During Black History Month, Canadians celebrate the many achievements and contributions of Black Canadians who, throughout history, have done so much to make Canada the culturally diverse, compassionate and prosperous nation it is today. Throughout February, the Burnaby Central community aims to increase community awareness about the contributions of Black Canadians and to foster an understanding of the history of Canada as the history of Black Canadian experiences. We strive to encourage a critical understanding of the challenges Black Canadians have faced, and continue to encounter, and lay the foundation for the necessary conversations around how these challenges are a reflection of a larger social prejudice in Canadian society. While February has been recognized as the national month honouring Black Canadian History, these efforts to raise awareness and to nurture critical dialogue, must not be restricted to the month of February, but rather be a responsibility that we embrace and carry out every single day.
Black History in Canada
People of African descent 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.
The role of people of African descent in Canada has not always been viewed as a key feature in Canada’s historic landscape. 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, or of the many sacrifices made in wartime by soldiers of African descent as far back as the War of 1812.
Few Canadians are aware of the fact that African people were once enslaved in the territory that is now Canada, or of how those who fought enslavement helped to lay the foundation of Canada’s diverse and inclusive society.
Black History Month is a time to learn more about these Canadian stories and the many other important contributions of Black Canadians to the settlement, growth and development of Canada, and about the diversity of Black communities in Canada and their importance to the history of this country.
Recognizing Black History Month
The commemoration of Black History Month dates back to 1926, when Harvard-educated African American historian Carter G. Woodson proposed setting aside a time devoted to honour the accomplishments of African Americans and to heighten awareness of Black history in the United States. This led to the establishment of Negro History Week in 1926. Celebrations of Black history began in Canada also shortly thereafter. During the early 1970s, the week became known as Black History Week. It was expanded into Black History Month in 1976.
In December 1995, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in Canada following a motion introduced by the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, the Honourable Jean Augustine. The motion was carried unanimously by the House of Commons.
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.