The Month of February, ironically the shortest month of the year, is celebrated in Canada as Black History Month. The month and its celebrations provide an opportunity for Canadians to share and learn about the experiences, contributions and achievements of peoples of African ancestry. It was initiated in Canada by the Ontario Black History Society, which was founded in 1978.Before Black History Month was introduced in Canada, there was a movement to recognize North Americans of African descent. In 1926, African American historian, Carter G. Woodson conceived of the idea to declare Negro History Week (which became Black History Month) to coincide with the birth month of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist and former enslaved person, Frederick Douglass. Later, sleeping car porters brought the idea north across the border into Canada.
The first celebration of February as Black History Month in Canada was organized at Toronto’s African Canadian “Shaw Street” British Methodist Episcopal Church in 1950 by Stanley G. Grizzle. Later, the founders of the Ontario Black History Society, including Dr. Daniel G. Hill and Wilson O. Brooks, presented a petition to the City of Toronto to have February formally proclaimed as Black History Month. In 1979, the first-ever Canadian proclamation was issued by Toronto. In 1993, the Ontario Black History Society successfully filed a petition in Ontario to proclaim February as Black History Month. Finally,former Member of Parliament for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, and then Parliamentary Secretary, Hon. Dr. Jean Augustine, introduced a Motion in the House of Commons in Ottawa which was unanimously on December 5, 1995. The first national declaration of Black History Month in Canada went into effect in February 1996.
We have come a long way since then. Every year in February, celebrations, big and small, take place across the Black Communities in Canada, some of which are attended, for the symbolism of it, by politicians and some government officials when it suits them. The noble idea of these celebrations was mooted to provide an opportunity for Canadians to share and learn about the experiences, contributions and achievements of peoples of African ancestry. Sadly, the history of the celebrations to date, across Canada, have been limited to efforts and involvements, some on very limited scale, to the members of the Black communities across Canada. There have been limited involvementin the celebrations by the power brokers, the rich and powerful as well as the mainstream citizenry in Canada. The only Province where politicians and political leadership have been actively participating in the Black History Month Celebrations has been the Province of Ontario. We thank them for their efforts and genuine interest in these celebrations.
We however call on the leaders of the Black communities in Canada to double their efforts in organizing events and activities to involve mainstream Canadians and power brokers in the country in these celebrations if its noble objectives of providing an opportunity for Canadians to share and learn about the experiences, contributions and achievements of peoples of African ancestryare to be achieved. The celebrations should not be limited only to the Black communities. This is the time we need to showcase the contributions of Canadians of African ancestry to the nation-building efforts in Canada. We have heroes, past, present and living whose achievements and contributions to the Canadian Mosaic should be highlighted and showcased. That way, ALL Canadians will learn and embrace this noble idea and participate in the celebrations of Black History in Canada as a noble event worth celebrating.