During Black History Month in Canada, we celebrate the accomplishments and contributions Black Canadians have made to build Canada into a culturally diverse, accepting, and prosperous country.
Ever since the arrival of interpreter and navigator Mathieu Da Costa in the 1600s, people of African descent have been a crucial part of the foundation of Canadian identity and history.
After the American Revolution, the British government offered passage North to freedom for more than 3000 slaves and free Black Canadians. Many joined the Black Loyalists and settled across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. In 1793, these settlers were officially declared free people. Throughout the 1800s, over 30,000 slaves in the United States arrived in Canada – over 700 with Harriet Tubman through the Underground Railroad.
Black Canadians fought for their country from the War of 1812 through World Wars I and II, and beyond. But it wasn’t until 1944 that the government enacted the Racial Discrimination Act, prohibiting any displays of ethnic, racial, and religious discrimination. Nowadays, Canada joins the global movement in promoting Black rights as Black Canadians continue to contribute to the Canadian identify and our history.
Of course, the story of Black History Month in Canada has bilateral roots. In 1926, Carter G. Woodson, an African American historian at Harvard University, proposed a dedicated time to celebrate the achievements of African Americans and to promote Black history in the Untied States. Shortly after, celebrations of Black history spread across Canada too. By 1976, these celebrations in the U.S. expanded from a day, to a week, to a full month.
However, it would take over 30 years for Canada’s Parliament to designate February officially as Black History Month. In December 1995, the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, the Honourable Jean Augustine, filed a motion to make February officially designated Black History Month in Canada. The motion passed the House of Commons unanimously. But it wasn’t until March 2008, when Parliament adopted the Motion to Recognize Contributions of Black Canadians and February as Black History Month.
In addition to recognizing the contributions of Black Canadians in shaping our nation, Black History Month is a time to educate ourselves. Many organizations in Canada are promoting Black Canadian history and its importance both domestically and globally.
This year, all Canadians are invited to participate in and celebrate Black History Month at home and abroad. The theme for 2020’s Black History Month is “Canadians of African Descent: Going forward, guided by the past,” inspired by the United Nations’ theme “International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024)”.
Make sure to check out our events page for upcoming Black History Month events for Canadians in Washington, D.C. and the United States.