Canadian Black History Announcements
These blurbs take about 40 seconds each to read as part of a school's morning announcements.
Firsts and Bests
Mathieu Da Costa was the first recorded Black person to come to Canada. He may have visited as early as 1603 (four hundred years ago). Mathieu was a well educated free person who spoke at least three different languages. He was in interpreter for Samuel de Champlain and other Europeans who explored North America. Mathieu helped these people speak with the Native people who already lived here. Mathieu Da Costa's skills were so important that he was either kidnapped or convinced to join a different group of explorers and his old bosses had to pay extra to get him to work for them again.
Mary Ann Shadd was a free American Black woman who moved from the United States to Windsor, Ontario so that she would not be captured and turned into a slave. Mary started a school to teach children of Black refugees from the United States. In 1853, a hundred and fifty years ago, Mary started a weekly newspaper and became the first Black woman to edit a newspaper in North America. She believed that having special places for Black people to live that were separate from European communities would hurt the cause of freedom. Mary Ann Shadd wanted people to have relationships based on friendship, not skin colour.
Elijah McCoy was an inventor who made the railroads run a lot faster and cheaper. He was born in Canada to runaway American slaves. When slavery became illegal in the United States Elijah left Canada and moved to Michigan. Before his invention, trains had to stop fairly often to oil their moving parts so that they would not get too hot. Elijah found a way to oil the parts while the train was moving. Elijah McCoy's invention worked so much better than anything else that people insisted that they get "the real McCoy" when they bought them. Nowadays, when people ask for "the real McCoy" they mean that they want quality, not a cheap imitation.
Henry McDame searched for gold in British Columbia over a hundred years ago. Three times he found enough gold to make him rich. The first time Henry and two other Black men went farther into British Columbia than the other people who were prospecting for gold. The second time he went off by himself. After three weeks he was running out of supplies, but persistence paid off. A few years later Henry found gold again, this time he had not had enough money to buy his own supplies, so a partner shared the gold. How Henry McDame lost his riches, or had them taken from him, is a mystery that history does not record.
John Ware was the best known Black person in the Canadian prairies a hundred and twenty years ago. He was born a slave in the American South, but got his freedom at the end of the Civil War. John then moved to Texas and became a cowboy. He was part of a crew that drove cattle to Alberta, and once he got into Canada he never went back to the United States. John soon became a respected rancher and steer wrestler. He never learned to read or write, but taught his ranching skills to many young cowboys. Because of the respect that he earned, there is now a school in Calgary named after John Ware.
Portia White was one of the greatest singers in Canadian history. Born in Nova Scotia, she began singing in her father's church as she was growing up. Portia walked sixteen kilometers each week to get to her music lessons. She became a teacher and worked on her singing craft in her spare time. The people of Portia's province saw that she had talent and they donated money so that she could focus on her singing career. That fund is still helping Nova Scotia artists today. In 1941 Portia had her first concert in Toronto, and within three years she was touring internationally. Portia White performed over a hundred concerts in her career.
Marie-Joseph Angelique was a slave in Montreal who did not want to be sold. In the spring of 1734 (two hundred and seventy years ago) Marie-Joseph was blamed for setting fire to her master's house when she learned that her master was planning to sell her. The fire spread and forty-six houses were destroyed. This was a big part of Montreal at that time. Marie-Joseph was caught and put on trial. She was tortured until she admitted that she set the fire. The court sentenced Marie-Joseph to hang. Her hangman was another slave. Marie-Joseph Angelique's ashes were scattered as a way of continuing her punishment after death.
Mary Postell was a slave who earned her freedom in the American war of Independence by helping out the side that lost the war two hundred and thirty years ago. Mary was tricked into becoming a slave again, and her new owner took her and her daughters to Nova Scotia. When Mary thought that her owner was going to separate her from her daughters she ran away with them. After they were caught, a Canadian court decided that they were slaves and their owner could sell them if he wanted. The owner broke up the family, selling Mary for a hundred bushels of potatoes. A Canadian court turned Mary Postell into a slave.
Dimbo Suckles hid in a fallen log to escape slave hunters in Africa. He was dragged out by a metal hook on the end of a long stick, which scarred him for the rest of his life. Dimbo ended up in Prince Edward Island where he made a deal with his owner to earn his way out of slavery. Dimbo worked for seven more years, and then became a free person two hundred years ago. There were very few Black people in Prince Edward Island, so there was not much of a community for Dimbo to join. Because of the racism at the time, Dimbo Suckles led a hard life.
Freedom in Canada
Richard Pierpoint was born in Africa and taken to the United States as a slave. He earned his freedom in the American War of Independence, two hundred and seventy years ago, by fighting against the rebels. Richard's unit was very successful because they learned how to fight from the Natives. After the war, Richard settled in Ontario so that he would not be put back into slavery. He worked hard to build a community where Black people could work to help each other in Ontario. In 1812, when he was sixty years old, Richard Pierpoint fought the Americans who invaded Ontario because he did not want them to make him into a slave again.
Rose Fortune started a business at a time when few women were that independent, and even fewer business owners were Black women. Over two hundred years ago she worked in a Nova Scotia harbor carrying cargo to and from the sailing ships. Rose met the boats when they came in and used a wheelbarrow to cart travelers' things to homes and hotels. She also woke people up so that they would be at their boat on time. Rose may also have been the first policewoman in Canada. She worked all over the harbor area and watched for crime as she worked. Rose Fortune's business was such a success that some of her descendants still work in the trucking business.
