Why Canada is the way it is today
By Oyindasola Lagunju

Bur Oak Secondary School


In many ways I consider myself an activist because I often times feel the need to voice my opinion about on the amount of progress being made by black Canadians. This is the reason why I have the upmost respect for the black Canadians such as Viola Desmond and Marie-Joseph Angélique, who have not only sacrificed the little dignity that they had under these circumstances, but also sacrificed themselves in order to contribute to equality in Canada.

Viola Desmond was a black woman whose combination of intellect and grace is admirable. Born on July 6, 1914, Viola Desmond was a black Nova Scotian that resisted a “whites only” discrimination policy in a movie theatre in 1946. This act, initially dubbed rebellious, was one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Canadian history.

As the owner of a successful beauty parlour and beauty college in Halifax, Desmond could be considered as one of the few lucky black Canadians. But the fact that she did not find comfort in that is not only selfless, but also praiseworthy.

Viola Desmond appeared at court battered and bruised but still wearing her white lace gloves. I personally relate to Desmond’s story because it shows that despite the fact that she was black, she was an integral member of her society. If Viola Desmond did not feel like she was a Canadian, she would not have demanded equality at the movie theatre. She paid her taxes, like any other Canadian citizen, and ran a business that catered to both white and black Canadians. She had placed herself on the same pedestal as white Canadians and she no longer saw her race as an issue.

Viola Desmond’s contribution to Canada’s history is obvious: she redefined what it meant to be Canadian. Being Canadian didn’t mean you were white, it meant that you were contributing member of society. Viola Desmond realized this which was why she did not feel the need to give up her seat simply because she was black.

The story of Marie-Joseph Angélique is an emotional one for me. Like many slaves in her time, her life was undocumented and there are many debateable facts about her life. Angélique was not born a slave, but was kidnapped and forced into slavery. This may have been the reason for her fiery and defiant attitude towards various authority figures.

She was brought to New England by a Dutchman, Nicholaas Bleecker, who in 1725 sold her to François Poulin de Francheville, a wealthy Montreal fur merchant. On April 10, 1734, fire broke out in the Francheville home on rue St-Paul in Old Montreal. Angélique had set the fire when she and her lover, Thibault, attempted to escape. As arson was a common tool of resistance used by enslaved Africans throughout the Americas, all fingers immediately pointed to Angélique. Thibault, meanwhile, fled before French troops sealed the city gates and was never seen again. As residents picked through the smoking, smouldering ruins of Old Montreal the following day, French soldiers had already arrested Angélique. She was immediately put on trial. Despite the fact that Angélique confessed to the crime and was later on publicly executed, she has made an impact in Canada’s history. Marie-Joseph Angélique was fighting a losing battle, but she fought it none the less. This showed the other slaves that there was something worth fighting for even though it did not seem like there was and initiated a wave of various civil rights actions across Canada.

These women are not regularly spoken of, which was my main reason for using them as exemplars in showing how black Canadians have impacted Canada’s history. Every act of sacrifice made with the intent of causing a positive change has left a mark in history. Presently, I do not see my skin colour as a barrier when applying to a university because of sacrifices made by people like Viola Desmond and Marie-Joseph Angélique. Because of this, I now have a responsibility to the black Canadian community. I must uphold the image that they were fighting for, meaning I must also make a contribution towards the progress of Canada. Equality has to be sustained, it is not guaranteed after one war. In order to be treated as an equal, one must prove themselves equal to their opponent.


History and Women: Viola Desmond - A True Heroine. http://www.historyandwomen.com/2010/04/viola-desmond-true-heroine.html (opens external website in new window)

Slave woman burns Montreal: Hang fire. http://hour.ca/2006/02/16/hang-fire/ (opens external website in new window)