Thursday, February 19, 2009
February is Black History Month
A NEW LEARNING
Western Canadians are generally surprised to know that the month of February is Black History Month in Canada. When do we hear or even speak about African Canadians? Our deficit of familiarity is reasonable since the Black history being celebrated occurred chiefly in Ontario and Eastern Canada. While Toronto's Black History Society successfully petitioned the city of Toronto for the event in 1978 it has now become a commemoration officially observed across Canada.
Travelling secretively by night approximately 50,000 slaves found freedom between 1810 to 1850 through an informal network of secret routes and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. The route from the southern States north to Canada was developed by white abolitionist sympathizers, free-born blacks and former slaves. Churches such as Reformed Presbyterians, Quakers (Religious Society of Friends), Wesleyans, Baptists, Congregationalists and Methodists also played a supportive role. (The photo is of the Underground Railroad monument in Windsor ON)
Citizenship and Immigration Canada posts in its site the following statement. “This is a time to celebrate the many achievements and contributions of black Canadians who, throughout history, have done so much to make Canada the culturally diverse, compassionate and prosperous nation we know today. It is also an opportunity for the majority of Canadians to learn about the experiences of black Canadians in our society, and the vital role this community has played throughout our shared history.”
Today the African-Canadian population is made up of individuals from a range of places across the globe including the United States, South America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, and Canada. Canadians may pride ourselves for tolerance and inclusiveness but the erosion of racial bigotry has been slow. We now can say there have been black male and female members of parliament, Senators, Judges, a Moderator of the United Church, Ontario's first Ombudsman, and Ontario's Lt. Governor etc. and of course Haitian born Michaëlle Jean our current Governor General. Canada's First Black Mayor is Haitian immigrant Dr. Fermin Monestime of Mattawa.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada has a helpful site entitled ‘On the Road North – the Journey to Freedom which contains good data and a slide show.
Read the book ‘A Safe Haven: The Story of Black Settlers of Oxford County’ by Joyce A. Pettigrew is an excellent example of recent black history. That is available together with a variety of others including one for children up to age 12, at the Black History Society site.