The government will commemorate important historical events of black people, personalities


Boxer Larry Gains in London with the car he just bought from MM. Henley of Piccadilly in 1932.

Douglas Miller / Getty Images

The federal government officially recognizes the importance of four black historical figures and events in order to shed light on the struggle of black Canadians for freedom, equality and justice.

Parks Canada said on Friday that the National Historical Commemoration Program will recognize the slavery of Africans in Canada from 1629 to 1834 and the West Indian Domestic Scheme, an immigration program that enabled approximately 3,000 Caribbean women to work in Canada as domestic workers with a possible path to citizenship. Two people will also be recognized under the program: black loyalist Richard Pierpoint and heavyweight boxer Larry Gains.

Plaques will eventually be unveiled recognizing historic designations. Parks Canada has already made over 2,000 historic designations nationally, largely through public appointments.

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Nadine Williams, a black poet, author and art educator based in Brampton, Ont., Nominated nominations for both historic events. She said the designations are important to black Canadians.

“It’s a sense of pride, recognition and gratitude that we are here, and our contributions to the fabric of Canada, the fabric of who we are, matters. “

From 1629 to 1834, more than 4,000 people of African descent were enslaved in the British and French colonies which later became Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Island. Edward and New Brunswick. They have been bought and sold, exploited for work and subjected to physical, sexual, psychological and reproductive violence. In a press release Friday, Parks Canada said the systemic racism faced by people of African descent can be attributed, in part, to the legacy of slavery.

The West Indian Domestic Scheme operated from 1955 to 1967 and provided a route for Caribbean immigration at a time when discriminatory policies prevented non-white immigrants from settling in Canada.

Greg Fergus, a Liberal MP and chair of the black parliamentary caucus, said his mother, Althea, immigrated to Canada from Jamaica through the program. His mother worked as au pair to Montreal.

“The family she worked with was a Jewish family, who saw her struggle as theirs. To me, this reflected the larger alliance that you saw between the Jewish community and the black community in the struggle for the recognition of equal rights, ”Mr. Fergus said.

The government also recognized Mr. Pierpoint, who was born in present-day Senegal in 1744 and was forcibly transported to the Americas, where he was sold as a slave. Mr. Pierpoint regained his freedom after 20 years of slavery fighting for the British during the American Revolution. He eventually settled in Upper Canada and helped found the Colored Corps, a group of men of African descent who helped protect the region during the War of 1812.

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Mr. Gains, born in Toronto in 1900, was one of the most talented boxers of the first half of the 20th century. He rose to prominence in the 1920s and 1930s, winning heavyweight titles in Canada, the British Empire and the World of Color. However, his career was limited due to racial discrimination, as non-white athletes were prohibited from competing for the English heavyweight title and faced an unofficial color barrier for the world weight title. heavy.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who oversees Parks Canada, said it is important to recognize all aspects of Canada’s history, whether or not they reflect society.

“We often look at the United States and say that slavery was really bad. Many Canadians, I don’t think, even recognize that we have had similar issues for a while here in Canada. I think it is appropriate for Canadians to be aware of this.

Ms Williams, the poet, said the designations come at an important time for black Canadians, as the Black Lives Matter movement is gaining traction around the world. Although the nomination process began in 2018, she said Ottawa’s decision to specifically recognize these aspects of black history strengthens the movement.

“Now is the perfect time for that to happen, especially with everything going on in the world,” Ms. Williams said.

While the government recognizes the effect that more than 200 years of slavery had on black people, efforts to recognize and celebrate their freedom have been hampered on Parliament Hill. In 2018, Nova Scotia Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard introduced legislation to officially recognize August 1 as Emancipation Day. On that day, in 1834, the Abolition of Slavery Act freed blacks and Aboriginal people in what is today Canada today.

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The bill did not pass first reading until the election was called last year.

Historian Natasha Henry said that failure to meaningfully recognize the history of slavery in Canada has helped “to reject this very real reality of this aspect of black life in colonial Canada.”

Nearly two centuries after the liberation of the last slaves, Ms Henry, who is also president of the Ontario Black History Society and writing her doctorate on slavery in Ontario, said there is a lack of understanding of the Canada’s history with slavery due to a failure to write it down in our history books.

It “plays a role in amnesia from where we are today,” she said. For example, she said that prominent businessmen and politicians of the time were written without acknowledging that they were also slavers.

Efforts to recognize Emancipation Day were re-launched on Parliament Hill in March. This time in the House of Commons, Liberal MP Majid Jowhari introduced a motion to designate August 1 as Emancipation Day. The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed debate and voting on the proposal. The NDP, the Greens and the Liberals have all said they support his motion. The Conservatives have said they will determine their position closer to the motion being debated in the House.

Mr. Jowhari said Canada should also apologize for its past of slavery and consider how it can reconcile it through government initiatives or reparations. In 2017, the United Nations made a similar recommendation to Canada. Almost three years later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not said publicly whether he would.

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