Black History Canada: Community activist and former NS Senator Calvin Ruck

Following World War One, many from the Caribbean were drawn to the area around Sydney, Nova Scotia, for the work offered in the coal mines. Calvin Ruck was born to parents who had emigrated from Barbados, settling in Whitney Pier. Calvin worked at Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation before finding employment in the job that many Black men were welcome to have at the time, that of porter with the Canadian National Railways, from 1945 to 1958.

Calvin Ruck (image courtesy School of Social Work, Dalhousie University)

His experience in trying to buy a home in Westphal near Dartmouth, a White neighbourhood, changed the direction of Ruck’s life. Ruck and his wife had to deal with a petition issued by the residents trying to keep them out. While the family was successful in ultimately buying the home of their dreams in 1954, ongoing incidents of hostility made their day-to-day experience a near nightmare.

To cope with some issues of injustice, African-Canadians often felt it better to try to put up with them rather than confront them since outright challenges could result in being fired or facing increased problems. Maybe his work as a janitor at the air force base in Shearwater encouraged Ruck to reconsider the need to fight. He became a quiet resister, for example refusing to accept that barbershops would not serve his family or the Black community. As he sat in the shop “waiting for service” other patrons would not come in, which affected the barber’s income.

In the 1970s, Ruck enrolled in a social work program and graduated from Dalhousie University. He served on the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission during the 1980s. However, it was his efforts to preserve, tell and commemorate the history of the Black veterans of the First World War—”No. 2 Construction Battalion”—that resulted in his success at having a permanent cairn erected at Pictou, Nova Scotia, to the battalion’s honour in 1993. Ruck was appointed to the Senate in 1998, the third African-Canadian so appointed.


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