Josiah Henson was a slave for forty one years until he escaped to Ontario a hundred and seventy-five years ago. Josiah and his family traveled secretly with the help of people along the way. These people called themselves the Underground Railway. When he was sixty years old, Josiah Henson wrote a book about his life. An American author read his autobiography and wrote a fiction book called Uncle Tom's Cabin based on it. Many Americans read the story and realized how bad slavery was and decided to stop it. Many of these people felt so strongly that they fought a war with other Americans that saw the end of slavery.
Sylvia Stark was born a slave in the American South. Sylvia's father arranged to buy his own freedom, and then earned enough money to buy his family. In order to get away racism, the family moved west. They built a new life, but found that there was racism in the American West as well. In 1860, one hundred and forty years ago, the Governor of Vancouver Island was afraid that the United States would take over. He decided to get people living in his area who wanted to get away from the Americans. Sylvia Stark and her family joined around eight hundred Black people who moved to Vancouver Island from California to build new communities where they would feel welcome.
Fred Christie was not served the beer that he ordered at the Montreal forum because he was a Black person. Seventy years ago Fred had season tickets for the Montreal Canadians hockey team and he stopped by the stadium's bar with a friend before a game. When the waitress would not serve him, Fred Christie sued the bar. After a long legal battle, the case made it to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that a company could do whatever it wanted unless there was a law against it, and there was no law against racial discrimination. It is embarrassing to admit that in 1940 the Canadian courts said that racism was allowed.
Herb Carnegie was an excellent hockey player who was not allowed to play in the NHL because of his skin colour. Herb played hockey in Quebec in the 1940s and 1950s. Big crowds came out to watch him play as the center of a line called the "Black Aces." Herb was the center and two other Black men played beside him on the wings. The owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs complained that he could not put Herb on the team because Herb was Black. Instead of becoming bitter about the NHL, Herb focused on making the lives of young people better. Herb Carnegie's program, "Future Aces," is helping kids feel better about themselves in schools today.
Harry Jerome was one of Canada's world class track and field athletes. Harry was born in Saskatchewan and grew up in British Columbia. In high school he did well in basketball, hockey and football, but he was best at sprinting. Harry earned a track scholarship to the University of Oregon. When he was nineteen Harry set world records in sprinting. Two years later he injured his leg so bad that he spent half a year in a cast. The doctors said that he would not be able to compete again. Harry Jerome fought hard to recover from his injury and went on to set three more world records and earn an Olympic medal.
Ferguson Jenkins dreamed of playing professional hockey when he was growing up, but discovered that his skills were as a baseball pitcher. Baseball scouts were interested in Fergie when he was fifteen, but he did not sign on until he was finished high school. Ferguson shares the record for winning twenty or more games in six seasons in a row. In 1969 he led the league by striking out two hundred and seventy three batters. Ferguson Jenkins was a Hall of Fame pitcher, but never won a world series. It takes more than one person to have the best team, even when that person is one of the best.
Service to Others
George Bonga was a voyageur legendary for his physical strength and wilderness knowledge. He became a wealthy man by working in the fur trade. George went to school almost two hundred years ago in Montreal, but spent most of his life in the Northwest of the United States, which is now the state of Minnesota. He could speak English, French, Ojibway very well, and also knew bits of other languages. Like his father, George married an Ojibway woman. It bothered George Bonga to see the Ojibway people pushed off their land by the Americans, and in his later years did what he could to help them get fair treatment.
Harriet Tubman was an escaped slave who helped many other slaves escape from slavery in the United States into Canada, where slavery was illegal. Harriet was called a conductor in the Underground Railroad. She traveled with groups of escaped slaves from their homes in the southern states to St. Catherines in Ontario. They had to hide from people who were hunting them and hoping to make them slaves again. Brave people along the way fed Harriet and the escaped slaves and found places for them to sleep. Harriet Tubman helped over 300 people escape to Canada.
Seymour Tyler served in the Canadian military during two World Wars. He left school to serve in the Number Two Construction Battalion, Canada's unit which had only Black people in it. Seymour would have cut trees or worked on construction projects that supported the fighting soldiers. He also fought in other units. Seymour was wounded at Vimy Ridge, which was a very important battle for Canada. Between the wars Seymour was a farmer. He was on his way to St. John with a load of vegetables when he heard on the radio that was had been declared. Seymour Tyler turned his car around so that he could get ready to enlist again.
Lincoln Alexander has served the people of Canada in many ways. He began by serving in the Canadian Air Force during World War Two. After the war Lincoln went back to school and became a lawyer. A few years later he was elected to work for the people of Hamilton in the Canadian government. In 1985 Lincoln was appointed as the first Black person to represent the Queen as Lieutenant Governor in Ontario. More recently, Lincoln tried to improve the relationship between Toronto police and Black communities. Lincoln Alexander saw how much he was able to do because he had a good education, and has worked to make sure others have the same chances.
In 1984, Daurene Lewis became the first Black Mayor in Nova Scotia, and the first Black woman in North America to be elected mayor. Daurene's ancestors had moved to the area two hundred years earlier. She was a nurse, opened her own business (a weaving and design studio), helped the government improve the health care system in Nova Scotia and taught others women how to run their own business and helped support other business people through the Black Business Initiative. Daurene Lewis has spent her life trying to improve the lives of the people around her.