February is a time to celebrate, reflect upon, and honour the legacy of Black Canadians and their communities.
The 2024 theme for Black History Month “Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; a Future to Build” particularly celebrates the rich past and present contributions and accomplishments of Black people in Canada, while aspiring to embrace new opportunities for the future.
This is also the 10th and last year of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024) which recognizes that people of African descent deserve recognition, justice and development.
Black Canadians and their communities have been a part of shaping Canada’s heritage and identity since the arrival of Mathieu Da Costa, a navigator, and interpreter, whose presence in Canada dates back to the early 1600s.
In December 1995, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in Canada following a motion introduced by the first African Canadian woman elected to Parliament, the Honourable Jean Augustine. The House of Commons carried the motion unanimously.
Black History Month is a time to learn more about these Canadian stories and the many other important contributions that Black Canadians and their communities have made to the history and continued growth of this country.
The role of Black Canadians and their communities in Canada has largely been ignored as a key part of Canada’s history. There is little mention that some of the Loyalists who came here after the American Revolution and settled in the Maritimes were people of African descent, nor the fact that many soldiers of African descent made many sacrifices in wartime as far back as the War of 1812.
Few people in Canada are aware of the fact that African people were once enslaved in the territory that is now known as Canada, or of how those who fought enslavement helped to lay the foundation of Canada’s diverse and inclusive society.
Recognizing Black History in Canada
Lincoln Alexander was the first Black Canadian member of Parliament (1968), Cabinet minister (1979) and lieutenant-governor (Ontario, 1985). In recognition of his many important accomplishments, 21 January has been celebrated as Lincoln Alexander Day across Canada since 2015.
In February 2008, Senator Donald Oliver, the first Black man appointed to the Senate, introduced the Motion to Recognize Contributions of Black Canadians and February as Black History Month. It received unanimous approval and was adopted on March 4, 2008. The adoption of this motion completed Canada’s parliamentary position on Black History Month.
Black people continue to make strides in Canada. In October 2023, Liberal MP Greg Fergus became the country’s 38th House of Commons Speaker and the first Black Canadian to hold the prestigious role. It is noteworthy that Jean Augustine, the first Black woman to be elected as a member of parliament in 1993, later went on to briefly serve as deputy speaker.
Let’s celebrate our heritage even as we shape out future in Canada