Although Canada is frequently regarded as a place of freedom for the Americans that sought to escape the clutches of slavery, we need to be cognizant of Canada’s historical and modern day discrimination towards Black individuals. This blog attempts to highlight some Black Canadians’ contributions in order to grant their fellow citizens with extra liberties that they themselves were often unfairly denied.
In this blog, I will briefly highlight some major Black historical figures whose sacrifices should be remembered as they sought to better all of our lives:
Viola Davis Desmond: Viola (1914-1965) attended a movie in Nova Scotia, where she refused to sit on the balcony (designated for Black people), and instead sat in an area designated for White people only. Viola was unfairly sentenced to jail and was required to pay a fine. The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. To apologize for the discriminatory treatment of Viola, she was posthumously pardoned and a formal apology was made to her sister. Viola is also featured on the $10 Canadian bill.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary: Mary Ann (1823-1893) was a highly accomplished individual with a variety of occupations including: publisher, teacher, lawyer, journalist, and an activist. Mary Ann advocated for the abolition of slavery and was a women’s rights activists. She and her family also helped numerous slaves escape to Canada via the Underground Railroad. To honour her contributions, she was designated a person of historical significance in Canada and there is a school that was opened in Scarborough in 1985 under her name.
Violet King: Violet (1929-1982) was Canada’s first Female Black Lawyer, and someone who gave many speeches about the impacts of racism and advocated for equality. Though she eventually settled in New York, where she ultimately passed away, she is an important Canadian figure who shattered barriers that were commonly encountered by women and people of colour who sought out careers in law.
Fred Christie: Fred (1902-1985) was a passionate hockey fan who lived in Montreal. A tavern he had frequented in the past (the York Tavern) refused to serve him beer because he was Black. Fred, unhappy with the discrimination he encountered, sued the establishment in a case that made its way up to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, Fred lost the case, but his rightful anger towards the racism he encountered highlights the injustice that many Black Canadians faced at this time.
I want to end this blog by highlighting that this short overview is meant to be a launch pad to encourage you to learn more about these wonderful Canadians and the rich, yet challenging lives that many of them led.