-Press Release from Past Forward Heritage-

Small northern Ontario town celebrates
election of
Canada’s first Black mayor in 1963 

The northern Ontario town of Mattawa has a population of 2000 that is largely made up of people from English, French and Native heritage and is best known for its role in the early fur trade and for logging and lumbering. In 2009 Mattawa celebrated its 125th anniversary.  Significant in these celebrations was Mattawa’s proud role in a milestone event in Canadian Black history, the election in 1963 of Canada’s First Black Mayor, Haitian immigrant Dr. S. F. Monestime.

As part of these celebrations Past Forward Heritage published Where Rivers Meet: The Story of Dr. S. F. Monestime Canada’s Fist Black Mayor by regional historian and heritage columnist Doug Mackey. Mackey was asked by Dr. Monestime’s family to write the story of Dr. Monestime and his wife Zena Petschersky, who was a refugee from war-torn Europe, and their struggles to raise a family and make a meaningful life in Canada. Doug Mackey is the award winning author of The Fossmill Story, and The Kiosk Story.

The story of what happened when a Black doctor from the Caribbean nation of Haiti, on his way to Timmins from Ottawa, stopped for lunch at the Chez Francois Restaurant in Mattawa in 1951 is local legend. “Dr. Monestime thought they were going to challenge him when he entered the restaurant.” Mackey recalls “but what did happen eventually led to his historical election as the mayor of Mattawa twelve years later. His election was national and international news at the time. He eventually served nine terms as mayor until his death in 1977.”

The owner of the Chez Francois Restaurant had been a patient of Dr. Monestime’s in Ottawa and was pleased to see him. A long serving Mattawa doctor had recently died and a new doctor was proving hard to find.  The town leaders welcomed Dr. Monestime and he stayed to be the town’s highly respected doctor.

In 1962 Dr Monestime’s instinct for public service, honed in Haiti, came to the fore and he became a Municipal Councillor. In 1963 he was elected Mayor – Canada’s first elected black Mayor. He also became active in Conservative politics and was a Director in the Federal Progressive Conservative Party and ran for national President. His contribution in Mattawa, federally and provincially was significant. A review of Where Rivers Meet stated, “Monestime’s humanity, his love for people, and his almost willful ignorance of the pervading racism of the time are depicted very clearly, and he is presented as the prototype Canadian for a multicultural age.”

His role, with his wife Zena, in establishing the Algonquin Nursing Home now administered by their daughter Vala is a remarkable achievement providing an accredited, bilingual long term care home for area seniors. Dr. Monestime was known for his availability, his leadership, and his powerful personality including a memorable laugh, all of which are part of his legend and part the deep affection people still have for him long after his demise. There is a display on Dr. Monestime at the Mattawa Museum.

Mattawa ended its 125th anniversary activities on New Years Day 2010 with a standing room only event in the town’s council chambers recognizing Dr. Monestime and the 100th anniversary of his birthday December 16th, 1909. They dedicated the Council Chamber to his memory and unveiled a portrait of him by local artist Clermont Duval.

The presence of three Liberal government members – the Hon. Monique Smith, MPP, Anthony Rota, MP and Mauril Belanger, MP is an indication of the respect for Dr. Monestime. They all praised him and his family’s contribution. The high Liberal praise for a staunch Progressive Conservative brought smiles and laughter to the audience. Pierrette Burke who worked in the Municipal Office with him throughout his career brought tears to her eyes and others in her memorial reminiscences.

The event was finalized with the announcement by Mattawa Mayor Dean Backer that council has approved the name of Mattawa’s Main Street as Monestime Way. Also MP Mauril Belanger (Ottawa-Vanier) who grew up in Mattawa and was inspired by Dr. Monestime announced that an effort is being made to establish a medical bursary in his name for Haitian medical students. Another pleasant surprise was the attendance of Dr. Monestime’s son Daniel, from an early Haitian marriage, along with Daniel's wife Emillie and daughters Margareth and Mai Valentine.

After hearing the news of the devastating earthquake in Haiti the people of Mattawa have rallied to support the people of Dr. Monestime’s homeland and have organized a “Change for Haiti” fundraising event that has raised over $11,000 toward Haiti relief. Past Forward has decided to donate $2 per copy from the sale of Where Rivers Meet to Haitian relief efforts.

During Black History Month 2010 Past Forward and the people of Mattawa are proud to celebrate Canada’s first elected Black Mayor, Dr. S. F. Monestime. He joins proudly the list of firsts in municipal politics with individuals such as: Burr Plato, elected Niagara Falls Councillor 1886; William Peyton Hubbard, elected Toronto alderman in 1894 and was a controller and deputy mayor; and Daurene Lewis who was elected mayor of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia in 1984 to become the first Black woman mayor in Canada.


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