December 7, 2018
The RBC Black History Month
Student Essay Competition
Royal Bank Plaza
200 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario M5J 2W7
How have black Canadians helped to define Canada’s diverse heritage and identity through their achievements and contributions to the broader society?
Canada is widely known for the diversity of its population, a situation Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau views as a strength for our country (Trudeau, 2015). Black Canadians are a major contributor to our diverse heritage as there are approximately 600,000 Canadians of African descent, the third largest racialized group in Canada (Sadlier, 2010). There are many contributions and achievements by African Canadians which the new generation would like to celebrate. However, we must never forget the unfortunate history endured by this ethnic group and the fact that the largest early group of Africans to enter Canada did so as enslaved people (Sadlier, 2010). These individuals were sadly forced to involuntarily forfeit much of their history, heritage, culture and power upon being introduced to this country (Sadlier, 2010). A few of these people are Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Willie O’ree, and Viola Desmond who have all made a contribution to our countrys diverse heritage and broad society.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary was the first woman to become a publisher in Canada. She arrived in the country as American slaves were escaping to freedom via the Underground Railroad and devoted herself to teaching the children of former slaves arriving in Canada (“23 historical black”, 2013). Settling in Windsor, she wrote educational booklets outlining the advantages of Canada for settlers willing to work and the need for living within one's means. She set up an integrated school in Windsor that was open to all who could afford to attend (education was not publicly provided at that time) (“Black History Canada Profiles”, 2018). She later returned to the United States and was active in the women's suffrage movement.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary committed her life and career to fighting for what is right and breaking gender and racial barriers. She was fearless in a time when many other black Canadians needed her to be. Without someone like her to make a change our society would not be as diverse and accepting as it is today.
Another Canadian figure that has made a significant contribution to Canada’s diverse heritage and broader society is NHL player Willie O’Ree. O’Ree was the first black player in the National Hockey League. He made his debut with the Boston Bruins in the 1957-58 season and later played in the Western Hockey League before retiring in 1979 (“23 historical black”, 2013). After O'Ree's duration in the NHL, there were no other black players until another Canadian player, Mike Marson was drafted. The sport we know and love today is the result of O’Ree’s ability to break racial barriers in sport and pave the way for black Canadians who also wanted to pursue their passion
The last individual out of many who have contributed greatly to Canada’s diverse heritage and broad society is Viola Desmond. In New Glasgow decided to go to the movies while repairs were made on her car. She bought a ticket, entered the theatre and took a seat on the main floor, unaware that tickets sold to African Canadians in this town were for the balcony and the main floor was reserved solely for White patrons. Theatre staff demanded that she go to the balcony, but she refused, since she could see better from the main floor. The police were summoned immediately and she was dragged out, which injured her hip. She was charged and held overnight in jail; she was not advised of her rights.
While discussing the incident with the doctor who tended to her, Desmond decided to fight the charges. Clearly, the issue was about her being African Canadian and there being a racist seating policy in place; it was not about tax evasion. In taking the matter to the courts, Viola Desmond's experience helped to galvanize public opinion locally and internationally, and to raise awareness about the reality of Canadian segregation (“Black History Canada Profiles”, 2018).
These individuals are just some of the highly recognized Black Canadians who have had a hand in shaping diversity in Canada and a broader society. This took courageous Black individuals, to in spite of their differences and challenges resist against the power and control that was holding the black community back. Each of these individuals had a single impact on society’s differential views, while each push-back cumulatively assisted in achieving equality and acceptance among Canadians. These stories embedded in our black history are vital in recognizing contributions and achievements made by black Canadians to Canada’s diverse heritage.
Sadlier, R. (2010). BLACK HISTORY. Canadian Issues, , 37-41. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.qe2a-proxy.mun.ca/docview/1008912547?accountid=12378.
Trudeau, J. (2015). Diversity is Canada’s Strength. Retrieved from: https://pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2015/11/26/diversity-canadas-strength.
23 historical black Canadians you should know. (2013, February 4). Retrieved from: https://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/black-history-month/.
Black History Canada Profiles. (2018). Retrieved from: http://blackhistorycanada.ca/profiles.php?id=20.