||February 22, 2008
February is Black History Month
This month is Black History Month across Canada. Toronto's
Black History Society successfully petitioned the city of Toronto for the event
in 1978. The originator of the idea in the 1950s was the Canadian Negro Women's
Association. Canada is a multicultural nation which recognizes its many
cultural groups. African Canadians have had a remarkably long and arduous road
to travel because of their colour and origin. Many museums, exhibitions,
events, books, etc. have supported the recognition some which I have mentioned
in other articles.
The Ontario Black History Society (OBHS)
The OBHS has an excellent website for teachers, parents or
individuals interested in current activities. The Society has offices in
Toronto. They are active in Public Education, Oral History, Publications,
Research and Leadership. They have a variety of books for sale including one
for children up to age 12. (
A Safe Haven
The book A Safe Haven: The Story of Black Settlers of
Oxford County by Joyce A. Pettigrew is an excellent example of recent black
history. There are several Ontario communities that have extensive black
history that is well recorded - Windsor/Amherstburg, Owen Sound, Chatham,
Dresden, and St. Catharines. The blacks of Otterville (near Tillsonburg) in
Oxford county are long gone and needed recording and Pettigrew took on the task
and with lots of help provided a remarkable book.
||Cover of A Safe Haven: The Story of Black
Settlers in Oxford County (2006).
The book besides being an excellent history of black
settlers has a history of the black struggle going back primarily to Britain's
use and abuse of slaves to provide labour in expanding America. The book also
includes an interesting 74 page genealogy of the original residents. The
profiles of famous and successful black residents are also interesting.
Why the Blacks came to Oxford
Blacks came to Oxford in three main periods - the 1870s,
the 1880s and after the Civil War in the U.S. The use of slaves goes back to
3000 B.C. when prisoners taken in battle were used by the victors. Boatloads of
African blacks were transported and sold. They were easily acquired from their
countrymen and the Christian whites continued to believe that black non
Christian beliefs made them lesser beings. Slaves became one of the most
abominable practices the world has ever known.
One of the great contradictions was the American Revolution
to establish freedom for the Americas. Blacks were used to fight and soon were
worse off than before as slavery flourished again. Over time as abolition began
to emerge some indentured blacks were freed, some conscientious owners freed
their blacks and of course many ran away.
Many black loyalists remained loyal to the crown after the
American Revolution. In 1783 some 3,000 blacks came to Nova Scotia but were
ghettoized and exploited. In the 1850-60s following the passing of the Fugitive
Slave Law made to arrest runaway blacks, some 50,000 came to Canada in the
famous "Underground Railway".
It was a slow process but over time blacks were accepted
although many prejudices remained. Blacks became educated and became
professionals and politicians etc and became a part of middle class Canadian
life. There have been male and female members of parliament, Senators, Judges,
a Moderator of the United Church, Ontario's first Ombudsman, and Ontario's Lt.
Governor etc. and of course Haitian born MichaŽlle Jean our current Governor
General. Locally we are proud of Canada's First Black Mayor, Haitian immigrant
Dr. Fermin Monestime of Mattawa.
2007 was an important year in Black History celebrating
Britain's Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. One of the many related
publications in 2007 was the Ontario Historical Society's Spring Edition of
Ontario History which was completely focused on a variety of black topics.
(Back issues are available for $15 at 416-226-9011.)
The Ontario Heritage Foundation's publication Heritage
Matters also had a 2007 Special Edition From Slavery to Freedom (Aug 2007). Also
This brief look at black history is just a touch of what is
available for those interested. There are now dozens of books and other
materials on line. Among the many positive changes we should not forget the
incredible exploitation of millions of good people in our recent past.
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