During Black History Month, people in Canada celebrate the many achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and their communities who, throughout history, have done so much to make Canada the culturally diverse, compassionate, and prosperous nation it is today.
Black people and their communities have been a part of shaping Canada’s heritage and identity since the arrival of Mathieu Da Costa, a navigator and interpreter, whose presence in Canada dates back to the early 1600s.
Black history in Canada has not always been celebrated or highlighted. 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.
Canadians are not always aware of the fact that Black people were once enslaved in the territory that is now Canada or how those who fought enslavement helped to lay the foundation of the diverse and inclusive society in Canada.
Black History Month is about honouring the enormous contributions that Black people have made, and continue to make, in all sectors of society. It is about celebrating resilience, innovation, and determination to work towards a more inclusive and diverse Canada—a Canada in which everyone has every opportunity to flourish.
Today, Premier Doug Ford issued the following statement reflecting on the legacy of Ontario’s Black leaders and community builders during Black History Month:
“February is Black History Month. We take this opportunity to celebrate Black culture and mark the many contributions made by Black Ontarians and Black Canadians to our province and to our country throughout history.
Black History Month takes on even greater meaning with the events of the past year. It strengthens our resolve and our commitment to fight racial discrimination and intolerance in all its forms. By shining a light on the injustices committed against the Black community, both past and present, we can begin to heal wounds, promote intercultural understanding, and ultimately build bridges between communities.
Building a more just and inclusive province starts with investing in the next generation of Black leaders and professionals. That’s why our government is actively working to remove social and economic barriers to success for Black youth by establishing the Premier’s Council of Equality of Opportunity, doubling our investment in the Black Youth Action Plan, and addressing racism and inequity in the classroom through our Education Equity Strategy. By empowering Black youth, we can ensure they play a prominent role in shaping a better future for our province.
I encourage all Ontarians to take a moment and participate in the many virtual events available to celebrate Black History Month. They will allow us to learn more about the important role Ontarians and Canadians of African descent have played in the history of our great province.”
Recognizing Black History Month in Canada
In 1978, the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) was established. Its founders, including Dr. Daniel G. Hill and Wilson O. Brooks, presented a petition to the City of Toronto to have February formally proclaimed as Black History Month. In 1979, the first-ever Canadian proclamation was issued by Toronto.
The first Black History Month in Nova Scotia was observed in 1988 and later renamed African Heritage Month in 1996.
In 1993, the OBHS successfully filed a petition in Ontario to proclaim February as Black History Month. 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.
In December 1995, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in Canada following a motion introduced by Dr. Augustine. The House of Commons carried the motion unanimously.
In February 2008, Senator Donald Oliver, the first Black man appointed to the Senate, introduced the Motion to Recognize Contributions of Black Canadians and February as Black History Month. It received unanimous approval and was adopted on March 4, 2008. The adoption of this motion completed Canada’s parliamentary position on Black History Month.