It’s Black History Month!
This week features Black Canadians to know and learn about.
From civil rights activists to trailblazers in their respective professions, Black Canadians have had significant impacts on our society and culture. Keep scrolling to read more about them!
Civil Rights Activist
Viola Desmond was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was an African-Canadian who ran her own beauty parlor and college in Halifax. On November 8, 1946, she decided to go to the movies in New Glasgow. She refused to sit in the balcony, which was segregated exclusively for Black people. Instead, she sat on the floor, which was Whites only. She was forcibly removed and arrested. She was found guilty of not paying a one-cent tax difference on the balcony ticket and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and paid a $26 fine. Desmond took her case to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, where the ruling was upheld.
First hijab wearing television journalist in North America
Ginella Massa is a Canadian television journalist. She was the first hijab-wearing television reporter in North America in 2015 and became the first news anchor in a hijab in 2016. She made history again by being the first hijabi to host a primetime current affairs talk show in North America. The show, called Canada Tonight, premiered on CBC in January.
Willie Eldon O’Ree
First Black hockey player in the National Hockey League
Willie O’Ree was the first Black hockey player in the NHL. He played his first game on January 19, 1958 for the Boston Bruins. Today, O’Ree is the director of the NHL’s diversity program. He travels across North America promoting and teaching hockey to kids from diverse cultural backgrounds. In 2008, his hometown of Fredericton, New Brunswick, naed its new hockey area Willie O’Ree Place, in his honour.
First Black and Jewish woman to be named a leader of a federal political party
Annamie Paul is the current leader of the Green Party. She is the first ever Black and Jewish person to be named leader of a federal political party. She is a lawyer who has focused a large part of her life on international affairs. She has worked as Director for a leading NGO in Brussels, as an Advisor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and a Political Officer in Canada’s Mission to the European Union.
A trailblazing nurse and community organizer
Coltilda Adesa Yakimchuk, C.M. Was born and raised in Nova Scotia. In 1954, she became the first Black graduate of the Nova Scotia Hospital School of Nursing. She spent 50 years in the nursing profession and served as President of the Registered Nurses’s Association of Nova Scotia. She is the organization’s only elected Black president in 100 years of the organization’s history to date. She was also the founding member of the Black Community Development Organization to provide affordable housing in low-income communities and improved living facilities for seniors.
Award-winning jazz pianist, composer, and educator
Oscar Emmanuel Peterson, CC, CQ, OOnt, is a jazz pianist, composer, and educator. He is one of Canada’s most honoured musicians and is widely regarded as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. He was known for his speed and dexterity, meticulous technique, and unique swinging style. He is a jazz educator and advocate for racial equality. He has won eight Grammys and a Juno award, including a lifetime achievement award. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the International Jazz Hall of Fame.