Black History Month

Anne Clare Cools - Senator

Anne Clare Cools, administrator, community worker, senator (born on 12 August 1943 in Barbados, British West Indies). An influential Black Canadian activist, Anne Cools served four months in jail for her role in the Sir George Williams Affair, for which she was pardoned in 1981. She founded Women in Transition, one of Canada’s first shelters for female victims of violence. She also served on the National Parole Board of Canada. In 1984, she became the first Black Canadian to be named to the Senate. She served as a Liberal, Conservative and independent senator for more than 30 years, and was known as the Dean of the Senate for her knowledge of parliamentary history and procedure.

Anne Cools was one of six children born to Rosita Gordon Miller and Lucious Unique Cools, a pharmacist. Two of her siblings did not survive childhood. Cools attended Ursuline Convent School in Bridgetown, Barbados. Solitary and studious as a child, she said she was nicknamed “Dogbones” for her gawky appearance. Her childhood heroes were British anti-slavery abolitionists such as William Wilberforce.

Cools moved to Canada with her family in 1957 at age 13. She attended the private girls’ school Queen’s College in Barbados and the public Thomas D’Arcy McGee High School in Montreal. (See also Thomas D’Arcy McGee.) She graduated from McGill University in 1981 with a degree in psychology and sociology.

In 1978, Cools contested the Liberal nomination in a by-election in the central Toronto riding of Rosedale. She lost to establishment candidate John Evans, the former president of the University of Toronto. The nomination battle was recounted in Bonnie Sherr Klein’s National Film Board documentary, The Right Candidate for Rosedale (1979). Evans then lost the by-election to Progressive Conservative candidate David Crombie, who had resigned as mayor of Toronto to run for a seat in the House of Commons.

A year later, Cools was the Liberal candidate in the 1979 general election. She lost to Crombie by more than 5,000 votes. The voters of Rosedale went to the polls for the third time in 14 months on 18 February 1980, in another general election. Cools finished just 1,869 votes behind Crombie out of 38,360 ballots cast. (See also Elections of 1979 and 1980.) Cools was named by the federal Liberal government later that year to the National Parole Board, where she served for four years.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau named Cools to the Senate in 1984. She represented Toronto Centre (later Toronto Centre-York) as one of Ontario’s 24 senators. She sat with the Liberal caucus for 20 years before crossing to the Conservatives in 2004 because of the sponsorship scandal; as well as her opposition to a gun registry and to the Liberals’ position on same-sex marriage.

She was expelled from the Conservative caucus three years later for criticizing Prime Minister Stephen Harper. She then sat as an unaffiliated and independent senator before finishing her career with the Independent Senators Group.

Cools has said she was proudest of her work on Parliament Hill as an advocate for the rights of children and fathers in divorce and separation cases. In 1998, she served on a special joint committee on child custody. It recommended fairer treatment for fathers as well as a focus on a child’s well-being in a report titled, “For the Sake of the Children.” (See also Family Court; Family Law in Canada.)

Cools retired from the Senate on 11 August 2018, the day before her 75th birthday (the mandatory age for Senatorial retirement). She was known as the Dean of the Senate for having served for 34 years, six months and 30 days, and for her knowledge of parliamentary history and procedure.

Source: Canadian Encyclopedia Online

Barbara Howard - Athlete, Educator

Barbara Howard, athlete, educator (born 8 May 1920 in Vancouver, BC; died 26 January 2017 in Vancouver). Barbara Howard is believed to be the first Black female athlete to represent Canada in international competition. At only 17 years old, she broke the British Empire record for the 100-yard dash, qualifying to represent Canada at the 1938 British Empire Games in Sydney, Australia. At the Games, she finished sixth in the 100-yard race but won silver and bronze medals as part of the 440-yard and 660-yard relay teams. Howard never competed in the Olympic Games, which were cancelled in 1940 and 1944 because of the Second World War. In 1941, she became the first racialized person to be hired by the Vancouver School Board. She had a 43-year career in education, including 14 years as a physical education teacher, before retiring in 1984.

Barbara Howard was the youngest of five children. Her father, Samuel Howard, was an American immigrant, while her mother, Catherine or “Cassie” (née Scurry), had moved from Winnipeg to Vancouver as a young child. Hiram Thomas Scurry, Barbara’s grandfather, opened a barber shop at 25 Abbott Street in Gastown. According to family lore, when a massive fire ripped through Vancouver in June 1886, Scurry raced down to the harbour at Burrard Inlet with his barber chair on his back, saving it from the fire.

Barbara and her siblings, brother Charles and sisters Melba, Goldvine and Priscilla, grew up at 10th Avenue and Nanaimo in East Vancouver, “on a big hill with a wonderful view.” The family attended the local United Church and was active in the community. After Samuel Howard died in 1929, when Barbara was only eight years old, the family received support from Cassie’s brother, who later helped fund Barbara’s education.

Even as a young child, Barbara was fast, winning the school championship at Laura Secord Elementary School. As a teenager at Britannia High School, she established herself as one of the fastest sprinters in the city. In September 1937, when she was only 17 years old, Barbara took part in the Western Canada British Empire Games trials. She stunned the competition, running 100 yards in only 11.2 seconds (1/10th of a second faster than the British Empire Games record) and beating better known sprinters such as Lillian Palmer and Mary Frizzell. Her performance caught the attention of the national press, with former sprinter Bobbie Rosenfeld of the Globe and Mail rating her one of the “best prospects” for the Games: “Barbara Howard, dusky flash of Vancouver, makes it with me…reports from the coast say she is greased lightning, and her times bear out that fact.” In October, she was named to the Canadian team that would compete at the British Empire Games in Sydney, Australia, in February 1938.

