Every February, we honour the legacy of Black people in Canada and their cultures, community and experiences. Black History Month was first established in 1979 after a petition was made to the City of Toronto by the founders of the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS). Toronto was the first community for formally declare February as Black History Month. In 1993, the OBHS filed a petition in Ontario to have this month recognized at a provincial level, and then pushed for it to be recognized nationally. In 1995, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month, however it was not yet formally recognized by the Senate. In February 2008, Senator Donald Oliver, the first Black man appointed to the Senate, introduced a motion to have the month formally recognized. This motion received unanimous approval and was formally adopted on March 8th, 2008, which completed Canada’s parliamentary position on the month.
Black Canadians and their communities have been a part of shaping Canada’s heritage and identity since the arrival of Mathieu Da Costa, a navigator and interpreter, dating back to the early 1600’s. The role of black people and their communities within Canada has been largely ignored as a key part of our history. There is little mention in the history books of those who of African descent that settled in the Maritimes after the American Revolution, or of the many brave soldiers of African descent and their sacrifices during the War of 1812. Few people in Canada are aware of the fact that African people were once enslaved in what is now know as Canada, or of how many fought this enslavement and helped to lay the foundation of Canada’s diverse society.
The 2023 theme for Black History Month is “Ours to tell”, which represents both an opportunity to engage in open dialogue and a commitment to learning more about the stories Black communities in Canada have to share about their histories, successes, sacrifices and triumphs. This month, we celebrate the countless achievements and contributions of Black Canadians who have done so much to make Canada a culturally diverse, compassionate and prosperous country.
Here are some links if you would like to learn more about the countless contributions made with these diverse and vibrant individuals and communities within Canada: