Black History Month in Canada has been celebrated each February since 1996. This month recognizes and celebrates the contributions and accomplishments of Black Canadians.

This year’s theme is “Ours to tell,” which represents an opportunity to engage in open dialogue and a commitment to learning more about the stories Black communities in Canada have to tell about their successes, sacrifices and triumphs.

During this month, various events and activities are held across the country to commemorate and celebrate the history and achievements of Black Canadians.

Black History Month background

In 1978, the Ontario Black History Society presented a petition to the City of Toronto to have February formally proclaimed as Black History Month.

In 1979, the first-ever Black History Month in Canada was proclaimed in Toronto following a suggestion by the society. The first Black History Month in Nova Scotia was observed in 1988 and later renamed African Heritage Month in 1996. Ontario recognized Black History Month in 1993.

Ontario Black History Society president Rosemary Sadlier introduced the idea of recognizing Black History Month nationally and pitched the idea to Jean Augustine, who was the first Black Canadian MP.

Black history in Canada

Black Canadians and their communities have been integral to the formation of Canada’s heritage and identity since the arrival of Mathieu Da Costa, a translator of African heritage who arrived with European explorers in 1604.

Despite their significant contributions, Black Canadians’ roles in shaping Canadian history has often been overlooked. Many are unaware that some of the Loyalists who settled in the Maritimes after the American Revolution and soldiers who fought in the War of 1812 were of African descent.

The existence of slavery in what is now Canada and the fight against it by those who were enslaved has also gone largely unrecognized. Black History Month provides an opportunity to learn about these underrepresented stories and the many valuable contributions made by Black Canadians and their communities to the development and progress of Canada as a diverse and inclusive society.

Viola Desmond

In 2018, Viola Desmond’s image was put on the Canadian 10-dollar bill.

Desmond was a pioneering figure who challenged racial segregation in Nova Scotia. In 1946, she was arrested for refusing to leave a “whites only” section of a movie theatre. Her act of civil disobedience helped spark a civil rights movement in Canada and raised awareness about the discrimination faced by Black Canadians.

In 2010, Desmond received a posthumous pardon. The banknote serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for racial equality and the importance of speaking out against discrimination and injustice.

Black history in British Columbia

Black history in British Columbia dates back to Canada’s colonial era. In 1858, nearly 800 free Black people left San Francisco for a new life on Vancouver Island.

From the 1920s to 1967, Vancouver was home to a thriving Black community at Hogan’s Alley. This area served as a cultural hub for the Black community. However, the decision to expand the highway system in Vancouver resulted in the expropriation of land in the area, including homes and businesses, for the construction of the Georgia Viaduct. This led to the displacement of the Black community from Hogan’s Alley and the loss of an identifiable Black neighborhood in Vancouver.

To learn more about Black History Month and other important members of the community, read our blog.

Published on February 3, 2023.