Portraits of Black Canadians


Find out more about black Canadians who contributed to the building of Canada and who are making their mark every day.

Being Black in Canada

CBC | When Luke Ignace thinks about the things he misses most about his home in the Bahamas, he can’t help but think about his barber. Read his story and many more CBC reports related to Black History Month in their special section entitled Being Black in Canada.


RADIO CANADA INTERNATIONAL | Marc Montgomery | For the first time, the NHL will be adapting the thrust of its February campaign of “hockey is for everyone” to a focus of celebrating Black History Month. The league (NHL) and the players association (NHLPA) have joined to mark the new campaign focus with special websites have set up to highlight the achievements and contributions of black players throughout the years. Canadian Willie O’Ree…


New collector coin honours civil rights icon

RADIO CANADA INTERNATIONAL | Marc Montgomery | In a small incident that has since become legendary, North America’s first fight for black rights will be honoured once again by the Royal Canadian Mint. In 1946, years before the Rosa Parks incident in the U.S., Canadian businesswoman Viola Desmond, refused to give up her seat in a “whites only” section of a movie theatre in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Arrested and charged with…


New stamp honours first black letter carrier

RADIO CANADA INTERNATIONAL | Lynn Desjardins | February is Black History Month in Canada and this year, Canada Post is marking the occasion by issuing a stamp depicting Albert Jackson, likely the first black mail carrier in Canada. Jackson was born into slavery in the United States in the 1850s. His mother escaped with seven children including Albert who was a toddler at the time and came to Canada via the…


Profile: Lincoln Alexander

In 1945, Cpl. Lincoln Alexander was refused service at a Vancouver bar because he was black. Forty years later, the son of West Indies immigrants was appointed Ontario’s 24th lieutenant-governor, the first black Canadian to be appointed to a viceregal position in Canada. Born in Toronto in 1922, Alexander accomplished several firsts for Canada’s black community. During WWII, he was one of the few blacks who were allowed to enlist in…


Francisca Mandeya’s journey from Zimbabwe to Nunavut

‘It’s surprising how we always want to look for difference where there’s actually a lot of similarity’ By Sima Sahar Zerehi, CBC News Francisca Mandeya gets teary-eyed when speaking about her three kids. She came to Nunavut as a refugee from Zimbabwe just over a year ago but she couldn’t bring her children with her. “Sometimes life doesn’t give you a choice,” said Mandeya. “I was in a position that I…


Wrestler Cleopas Ncube sets his sights on Rio

Cleopas Ncube was born in Zimbabwe. His family left Africa because of the political situation and moved to Canada when Ncube was a child. He credits much of his success to his mother who he describes as an endless fountain of hope.


Diversity on stage good for all: opera star Mark S. Doss

Racism “is a barrier. It’s a difficulty. It’s something that has to be broken down. And, once it’s broken down, it’s much more beneficial to all of society,” says Mark S. Doss, a Grammy-award-winning opera singer based in Toronto. Doss has performed in 87 different roles in more than 60 opera houses around the world. Opera singer Mark S. Doss says some operas lend themselves to ‘updating’ and more diversity in…


Faith and laughs keep Cicilia Laurent going at 120

Cicilia Laurent has just one birthday wish. The Haitian-born resident of Laval, Quebec, who turned 120 years old on Sunday, wants to meet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and ask him a special favour. She wants Trudeau to allow her two great-grandsons in Haiti to visit her in Canada so she can see them again. Laurent, who celebrated her birthday at festive ceremony at the Haitian consulate in downtown Montreal…


Portraits of blacks in Canada

From our archives Danger, hardship, heroism and tragedy. All are features of black immigration to Canada in the nineteenth century. The story of black immigration to Canada began 400 years ago with the arrival of the French at Port Royal. John Graves Simcoe, the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, signed the Act Against Slavery in 1793. Many black people came to Canada by their own means. But the Underground Railroad, an…


