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Black History Month In Canada… Bruny Surin

Bruny Surin, emigrated from Haiti to Quebec at the age of seven. He became an Olympic runner and gold medalist along with relay teammate Donovan Bailey.

Bruny Surin – Olympic Athlete

Bruny Surin, athlete (b at Cap Haïtien, Haiti, 12 July 1967). Surin was just seven years old when he immigrated to Québec. At the age of 17, he took an interest in the long jump and the triple jump. As a member of the Canadian team, he finished 15th in the long jump at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. However, the 100 m sprint would be the defining event of his career.

At the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand, he finished 3rd in the 100 m and 7th in the long jump. Surin placed 4th in the 100 m at his second Olympic Games in 1992, missing the podium by five one-hundredths of a second. After winning the 100 m sprint at the 1994 Jeux de la francophonie [Francophonie Games], Surin would go on to place second at the 1995 world championships.

Surin and his teammates won the gold medal in the 4 x 100 m relay at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games after dominating the race at the 1995 world championships. The Canadian team would successfully defend its title at the 1997 world championships.

He became the Canadian 100 m champion in 1998 with a time of 9.89 seconds, his fastest up until then. The highlight of his career came in 1999 when he ran the 100 m in under 10 seconds six times. Three of these times were at the world championships. In the final, he recorded a personal best with a time of 9.84 seconds, winning silver and missing the gold medal won by Maurice Greene by four one-hundredths of a second.

In 2009, a biography co-written by Bruny Surin and Saïd Khalil entitled Bruny Surin, le lion tranquille was published by Éditions Libre Expression in Montreal. The book covers Bruny Surin recounting 17 years of his sports career. In the book, Surin criticizes doping, describing it as a gangrene that ails athletics and all other sports.

His father lost his family in the 2010 Haiti earthquake. His oldest daughter is a professional tennis player and attends Penn State. His youngest daughter is a professional track and field athlete and recently committed to the University of Connecticut.

Founded in 2003, the Bruny Surin Foundation’s mission is to promote and encourage the adoption of a healthy lifestyle amongst youth in order to fight school dropout.

In addition to organizing seminars featuring well-known public figures for students and underprivileged children, the Bruny Surin Foundation coordinates training camps to encourage youngsters to adopt an active way of life.

The Foundation also provides direct financial support to elite athletes through annual contributions to the Fondation de l’athlète d’excellence du Québec. Thanks to the FBS Gala and the “Demi-Marathon Oasis de Blainville”, $1.5 million has been raised over the past 15 years.

Donovan Bailey (L) and Olympic teammate Bruny Surin (R) training for the relay.
Donovan Bailey (L) and Olympic teammate Bruny Surin (R) training for the relay.

Today’s Sources:

* CBC News Canada                                                     

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                              

Black History Month In Canada… Sam Langford

Sam Langford, born in Nova Scotia is claimed by some to be the greatest fighter to step into the ring.

Sam Langford – Professional Boxer

Sam Langford, boxer (born 4 March 1886 in Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia; died 12 January 1956 in Cambridge, Massachusetts). Langford was a professional boxer who competed across multiple weight classes during his 24-year career. A well-rounded boxer with fierce punching power, Langford often found success against much larger opponents and garnered praise as a fearless competitor. Despite an impressive winning record and praise from icons of the sport, Langford faced racial barriers that prevented him from competing for a title during an era when White champion boxers didn’t want to be seen losing to Black opponents. Though he was crowned heavyweight champion of England, Australia, Canada and Mexico, Langford is considered one of the best fighters never to win a title in the United States. Langford lost his vision during a fight later in his career, which ultimately forced his retirement. He was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1955, one year before his death. Langford’s professional record varies depending on the source — with the most comprehensive listing 214-46-44 with 138 knockouts. Some historians contend that Langford may have fought in over 600 matches. Continue reading “Black History Month In Canada… Sam Langford”

Black History Month In Canada… Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Mary Ann Shadd Cary, born free in Delaware played an important role in the Underground Railroad in Windsor and Chatham, Canada West / Ontario.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary – Educator, Publisher, and Abolitionist

Mary Ann Camberton Shadd Cary, educator, publisher, abolitionist (born 9 October 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware; died 5 June 1893 in Washington, DC). The first Black female newspaper publisher in Canada, Shadd founded and edited The Provincial Freeman. She also established a racially integrated school for Black refugees in Windsor, Canada West. In 1994, Shadd was designated a Person of National Historic Significance in Canada.

