Violet Pauline King Henry, lawyer (born 18 October 1929 in Calgary, AB; died 30 March 1982 in New York, NY). King was the descendant of Black settlers from the United States. Her life consisted of several important milestones. She was the first Black person to obtain a law degree in Alberta, the first Black person admitted to the Alberta Bar and the first Black female lawyer in Canada. She was also the first woman appointed to an executive position with the YMCA in the United States.
Michael Lee-Chin, businessman, investor and philanthropist (born 3 January 1951 in Port Antonio, Jamaica). Lee-Chin is president and chairman of Portland Holdings, a private investment company. According to Canadian Business magazine, Lee-Chin has an estimated net worth of more than $3.95 billion (as of 2017) and was ranked the 20th wealthiest Canadian. He is also one of the richest Jamaicans. Lee-Chin is also a dedicated philanthropist and has pledged and donated more than $60 million to hospitals, universities and, most notably, the Royal Ontario Museum, where the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal is named in honour of his $30-million pledge.
Mabel Adeline (Addie) Aylestock, minister of the British Methodist Episcopal Church (born 8 September 1909 in Glen Allan, ON; died 25 July 1998 in Toronto, ON). The first Black woman to be ordained in Canada, Aylestock helped organize congregations in several communities in Ontario, as well as in Québec (Montréal) and Nova Scotia (Africville and Halifax).
In the early 20th Century, most North End residents of Halifax perceived themselves as being collectively disadvantaged, compared to wealthier South End residents. However, within the North End certain groups — notably racial minorities, the elderly, non-British immigrants, members of the military, and unmarried women with children — stood out as being particularly vulnerable. They were among the hardest-hit in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion of 1917.
André Alexis, novelist, playwright, short-story writer (born 15 January 1957 in Port of Spain, Trinidad). Winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for his novel Fifteen Dogs (2015), André Alexis is one of Canada’s most respected novelists. He lives and works in Toronto, where he reviews books for the Globe and Mail and acts as a contributing editor for This Magazine. He has also hosted CBC Radio One’s Radio Nomad and CBC Radio 2’s Skylarking.
Viola Irene Desmond (née Davis), businesswoman, civil libertarian (born 6 July 1914 in Halifax, NS; died 7 February 1965 in New York, NY). Viola Desmond built a career and business as a beautician and was a mentor to young Black women in Nova Scotia through her Desmond School of Beauty Culture. It is, however, the story of her courageous refusal to accept an act of racial discrimination that provided inspiration to a later generation of Black persons in Nova Scotia and in the rest of Canada. In December 2016, it was announced that Desmond would be the first Canadian woman depicted on the face of a Canadian banknote — the $10 note in a series of bills released in 2018.1
Lincoln MacCauley Alexander, CC, QC, OOnt, lawyer, parliamentarian, public servant, lieutenant-governor of Ontario (born 21 January 1922 in Toronto, ON; died 19 October 2012 in Hamilton, ON). Alexander was the first Black Canadian Member of Parliament, cabinet minister and lieutenant-governor (Ontario).
Canadians of Caribbean origin belong to one of the largest non-European ethnic groups in Canada. A group of 556 Jamaicans arrived in Canada in 1796 after an unsuccessful British attempt to enslave them in Jamaica (see Black Canadians), but early contact between Canada and West Indians were few.
Richard Pierpoint (also Pawpine, Parepoint; Captain Pierpoint, Captain Dick; Black Dick), loyalist, soldier, community leader, storyteller (born c. 1744 in Bondu [now Senegal]; died c. 1838, near present-day Fergus, ON). Pierpoint was an early leader in Canada’s Black community. Taken from West Africa as a teenager and sold into slavery, Pierpoint regained his freedom during the American Revolution. He settled in Niagara, Upper Canada, and attempted to live communally with other Black Canadians. In the War of 1812, he petitioned for an all-Black unit to fight for the British and fought with the Coloured Corps.
Daisy Elitha Sweeney (née Peterson), teacher, pianist, organist (born 7 May 1920 in Montréal, QC; died 11 August 2017 in Montréal). An accomplished musician in her own right, Daisy Peterson Sweeney is perhaps best known as the older sister, and early teacher, of celebrated jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. She also taught other notable Montréal jazz pianists, including Oliver Jones and Joe Sealey.
Michael “Pinball” Clemons, O Ont, football player, coach, motivational speaker (born 15 January 1965 in Dunedin, Florida). Michael Clemons is one of the most accomplished athletes in Canadian Football League (CFL) history and the first African American to coach in the Grey Cup. Known to many simply as “Pinball,” he is a CFL Hall of Famer and four-time Grey Cup winner with the Toronto Argonauts, earning three championships as a player (1991, 1996, 1997) and one as a head coach (2004). He is the all-time leader in total combined yards in CFL history (25,438). Clemons, a naturalized Canadian citizen, moved into an executive role in the Argonauts’ front office after retiring from coaching. He is involved with a number of charities, including the Pinball Clemons Foundation.
Although little is known about Chloe Cooley, an enslaved woman in Upper Canada, her struggles against her “owner,” Sergeant Adam Vrooman, precipitated the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada, 1793 — the first legislation in the British colonies to restrict the slave trade.
In early Canada, the enslavement of African peoples was a legal instrument that helped fuel colonial economic enterprise. Enslavement was introduced by French colonists in New France in the early 1600s, and lasted until it was abolished throughout British North America in 1834.
Donovan Anthony Bailey, O.Ont., track and field sprinter (born 16 December 1967 in Manchester Parish, Jamaica). Donovan Bailey won the gold medal for Canada in the men’s 100m at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia, and set a world record with a time of 9.84 seconds. He later won a second Olympic gold medal when he led Team Canada to a first-place finish in the men’s 4x100m relay. During his athletic career, he also won four medals (three gold and one silver) at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships.1
Order-in-Council P.C. 1324 was approved on 12 August 1911 by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The purpose of the order was to ban Black persons from entering Canada for a period of one year because, it read, “the Negro race…is deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada.”
The No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) — also known as the Black Battalion — was a segregated non-combatant unit during the First World War. It was the first and only all-Black battalion in Canadian military history. This is their story.
On 15 April 1947, Jackie Robinson played in his debut game with the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play in the major leagues in the modern era. Prior to that point, professional baseball in the United States was segregated, with African Americans playing in the Negro leagues. When Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s colour barrier in 1947, he entered American history books. What many baseball fans may not realize, however, is that Robinson was embraced by Canadian fans one year earlier as a member of the Montreal Royals, a farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers.