Canada’s Identity Initiators
Critical to the Canadian identity are three fundamental values: equality, inclusion, and freedom. Canada, as a nation, has continually incorporated these values into its unique identity since its discovery. A minority group greatly responsible for contributing to this effort are the Black Canadians. Through personal achievements and a tenacious commitment to society, the group has helped to define what Canada is as a country. Whether recognized personally or as part of an organization, it is inarguable they have had influential roles within turning points of Canada’s history. Black Canadians essential to the development of the three rudimentary values include: Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Mayann Elizabeth Francis, and Michaëlle Jean.
Paradoxically prior to Confederation, individual Mary Ann Shadd Cary was already forming the Canadian identity; Mary focused specifically on equality. She was the first Black Canadian female publisher in North America and the first female publisher in Canada. In the 1850’s, Mary Ann emigrated to Canada to leave the continuing threat of slavery in America. She then created The Provincial Freeman; a newspaper in which she called for equality under the pseudonym of Samuel Winggold Ward, a black abolitionist. In the newspaper, Mary highlighted the issues of racism within the Canada and demanded the equality owed to all. She also used the paper to express the need for women’s rights. Even today, these issues are continually highlighted thanks to her efforts and bravery. Following the newspaper, she continued to set pioneering standards for proper behaviours (Shadd, n.d.). This includes being an avid voice in the women’s suffrage movement, in effort to further gender equality. Mary’s efforts are important to be recognized in Canada’s history.
Mayann Elizabeth Francis is a critical catalyst to strengthening Canada’s inclusive nature. She grew up in Nova Scotia during the 1950’s racial challenges, making Francis committed to improving diversity, equality and human rights (Swift, 2014). Mayann followed her vocation and began her working life, attaining a Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Mary’s University. From there she began working at the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission (NSHRC) addressing issues of discrimination and improving equity within the province and Canada. Mayann then moved to the United States for a short period to earn a Master of Arts degree in Public Administration. She eventually returned to become CEO of the NSHRC and served as its director for seven years. She eventually became the 31st Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia in 2006, serving for six years. During this time, she enlisted royal prerogative and granted Canada’s first posthumous pardon to Viola Desmond; a Black Canadian once arrested for standing up for what was right in response to discrimination. This pardon reflects the many steps Mayann Francis took to make Canada a fair and inclusive country while serving as Lieutenant Governor. For these achievements Francis received the Harry Jerome Award, a Golden Jubilee Medal, and a Doctorate of Humane Letters.
In 2005, many Canadians were inspired as Michaëlle Jean was appointed as the first black Governor General of Canada. As a social activist, she promoted the value of freedom as an crucial aspect of Canadian identity. She argued everyone has the right to speak freely for themselves and be represented in some form. Michaëlle was focused on using her platform to give the underprivileged freedom to stand up for themselves. This voice was given to people such as domestic abuse victims, as well as immigrants. She used her role wisely to focus on human rights, emphasise socio-economic problems in the Canadian north, and promote Canada abroad (Azzi, 2010). One of Canada’s most essential freedoms language, specifically bilingualism. Jean continually contributes to this critical freedom with work at the International Organization of La Francophone. It is these numerous contributions that make the Right Honorable Michaëlle Jean of considerable impact to Canadian society and identity.
Regardless of the chronology, it is unambiguous Black Canadians have played substantial roles in developing Canada’s identity. Mary Ann Shadd Cary began the development, instilling the importance of equality within Canada specifically between races and genders through The Provincial Freeman. Many years later, Lieutenant Governor Mayann Francis fought for inclusiveness with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Association. Most recently, the Right Honorable Michaëlle Jean promoted the importance of Canadian freedoms while serving as Governor General. These incredible women, along with many other Black Canadians, were essential heroes in history for contributing to Canada’s character. With diligence and benefactions dedicated to improving society, Black Canadians have assisted in creating a country filled with equality, inclusiveness, and freedom.