Born to free parents in Delaware, a slave state, Mary Ann Shadd was the eldest of 13 children. She was educated by Quakers and later taught throughout the northeastern United States, including New York City. Following in the footsteps of her activist parents, whose home was a safe house (or “station”) on the Underground Railroad, Shadd pursued community activism upon settling in Canada.

On 10 September 1851, at St. Lawrence Hall, Shadd attended the first North American Convention of Coloured Freemen held outside of the United States. The event was presided over by Henry Bibb, Josiah Henson, J.T. Fisher, as well as other prominent figures, and was attended by hundreds of Black community leaders from all over Canada, the northern United States, and England. Many Convention delegates encouraged enslaved Americans and refugees from enslavement to enter Canada. The year before, the United States had passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed slave owners to recapture escaped enslaved persons in states where enslavement had been abolished.

At the Convention, Henry and Mary Bibb, activists and publishers of the newspaper Voice of the Fugitive, met and convinced Shadd to take a teaching position near their home in Sandwich (now Windsor), Canada West. After settling there in 1851, Shadd set up a racially integrated school that was open to all who could afford to attend (education was not publicly provided at that time). The school was opened with financial support from the American Missionary Association.

Shadd wrote educational booklets that outlined the advantages of Canada for settlers moving north, including A Plea for Emigration; or Notes of Canada West (1852). About this time, Shadd, who opposed segregated schools for Black children, engaged in a heated debate with Henry and Mary Bibb, who favored segregation. The dispute informed many editorials written by the Bibbs and Shadd in Voice of the Fugitive. As a result of the public dispute, Shadd lost funding from the American Missionary Association for her school.

An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 freedom-seekers — born free or enslaved — reached Canada through the Underground Railroad. In 1850, over 35,000 Black persons lived in Canada West. To promote emigration to Canada, Shadd publicized the successes of Black persons living in freedom in Canada through The Provincial Freeman, a weekly newspaper first printed on 24 March 1853. This made Shadd the first Black woman in North America to publish a newspaper, and one of the first female journalists in Canada. “Self-Reliance Is the True Road to Independence” was the paper’s motto.

Co-edited by Samuel Ringgold Ward, a well-known public speaker and escaped enslaved person living in Toronto, the paper was published from Windsor (1853–1854), Toronto (1854–1855) and Chatham (1855–1857). While Ward was listed as editor on the paper’s masthead, Shadd did not list her own name or take any credit for articles written by her, thus concealing the paper’s female editorship. By 1860, the paper had succumbed to financial pressure and folded.

After spending the first few years of the American Civil War as a schoolteacher in Chatham, Shadd returned to the United States and began work as a recruitment agent for the Union Army. Later, she moved to Washington, DC, where she worked as a teacher. Years after, Shadd pursued law studies at Howard University and in 1883 became one of the first Black women to complete a law degree.

The BME Freedom Park, Chatham Picture: Close Up bust of Mary Ann Shadd
The BME Freedom Park, Chatham Picture: Close Up bust of Mary Ann Shadd (Kentake Page)

Note About This Image:

In response to the growing tensions surrounding slavery, Canadian members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Conference formally established Chatham’s BME (Black Methodist Episcopal) Church in 1856. On this site, American Abolitionist John Brown held his initial meeting to gain supporters for his attack on Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Also, the fight to end segregation in Chatham schools was led by a minister from this church. In 1983, the church was designated a heritage building by the City of Chatham due to its significance as one of the earliest religious institutions owned and governed by former slaves who escaped to and settled in Canada. In 1989, the BME Church was demolished due to disrepair. The lot was vacant until the establishment of the BME Park in 2009. Chatham – Canada West/Ontario – is located 83 km (52 miles) east of Windsor.

Today’s Sources:

* CBC News Canada                                                        

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                       

Black History Month In Canada… Elijah McCoy

Born a free man in what is now Ontario, Elijah McCoy’s parents were escaped slaves from Kentucky.

Elijah McCoy – Engineer and Inventor

Elijah McCoy, engineer, inventor (born 2 May 1843 or 1844 in Colchester, Canada West [Ontario today]; died 1929 in Detroit, Michigan.) McCoy was an African-Canadian mechanical engineer and inventor best known for his groundbreaking innovations in industrial lubrication.

Elijah’s parents, George McCoy and Mildred Goins, escaped enslavement in Kentucky by way of the Underground Railroad, arriving in Upper Canada in 1837. Following brief military service, George McCoy was awarded 160 acres of farmland in Colchester Township, where Elijah was born and raised. At the age of fifteen, Elijah McCoy left Canada for Edinburgh, Scotland, where he apprenticed for five years as a mechanical engineer. By the end of his career, he had registered over 50 patents.

