December 7, 2018
The Impact of Black Canadians on National Culture
Over the years, Canada has developed a reputation as a tolerant, accepting and diverse country; labelled as a land of equal opportunity, it is unsurprising that people from all different backgrounds have found success within its borders (Ibbitson). Black Canadians have contributed to every aspect of an average Canadian’s life today. From breaking political barriers like Rosemary Brown, to influencing international music like Drake and sparking social activism like Viola Desmond, there is no doubt that Canada owes a large portion of its identity to its black population.
To start, Rosemary Brown represents the impact of both black Canadians and women on the country’s governmental system. In 1972, Brown challenged cultural expectations of race and gender when she won her seat on the Legislative Assembly of British Colombia for her riding of Vancouver-Burrard (Snyder). While she could have gone down in the history books for being the first female member of a Canadian provincial legislature of African descent, Brown had more to contribute to the national culture. On the Legislative Assembly, Brown fought against sexism in the education system and helped prohibit discrimination based on sex or marital status, greatly aiding the feminist movement as a member of the New Democratic Party (1995 Recipient: Rosemary Brown – Vancouver). In 1975, Brown became the first woman to run for leader of a federal political party in Canada, where she came in second place, only losing to Ed Broadbent (Snyder). After her death in 2003 (Snyder), Rosemary Brown left a legacy as a powerful human rights leader who showed the great effect of new perspectives in the political field, and represents the value that every Canadian holds dear – equality for all.
Along with historical figures like Rosemary Brown, modern day rapper and former Degrassi: The Next Generation star Drake ties himself to the Canadian identity (Drake). Drake has proven himself as a massive force in the music industry, scoring six number 1 songs on the Billboard 200 as of July 16, 2018 (Trust), as well as every single one of his studio albums hitting number 1 in Canada and the United States (Drake Chart History). Drake has also seeped into Canadian culture, with his own slang like ‘The Six’ becoming commonplace (Daniell). While it may seem trivial to include a black musician simply because of his popularity, music is an extraordinarily significant piece of culture, and diversity in music is a reflection of the inherently diverse nature of Canada itself. Overall, Drake represents Canada as a thriving force in the world of entertainment.
Like Drake, Viola Desmond, the new face of the ten-dollar bill, has had an undeniable impact on the country today. Comparable to Rosa Parks, Desmond is the figurehead for an anti-segregation movement that rocked the nation in 1946, raising awareness about the realities of a segregated world (Viola Desmond). After accidentally sitting in the whites-only seats of a Nova Scotian movie theatre, Desmond was injured, fined, and arrested for refusing to move; she later fought these charges (Viola Desmond). Desmond’s perseverance against the racist practices of the government spread the message of true equality like wildfire. Without people like Desmond, all Canadians could never be seen as equal to one another, and while Desmond was an advocate for racial equality, if others like her did not exist to defend equality regardless of sexuality, gender, ethnic background or ability, Canada could never have the foundation of acceptance that it prides itself in today. In the end, Viola Desmond represents the struggle for equality that Canadians are known for.
Black Canadians have always been crucial to the development of the national identity. Whether through politics, entertainment, or social justice, diversity has always been the key to success, and the inclusion of brilliant minds like Rosemary Brown, Drake, and Viola Desmond further proves this. After all, it is important to recognize the accomplishments of all people, and the often overlooked deeds of black Canadians are no exception.
“1995 Recipient: Rosemary Brown – Vancouver : Order of BC.” Order of BC RSS, orderofbc.gov.bc.ca/members/obc-1995/1995-rosemary-brown/.
Daniell, Mark. “Drake Finally Explains 'The Six'.” Toronto Sun, 14 May 2016, torontosun.com/2016/05/13/drake-finally-explains-the-six/wcm/14bd7267-22e9-40b8-91db-54372acb32fa.
“Drake.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 9 July 2018, biography.com/people/drake-596834.
“Drake Chart History.” Billboard, www.billboard.com/music/drake/chart-history.
Ibbitson, John. “Why Is Canada the Most Tolerant Country in the World? Luck.” The Globe and Mail, The Globe and Mail, 11 May 2018, www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/why-is-canada-the-most-tolerant-country-in-the-world-luck/article19427921/.
Rutherford, Kevin. “Drake Breaks Streaming Songs Record, Holds Chart's Top Eight Positions.” Billboard, Billboard, 10 July 2018, www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/8464833/drake-breaks-streaming-songs-record-top-eight-spots.
Snyder, Lorraine. “Rosemary Brown.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 27 Jan. 2010, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/rosemary-brown.
Trust, Gary. “Drake Dethrones Drake Atop Billboard Hot 100 as 'In My Feelings' Replaces 'Nice for What' at No. 1.” Billboard, Billboard, 17 July 2018, www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/8465547/drake-dethrones-himself-hot-100-in-my-feelings.
“Viola Desmond.” Black History Canada - Viola Desmond, Toronto Dominion Bank, www.blackhistorycanada.ca/profiles.php?themeid=20&id=13.