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February 27, 2009

Black History Month Remembers


February as Black History Month has been celebrated for years in Canada under the initiative of the Ontario Black History Society and other groups. Black M.P. Jean Augustine oversaw a Federal Government motion in 1995 that established the event officially.  There are over 600,000 blacks in Canada including, for example, 3-400 in North Bay.  The incredible racism of our immediate past based simply on the colour of one’s skin has significantly passed.  Black History Month remembers the past and celebrates the present and future. 

With a black Governor General Michaelle Jean and  black U.S. President Obama, two new names have been added to the long list of black firsts.  I have recently  had the pleasure of writing a book about Canada’s first black Mayor, Dr. S.F. Monestime from Mattawa who was first elected in 1963. Dr. Monestime will be recognized this spring during Mattawa’s 125th anniversary by the naming of their Council Chamber after him – their 9 time mayor.  The book will be launched at the same time. 

There is little recognition of Black History Month in Northern Ontario primarily because of the demographics with African Canadian populations primarily in larger cities.  There is an African Canadian Cultural Club at Nipissing University open to all and some schools have events.  In 2006 the Nugget reported an project at St. Joseph’s-Scollard Hall where Antonio Fernandes initiated an event.  The Nugget listed some well known area blacks including Dr. Monestime.

Callander artist Fran Hanover was also mentioned. Her powerful artwork and cards are readily available in North Bay and elsewhere. Check her website at afrocentricnorth.com

The Afro Heritage Association in Sudbury has Dr. Howard McCurdy as its speaker February 28th. He is a former NDP Member of Parliament in Ottawa and ran for the leadership of the Party in 1989. 

Book Covers 1. Doug Mackey  Where Rivers Meet – Dr. S.F. Monestime – Canada’s First Black Mayor Spring 2009. 2.Catherine Slaney’s Family Secrets – Crossing the Colour Line. 2003 3.  Dan Hill’s I Am My Father’s Son – A Memoir of Love and Forgiveness. 2009.  


There has been a remarkable number of developments in the story of black history with recognition of former black communities and leaders.  Many excellent books have been written including several new ones.  I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land by K.S. Frost the Director of the Ontario Historical Society won the Governor General’s Award for Non Fiction in 2007. 

Well known black leader Dr. Daniel Hill, Ontario’s first Ombudsman and author of The Freedom Seekers has two sons who are now authors.  Lawrence Hill has written several books with his Book of Negroes having wide recognition and sales in Canada and the U.S. It won several awards.  His brother Dan Hill, one of Canada’s best known singer/songwriters has just published I Am My Father’s Son – a Memoir of Love and Forgiveness.  Dan had a struggle with his father over Dan’s music career and playing down his black roots.  This in spite of the fact that Dan’s records had 100 million dollars in sales and he still makes a good living with his song writing. 

Bryan Prince, Director of the Buxton Museum and a descendant of slaves wrote an underground railway book in 2005 and recently published A Shadow on the Household.  The book, like Lawrence Hill’s, tells the story of a black family’s struggle for freedom. I visited and wrote about the Buxton Museum in an article here on February 28, 2003 which is online on my website mentioned below. See also an article on January 30, 2004. 

With my interest in Dr. Monestime I was pleased to find that the Ontario Heritage Foundation, which recognizes individuals and sites, was going to recognize Canada’s first black Canadian trained Doctor, Anderson Ruffin Abbott. In looking at his history I discovered that Dr. Abbot’s daughter married a black Toronto Alderman W.P. Hubbard who in the early 1900s was Deputy Mayor of Toronto and occasionally Acting Mayor. 

Even more interesting is a fascinating genealogical family history by Catherine Slaney who thought she was white but with the help of Dr. Hill discovered that her great great grandfather was Dr. Abbot mentioned above and that she was related to W.P. Hubbard.  Over several years, and with some difficulty, she brought a large extended black family back together and wrote a book about it called Family Secrets – Crossing the Colour Line.  It is refreshing to see the great progress that has been made in recognizing the struggle and the achievements of Afro Canadians.

There is a wealth of information on the internet on every aspect of  black history –just a click away.

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