John Holland awards celebrate black community achievements

Hamilton’s black community is recognizing the achievements of 12 individuals and groups who have made contributions to cultural life in the city. The 19th annual Rev. John C. Holland Awards celebrated  excellence and achievement of members of Hamilton’s black community. The awards were handed out at a gala and silent auction at Michelangelo Banquet Centre in Hamilton​ on Saturday. ​ Read more


Teachers get lesson in black history at specialized course

Teachers in southwestern Ontario got a lesson in black history Friday at historic Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Dresden, Ont. Thirty-five teachers attended a one-day, sold-out course on how to better teach black history in school. Read more


CBC – Black History Month: 6 black Canadian culture-makers

February is Black History Month in Canada, which provides an opportunity to celebrate some of the movers and shakers at the heart of this country’s arts and culture scene – and the icons who helped inspire them.


Black History Month. RCAF Maj Walter Peters.

(Canada Aviation and Space Museum) Retired Major Walter Peters stands in front of a Canadair CT-114 Tutor jet used by the Snowbirds at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa last February. Maj. Peters was born in Litchfield, Annapolis County,Nova Scotia in 1937, became Canada’s first black jet fighter pilot and also a member of Canada’s famed Snowbirds flight team Walter Peters was a pioneer. He was this country’s…

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Viola Desmond

The month of February, is annually recognized by the Canadian government as black-history month. It was in February back in 1965 that one of the first people to stand up for black rights in North America, died. Years before American Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a bus in Alabama, in the United States in 1955, Canadian Viola Desmond refused to move from the floor seating of…


Lanier Phillip's Newfoundland story

Lanier Phillips,was an American with an amazing story tied to Canada. In 1942, Phillips was a U.S. Navy seaman whose life was changed forever by the kindness he experienced from the people of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland.


John Ware

John Ware looms large in the small field of Black history in Alberta. He was a big man, a cowboy who played an important role in the early days of the ranching industry. Born into slavery in the southern United States, John Ware came to Alberta after the US Civil War and the emancipation of slaves. He died in 1905. Today he’s remembered as a larger than life figure, and…


Oscar Peterson

There’s Oscar Peterson Boulevard and Oscar Peterson Public School in Mississauga, Ontario; Oscar Peterson Square in downtown Toronto; and, in his hometown of Montreal there’s the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall. And, that’s not to mention the 16 honourary degrees between Canada and the United States. The man who wrote the Canadiana Suite received the nation’s highest honour when he was promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada in 1984….


Michaëlle Jean

Michaelle Jean A woman of many “firsts’ Michaelle Jean is now is the first woman to lead the Paris-based, International Francophonie Organisation, as Secretary-General. In Canada, she is the Most Honourable Michaelle Jean, having served as Governor General from 2005 to 2010.  She was the 27th since Canadian Confederation, and the first black person to take on the roll.  She was in the position when the earth quake devastated her…

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Dany Laferrière

“How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired” is the title of the English translation of Danny Laferriere’s first book, written originally in French.  It got attention in both languages. In December 2013, Dany Laferriere was elected to the Academie francaise in one ballot.  He is the first Haitian, the first Quebecer, and the first Canadian to be granted the honour. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1953, his…


Josiah Henson

Josiah Henson witnessed extraordinary cruelty in a childhood of slavery in the United States, but rose above it in Canada. His settlement, known as Dawn, in southern Ontario, was not far from Lake Erie. There is an interpretive centre there now keeping his story alive, as he tried to, with his first autobiography, called, The Life of Josiah Henson: Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by…


Donovan Bailey

Running was not Donovan Bailey’s first love, but eventually he realized he had something to prove on the track! Few Canadians will ever forget his glorious victories at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and his reign for a time, as the fastest man in the world! He was the first, of only two men to hold all three titles of Olympic Champion, Wolrd Champion and World Record Holder These days,…