Elijah McCoy had difficulty finding a job upon his return to Canada and instead found work in Ypsilanti, Michigan, as a fireman for the Michigan Central Railroad. Steam-powered engines of that era faced consistent mechanical problems as industrial lubricants would quickly wear off, overheating and corroding the machinery and wasting tremendous amounts of fuel. Locomotives had to stop frequently as firemen such as McCoy tended to the engine, squirting oil onto its axles, gears, and levers — a time-consuming process that delayed many passenger and freight trains.

After six years on the job, McCoy developed a device commonly known as an “oil-drip cup,” which administered a regulated amount of lubricant into the engine through a spigot. On 23 July 1872, he filed his first patent on the drip cup, registered under the title “Improvement for Lubricators in Steam Engines.” The innovation spread rapidly through the railroad business, as it enabled locomotives to work without interruption.

The following year, McCoy married Mary E. Delaney and moved to Detroit. He soon found work instructing mechanical engineers on the proper installation of his lubricator, and consulting with manufacturers such as the Detroit Lubricator Company. He also continued to design new lubrication devices for a variety of mechanical engines. His 1882 hydrostatic lubricator for locomotive engines, as well as his designs for ship engines, made a significant impact on the transport industry in the late 19th century. His most elaborate innovation, however, was the graphite lubricator, designed for “superheater” locomotive engines, which he patented in 1915 when he was 72 years old. Due to the immense heat generated by these new engines, a more viscous lubricant was required, which he developed by mixing graphite and oil. McCoy considered this to be his greatest invention. The engine, combined with the lubricator, drastically reduced the quantity of coal and oil used in train travel.

In 1923, Mary — by then known as a prominent activist for civil and women’s rights — passed away. McCoy’s health subsequently began to deteriorate and in 1928 he was committed to the Eloise infirmary, where he died a year later. By the end of his career, McCoy had registered over 50 patents. In September 2001 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio.

“The Real McCoy”
It remains unclear today whether Elijah McCoy is the original namesake of the phrase “the real McCoy,” but it is unlikely. Many have suggested that the phrase became common parlance among mechanical engineers who refused to install knockoff lubricators onto their locomotives, demanding instead the original McCoy design. However, parallel mythologies surround a number of other figures of the late 19th and early 20th century, including the Californian boxer Charlie “Kid” McCoy and Joseph McCoy, mayor of Abilene, Kansas. In fact, the phrase is first recorded in an 1856 Scottish poem mentioning “the real McKay” — a reference to the distilling company G. Mackay and Co., which adopted the phrase as a promotional slogan.

McCoy's picture superimposed on an image of a train locomotive
Elijah McCoy Inventor(1844-1929)

Today’s Sources:

* CBC News Canada                                                        

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                       

Black History Month In Canada… Michael Lee-Chin

Michael Lee-Chin – Businessman and Philanthropist

Michael Lee-Chin, businessman, investor and philanthropist (born 3 January 1951 in Port Antonio, Jamaica). Lee-Chin is president and chairman of Portland Holdings, a private investment company. According to Canadian Business magazine, Lee-Chin has an estimated net worth of more than $3.95 billion (as of 2017) and was ranked the 20th wealthiest Canadian. He is also one of the richest Jamaicans. Lee-Chin is also a dedicated philanthropist and has pledged and donated more than $60 million to hospitals, universities and, most notably, the Royal Ontario Museum, where the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal is named in honor of his $30-million pledge.

Michael Lee-Chin was born 3 January 1951 in Port Antonio, Jamaica. He is the son of Black and Chinese-Jamaican parents Aston Lee and Hyacinth Gloria Chen. When he was seven, Lee-Chin’s mother married Vincent Chen, who had a son from a previous relationship. The couple had seven more children together: six boys and one girl. Lee-Chin’s mother sold Avon products and worked as a bookkeeper, and his stepfather was a clerk in a local supermarket.

Lee-Chin attended Titchfield High School from 1962 to 1969. In 1965, he got his first job as part of a landscaping crew at Frenchman’s Cove Hotel (now known as Frenchman’s Cove Resort). In 1966, he started a job cleaning the engine room on the Jamaica Queen cruise ship. After Lee-Chin graduated from high school, he worked as a lab technician in a Jamaican bauxite aluminum plant.

