime), was placed in a garbage cart and taken to the portal of the Notre-Dame Basilica, where she confessed to her crime, and begged pardon of God, the king and the people. She was then hanged. The hangman and torturer was Mathieu Léveillé, an enslaved Black man employed as royal executioner. Angélique’s body was displayed on a gibbet for two hours. At 7:00 p.m., her body was placed on a pyre and burnt, her ashes gathered and cast to the four winds.

The burning of Montréal, as well as the arrest and subsequent trial of Angélique, reveals much about the nature of enslavement in Canada, a legal institution that existed for over two hundred years. It is possible that Angélique did not set the fire. But she made an ideal scapegoat for the crime: she was Black, enslaved, poor, and a foreigner, and so in every aspect was a social outcast. As a slave, Angélique had no rights that New France or white society would respect.

On the other hand, Angélique may have set the fire. She had many grievances against white society in Montréal. Whites had enslaved her, stripped her of her freedom and human rights, and taken her from a homeland that she clearly loved. In Montréal, she had attempted at least once to escape from enslavement but was thwarted. Arson had played a role in that earlier escape. Centuries later, Marie-Joseph Angélique has become a symbol of Black resistance and freedom.

Marie-Joseph Angélique was an enslaved Black woman in Montréal.
Marie-Joseph Angélique was an enslaved Black woman in Montréal. (

Black History Month In Canada… Lincoln MacCauley Alexander

Lincoln Alexander was a political trailblazer in Canadian politics and an inspiration for all visible minorities.

Lincoln MacCauley Alexander – Political Trailblazer

Lincoln MacCauley Alexander, CC, QC, OOnt, lawyer, parliamentarian, public servant, lieutenant-governor of Ontario (born 21 January 1922 in Toronto, ON; died 19 October 2012 in Hamilton, ON). Alexander was the first Black Canadian Member of Parliament, cabinet minister and Lieutenant-Governor (Ontario).

Born of West Indian immigrant parents — his mother was from Jamaica, his father from St. Vincent — Alexander grew up in an Ontario in which people of African descent could occasionally leap the barriers set by discrimination. When he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1942 for example, that branch of the armed forces often restricted non-whites from entering service. Alexander served as a corporal in the RCAF until 1945. After the Second World War, he turned to higher education.

Alexander earned a BA from McMaster University in 1949, followed by a degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1953. Alexander practiced law and was eventually appointed as Queen’s Counsel in 1965. That year, he entered politics, running as Conservative MP for Hamilton West, but was defeated. Three years later, on 25 June 1968, he won the seat, making him the first Black Canadian to sit in the House of Commons. He was re-elected four times, serving a total of 12 years. In 1979, he was appointed the Minister of Labour in the Clark government, a portfolio he held until 1980. That year, he resigned his seat in the House after he was appointed the chairman of the Ontario Workers’ Compensation Board, where he worked for the next five years.

On 20 September 1985, Lincoln Alexander was sworn in as Ontario’s 24th lieutenant-governor, the first Black Canadian to be appointed to a viceregal position in Canada. As lieutenant-governor, Alexander was able to take an active role in the multicultural affairs of Ontario. In 1991, when his term of office was up, Alexander accepted a post as chancellor of the University of Guelph, where he served an unprecedented five terms.

Lincoln Alexander was known for his sound judgment, compassion, and humanity. He was appointed as a Companion of the Order of Canada and to the Order of Ontario in 1992.

On 28 November 2013, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario declared 21 January of each year Lincoln Alexander Day, citing Alexander’s life as “an example of service, determination, and humility. Always fighting for equal rights for all races in our society, and doing so without malice, he changed attitudes and contributed greatly to the inclusiveness and tolerance of Canada today.” On 21 January 2015, the event was observed for the first time across the country.

Lincoln Alexander
Lincoln Alexander (Radio Canada International)
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