February is Black History Month, a celebration of the many achievements and contributions of Black Canadians to Canada’s prosperity and success as a nation.
To commemorate this legacy of achievement, we will look at the history of the celebrations and the contributions of some influential Black Canadians who have shaped our country over the years.
Recognizing Black History in Canada
Black History in Canada dates back to at least the early seventeenth century when the first black communities started settling in Canada. Since then, people of African descent have had a major role in laying the foundation for a more inclusive Canadian society over the years.
The first official nation-wide recognition for Black History Month came in 1995, when the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month, following a motion by the Honourable Jean Augustine, the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament.
Continue reading to learn more about some influential Black Canadians whose achievements have bettered Canadian society and whose positive impact has put Canada on the world map:
The Honourable Jean Augustine:
Jean Augustine, the very person responsible for the month we celebrate each year, has been a trailblazer as a politician, social activist, and educator. She was the first Black Canadian woman to be elected in the House of Commons, the first Black Canadian woman to be appointed to the Cabinet of Canada, and the first Fairness Commissioner of the Government of Ontario.
She moved to Canada from Granada in 1960 and has since received numerous awards and recognitions for her work, including her induction as a Member of the Order of Canada in 2009 and her appointment as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Jean Augustine is also the recipient of seven Honourary Doctorate degrees from the University of Toronto, York, McGill, Guelph, Windsor, Trent and Ryerson.
Andre De Grasse
One of the most notable figures in the world of sprinting, Andre De Grasse is a six-time Olympic medalist and the reigning 200 m race Olympic champion. Andre is a consistent podium finisher and his gold medal win in the 2020 Olympics was the first Canadian Olympic gold in track in 25 years and the first Canadian Olympic gold in the 200 m in 93 years!
In 2018, Andre launched the public charity organization Andre De Grasse Family Foundation, which aims to inspire and empower youth through access to sport, education, and healthcare.
Rosemary Brown moved to Canada from Jamaica in 1951 to attend McGill University in Montréal. A public advocate who dedicated her life to helping others, Rosemary Brown served Canadians as the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission from 1993 until 1996. She is also recognized as one of the most prominent faces of Canadian feminism as the founding member of both Vancouver Status of Women Council and Canadian Women’s Foundation.
Some other noteworthy social contributions by Rosemary Brown include her membership of the Judicial Council of BC and the Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee.
Aubrey Drake Graham
Aubrey Graham—more popularly known as Drake—is a Toronto-born songwriter, rapper and actor whose music charts worldwide. Drake has won over 200 music awards to date and is a four-time Grammy winner. Often touted to be one of the most successful recording artists of all time, Drake is also a serial entrepreneur with his own fashion labels and a stake in Toronto Raptors.
According to a 2020 article by Billboard, Drake is responsible for 5 percent of Toronto’s Tourism Economy. Outside of music and his successful business ventures, Drake is often praised for raising his voice in support of minorities, not just in Canada but all of North America.