In 1978, the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) was established. Its founders, including Dr. Daniel G. Hill and Wilson O. Brooks, presented a petition to the City of Toronto to have February formally proclaimed as Black History Month. In 1979, the first-ever Canadian proclamation was issued by Toronto.
The first Black History Month in Nova Scotia was observed in 1988 and later renamed African Heritage Month in 1996. In 1993, the OBHS successfully filed a petition in Ontario to proclaim February as Black History Month. Following that success, Rosemary Sadlier, president of the OBHS, introduced the idea of having Black History Month recognized across Canada to the Honourable Jean Augustine, the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament.
In December 1995, the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month in Canada following a motion introduced by Dr. Augustine. The House of Commons carried the motion unanimously.
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.
Black Canadians and their communities 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 Black people and their communities in Canada has largely been ignored as a key part of Canada’s history. 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, nor the fact that many soldiers of African descent made many sacrifices in wartime as far back as the War of 1812.
Few people in Canada are aware of the fact that African people were once enslaved in the territory that is now known as 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 that Black Canadians and their communities have made to the history and continued growth of this country.