-Press Release from Past Forward Heritage-
Obama inauguration address evokes comparison to
When Regional historian and author Doug Mackey heard US President Obama say: “A man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath,” in his inauguration speech Mackey couldn’t help but make comparisons to the pivotal incident in the story of the election of Canada’s first Black mayor in Mattawa in 1963. Mackey has just finished writing and is currently in the process of preparing for spring publication, Where Rivers Meet: The Story of S. F. Monestime Canada’s First Black Mayor.
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 the Northern Ontario town of 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. He was elected town councillor in 1962 and ran and won for mayor the next year.
Dr Monestime’s daughter Vala Belter the Administrator of Mattawa’s Algonquin Nursing Home, which was started by her father, remembers when Martin Luther King made his “I have a dream” speech in August 1963. Her father was watching with the family when King referred to his four children and said that he dreamed that they would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Dr. Monestime turned to his four children and said that the same applied to them. He was elected mayor only three months later.
2009 is the 100th anniversary of Dr. Monestime’s birth in Haiti and the 125th anniversary of the town of Mattawa. 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 wartorn Europe, and their struggles to raise a family and make a meaningful life in Canada. As part of the 125th anniversary celebrations the town council chambers are being renamed the Dr. S. F. Monestime Council Chambers. Mackey’s book Where Rivers Meet will be launched at the same time. It is fitting that these events are being announced in Black History Month 2009
Doug Mackey is the award winning author of The Fossmill Story, and The Kiosk Story which won the CBC Northern Ontario Reads competition in 2008. Where Rivers Meet: The Story of S. F. Monestime Canada’s First Black Mayor will be available in the spring (Now Available).
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