In 1970, Lee-Chin traveled to Canada to study civil engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He received a scholarship from the Jamaican government to complete his studies and work for the government upon graduation. Lee-Chin graduated in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and returned to Jamaica. He worked briefly for the Jamaican government as a civil engineer on the Mandela Highway. Since he could not find work in his field, Lee-Chin returned to Canada.

n 1977, Lee-Chin became a financial advisor for Investors Group in Hamilton. He worked there for two years and then moved on to become regional manager of Regal Capital Planners. In 1983, Lee-Chin secured a $500,000 loan from the Continental Bank of Canada to buy stocks from Mackenzie Financial Corporation. After four years, the stock appreciated sevenfold. In 1987, he used the profits to acquire a small mutual fund investment firm called Advantage Investment Counsel (AIC) based in Kitchener, Ontario, for $200,000. The company would go on to grow from $800,000 in holdings in 1983 to more than $15 billion in assets under management in 2001.

Since 1987, Lee-Chin has been president and chairman of Portland Holdings, a private investment company. Portland owns a variety of businesses that operate in sectors such as financial services, telecommunications, waste management, tourism, agriculture, and media.

Following his acquisition of AIC, Lee-Chin set out to develop the Berkshire group of companies, which is comprised of investment planning, a securities dealership, and an insurance services operation. When the company was acquired by Manulife Financial Corporation in 2007, Berkshire’s assets exceeded $12 billion. The company had grown to form a network of about 750 financial advisors in 250 Canadian branches.

In 2002, Portland acquired 75 percent interest in National Commercial Bank Jamaica Limited (NCB), and Lee-Chin became its executive chairman. Today, NCB is the largest financial institution in Jamaica. In 2005, he co-founded Columbus International Inc. and acquired the Trident Hotel in Jamaica. In October 2006, Lee-Chin resigned as CEO of AIC and was replaced by Jonathan Wellum, AIC’s chief investment officer, and fund manager. The company was later acquired by Manulife Financial Corporation.

In 2012, Lee-Chin established a group of wealth management companies under Mandeville Holdings Inc., a subsidiary of Portland. Mandeville includes an investment dealer, a mutual fund and exempt market dealer and life insurance services.

Lee-Chin and his family have made several sizeable donations. In 2001, he donated $5 million to his alma mater, McMaster University. The funds were used to establish the Michael Lee-Chin & Family Institute for Strategic Business Studies (formerly known as the AIC Institute for Strategic Business Studies) at the DeGroote School of Business. In 2003, Lee-Chin grabbed national headlines when he pledged $30 million to the Royal Ontario Museum’s Renaissance ROM Campaign. In 2004, he pledged $10 million to the University of Toronto campaign that helped establish the Michael Lee-Chin Family Institute for Corporate Citizenship (formerly known as the AIC Institute for Corporate Citizenship) at the Rotman School of Management.

In 2007, Lee-Chin donated $1 million to the Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation to support the creation of the Michael Lee-Chin and Family Short Stay Unit. In honor of his mother, Lee-Chin donated almost $4 million to Northern Caribbean University in 2008 to build The Hyacinth Chen School of Nursing, a world-class facility that can accommodate 800 nursing students. In 2014, Lee-Chin donated $10 million to Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Ontario.

In 2010, Lee-Chin joined the board of directors for The Trust for the Americas, a foundation with the Organization of American States that assists with responsible investment and development in Latin America and the Caribbean (see Foreign Investment). In 2011, he was appointed chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University. He remained in that position until 2016. He also joined the Presidential Advisory Council for Economic Growth and Investment in Haiti in 2011.

In 2016, Lee-Chin was appointed the chair of the government of Jamaica’s Economic Growth Council.

Lee-Chin married Vera Lee-Chin, a Ukranian Canadian he met at university, in 1974. The couple has three children: Michael Jr., Paul, and Adrian. The pair officially separated in 1997 and are now divorced. Lee-Chin has twin daughters, Elizabeth and Maria, with his current partner, Sonya Hamilton.

Canadian Business magazine named Lee-Chin one of the richest people in Canada. He was ranked number 20 (as of 2017), with a net worth of $3.95 billion. Lee-Chin stands by the mantra that businesses must “not only do well but also do good,” which is how he measures his success.

The north face of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, showing part of the new Michael Lee-Chin Crystal extension designed by Daniel Libeskind, dappled by the earling morning sunlight. 4081524 © Gary Blakeley |
The north face of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, showing part of the new Michael Lee-Chin Crystal extension designed by Daniel Libeskind, dappled by the early morning sunlight. 4081524 © Gary Blakeley | (ArchiExpo)

Today’s Sources:

* CBC News Canada                                                      

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                          

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)