Michaelle Jean

Michaelle Jean has a remarkable immigrant story that serves as an inspiration to all Canadians. Jean was born in Haiti and came to Canada as a refugee eventually settling in Quebec. She began her career as a journalist and broadcaster for Radio-Canada and the CBC, as well as undertaking charity work, mostly in the field of assisting victims of domestic violence. In 2005, Jean was appointed governor general by Queen Elizabeth II and became noted for her attention to the Canadian Forces, Aboriginal Canadians, and the arts, especially youth involvement in them. In 2010, Jean was appointed to a four-year term as the Special Envoy for Haiti for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. As of January 2019, she is now known as The Right Honourable Michaelle Jean.

Harry Jerome

Harry Jerome was a Canadian Track and field sprinter and teacher who won a bronze medal at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and set a total of seven world records over the course of his career. Jerome was a member of the Canadian track and field team at the 1960, 1964, and 1968 Summer Olympics, winning 100 metre bronze in 1964. He won the gold in the 1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games and the 1967 Pan American Games. In 1970, Jerome was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and the following year he was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. Jerome was posthumously inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2001 and was named a Person of National Historical Significance in 2010.


Mary Ann Shadd

Mary Ann Shadd was Canada’s first Black female newspaper publisher. in 1853, Shadd founded and edited ‘The Provincial Freeman’ and ran a racially integrated school for Black refugees in Windsor, Ontario. Being one of the first Black women to complete a law degree (during the Civil War), Shadd was also an inspiring advocate for school desegregation and worked hard to encourage Black Americans to move to Canada.


Viola Desmond

Viola Desmond is arguably the most famous civil rights advocate in Canadian History. She was a Canadian civil rights activist and businesswoman of Black Nova Scotian descent and in 1946 she challenged racial segregation at a cinema in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia by refusing to leave a whites-only area of the Roseland Theatre. Desmond was convicted of a minor tax violation for the one-cent tax difference between the seat she had paid for and the seat she used, which was more expensive. Desmond’s case is one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Canadian history and helped start the modern civil rights movement in Canada. In 2016, Desmond was chosen as the first Canadian woman to appear on her own on the Canadian ten-dollar note after being on a shortlist of five. In 2018, the Bank of Canada released a new design of the $10 bill, celebrating Viola Desmond’s achievements in the civil rights movement.


Portia White

Considered one of the best classical singers of the 20th century, Portia White made her national debut in 1941, at age 30, on-stage at Toronto’s Eaton Hall. Edward Wodson of the Evening Telegram was in the audience that night and raved: “It is a natural voice, a gift from heaven.” Being a Nova Scotia native, Portia White was the first Black Canadian singer to become an international star in the 1930s and ’40s, a time when black women experienced significant barriers in their personal and professional lives. Portia travelled the world before making the switch to teaching, where she worked with other incredible singers and actors such as Robert Goulet and Dinah Christie. She was often compared to the celebrated African American contralto Marian Anderson.


Lincoln Alexander

Lincoln Alexander was born in Toronto to Jamaican immigrants, in 1922. He grew up fighting prejudice and racism that existed in the 20’s and eventually graduated from McMaster University in 1949. Alexander eventually got into Law attending Osgoode Law School in Toronto which eventually led to a long and successful tenure in politics. Alexander became the first Black Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, the first Black federal Cabinet Minister (serving as federal Minister of Labour), the first Black Chair of the Worker’s Compensation Board, and the 24th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. The Province of Ontario proclaimed January 21 “Lincoln Alexander Day” in Ontario. It became law in December 2013 and was celebrated across Canada for the first time 2015.

Filed under: black history month