Suzette Mayr

Writer, Suzette Mayr’s most recent book, Monoceros, is a tragi-comic tale of bullying and teen suicide. She provides a unique voice from Calgary, Alberta, in her 4 novels, books of poetry and anthologies. Mayr often writes about the multi-cultural and inter-racial realities of Canada today. Her work has been nominated for several literary awards. https://www.rcinet.ca/bhm-en/wp-content/uploads/sites/44/2012/02/24-Suzette-Mayr.mp3 Credits: Carribean Trip – (C.Bolten) CAV Music AVCD 749 Bobo – (Salif Keïta) Universal Music…


Along the Tracks: Jamal Clarke

Along the Tracks, tells the story of Jamal Clarke, a strong, young community leader. Jamal grew-up in the Jane and Finch community of Toronto. That’s where he created “Friends in Trouble”, to strengthen the diverse community and provide an example and inspiration for the youth. A film by Ashley Bowes for the Digital Diversity contest Documentary, Toronto, Ontario, 2007, 8 min 03 s


Abdallah of Mile-End

Abdallah is a Djiboutian-born Canadian who lives in Montreal’s Mile-End neighbourhood, famous for its cultural diversity and vibrancy of life. Everyone who meets Abdallah is immediately struck by his sheer enthusiasm for life. He tells good jokes, too.


Dr. Hervé Blanchard

The pioneer in pediatric liver transplants saved countless lives


Everybody Plays the Piano…But Not Like Oliver Jones

Oliver Jones talks about his life as a musician and how the music led his course to rediscover his roots. This world renowned pianist has worked with many artists and says the ones who have impressed him most are those who have remained humble. He has remained humble himself by remembering where he started. A film by Awakhiwe Dlodlo, for Radio Canada International Documentary, Montreal, 2010, 5 min 10 s


Charlie Biddle

Remembered as the father of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Charles Biddle lent his name to the club that kept the groove going year-round.  Biddles, now known as The House of Jazz, was a draw for jazz stars and fans, from around the world.  Charles Biddle was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2003.  The Saint Jean Baptiste Society said, ‘without him, Quebecers might not have developed…


Portia White

In Portia White’s hometown of Truro, Nova Scotia there is a monument in her memory. Following her international career she settled in Toronto and taught voice until she died in 1968.  In 2007 she was posthumously awarded the Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award.


The Fruit That Grows Anywhere: Alex Cuba

This Cuban Canadian feels comfortable living in a small town in Smithers, BC, Canada. And Alex Cuba doesn’t miss his Cuban roots because he has adapted well in his new country. He says his music is also Cuban-Canadian and he keeps searching in himself that fruit which can grow in both countries.


Lou Hooper

Once Oscar Peterson’s piano teacher, Lou Hooper wrote ragtime classics like, The Cakewalk, Black Cat Blues, South Sea Strut and Uncle Remus Stomp.  Lou Hooper died in Charlottetown, PEI in 1977 not long after the debut of the ballet he wrote, called Congo.


George Frederick Johnson

George Frederick Johnson joined the army at 16 and witnessed military history during WW II.


Sam Langford

In 1955 Sam Langford was enshrined in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. And then in 1999, he was voted Nova Scotia’s top male athlete of the 20th century!


William Hall

Black men fought in the battles that shaped our history and this is the story of the first awarded the Victoria Cross. A branch of the Canadian Legion in Halifax was eventually named in his honor and in 1967 William Hall’s medals were returned to Canada from England for display at Expo ’67 in Montreal. Now they are in the Nova Scotia Museum. Fils d’un ancien esclave, William Hall a…


Mary Ann Shadd Cary

The first black female newspaper editor in North America, Mary Ann Shadd Cary found a refuge and a springboard in Windsor, Ontario.


Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman is the woman who became known as “Grandma Moses”. She was given the nickname for leading her people to freedom in Canada. She was also known as ‘General’ for having led a raid in the American Civil War. March 10th in the United States is dedicated to her memory.

RCI • Radio Canada International
Luc Simard – Director of Diversity and Relations. Radio-Canada

Your opinion on Black History Month

Black History Month is only celebrated in North America and in the UK. Do you think it should be celebrated all over the world?

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