Howard and her teammates spent 28 days on the ocean liner Aorangi and arrived in Australia in mid-January. On 18 January, The Sydney Morning Herald\> announced the team’s arrival, singling out Howard in particular. According to the Herald (20 January), “Barbara was a riot wherever she went, and the rush to get her autograph was exceptional,” while Australian Women’s Weekly (27 January) declared the “picturesque” Howard the “[m]ost popular girl in the Canadian team.” Howard received many gifts from her Australian admirers, including a stuffed koala that she still had in her nineties. Even her health made the news, with the Newcastle Sun reporting on 27 January that she “was suddenly stricken with the aches and pains of a sudden and severe cold while training yesterday.”

Overwhelmed by the attention, Howard was not at her best in the 100-yard dash, in which she finished sixth (teammate Jeanette Dolson of Toronto won the bronze). Howard was crushed. “I thought I’d disappointed Canada,” she later recalled. “I was ashamed when I came home that I didn’t have a gold medal.” However, she did win both a silver and a bronze medal at the Games. Howard, Dolson and Aileen Meagher of Halifax took silver in the 440-yard relay and bronze in the 660-yard relay with teammate Violet Montgomery of Winnipeg. One of the top sprinters in Canada, Howard hoped to compete at the next Olympic Games, but the outbreak of the Second World War ended those dreams, as both the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games were cancelled.

Howard resumed her education after returning home from the Empire Games. Determined to become a teacher, she attended Normal School for teacher training, with financial support from her uncle. (She later enrolled at the University of British Columbia, graduating with a Bachelor of Education in 1959.) Soon after graduating from the Normal School, Howard got a job teaching at a school in Port Alberni. “I thought I got my first job in Alberni from sending out resumes,” she remarked in 2014. “It never occurred to me that people did not hire Black teachers. About 10 years later, I found out that the principal of the Normal School thought so highly of me for being a hard worker that he went out of his way to get me that first job.”

In 1941, Howard returned to Vancouver, where she found work as a substitute teacher. When she was asked if she would teach a boy’s physical education class at Strathcona School, she agreed. The principal was impressed by her teaching, and she was soon offered a full-time job. Howard was the first racialized person to be hired by the Vancouver School Board.

Howard later taught at Hastings, Henry Hudson and Trafalgar elementary schools. At Trafalgar she taught gifted but underperforming children, many of whom went on to advanced degrees and kept in touch with her. Howard taught for 43 years (14 of those as a physical education teacher), retiring in 1984.  Howard remained active in the community after retirement, volunteering through the United Church and at Burnaby’s Confederation Centre.

Carrie Best - Civil Rights Activist

Carrie Mae Best (née Prevoe), OC, ONS, LLD, human rights activist, author, journalist, publisher and broadcaster (born 4 March 1903 in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia; died 24 July 2001 in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia). Sparked by incidents of racial discrimination, Carrie Best became a civil rights activist. Co-founder of The Clarion, one of the first newspapers in Nova Scotia owned and published by Black Canadians, she used the platform to advocate for Black rights. As editor, she publicly supported Viola Desmond in her case against the Roseland Theatre. Best used her voice in radio and print to bring positive change to society in Nova Scotia and Canada.

Carrie Best grew up in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, in an era of racial discrimination. Although discrimination in Canada was less pronounced than in the United States, it was just as damaging and humiliating. Best and her two brothers were encouraged by their parents, James and Georgina (Ashe) Prevoe, to study the history of African-Canadians and be proud of their Black heritage. Although they had not received good schooling themselves, Best’s parents emphasized the importance of education.

An intelligent child, Best wrote her first poems at the age of four and often submitted her opinions in letters to the editors of local newspapers as a teenager. Unhappy with the racial stereotypes portrayed in popular books and local culture, Best sought out the work of African-American poets and historians.

Observing the calm strength and dignity of her mother, Best knew from an early age that she would not accept the restrictions to which Blacks were subjected. Career choices for young women in general were limited, and even fewer options were available for non-white women. Best considered nursing, but no Canadian schools accepted African-Canadians. She wasn’t interested in a teaching career in one of Nova Scotia’s segregated schools. And she refused to be a housekeeper for anyone other than herself.

Carrie married railway porter Albert Theophilus Best on 24 June 1925. They had one son, James Calbert Best, and later welcomed several foster children into their family: Berma, Emily, Sharon and Aubrey Marshall.

In December 1941, Carrie Best heard that several high school girls had been removed by force from the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow. The Black teens had attempted to sit in the “white only” section. Best was outraged. She vigorously argued against the racist policy to the Roseland Theatre’s owner, Norman Mason, in person and by letter, but her argument fell on deaf ears. It was time for Best to go to the movies.

A few days later, the 38-year-old and her son, Calbert, attempted to purchase tickets for the main floor of the theatre. The cashier issued tickets for the balcony, the area reserved for Black patrons. Leaving the tickets on the counter, the mother and son walked into the auditorium. When the assistant manager demanded that they leave, the Bests refused, and the police were called. Roughly hoisted from her seat by the officer, Best and her son were charged with disturbing the peace, convicted and fined. Best could now take legal action against the theatre.

Filing a civil lawsuit that specified racial discrimination, Best claimed damages for assault and battery, damage to her coat and breach of contract. Mason and the Roseland Theatre Company Ltd. claimed that the Bests were trespassers without tickets. The case, heard on 12 May 1942, failed: the proprietor’s right to exclude anyone won out over the bigger issue of racism. The judge not only ignored the discrimination but also ordered Best to pay the defendant’s costs.

Despite losing the lawsuit against Mason and the Roseland Theatre, Carrie Best was not defeated. The persistent problems of racism and segregation would be publicly addressed by something arguably more powerful than the legal system: Best started a newspaper.

In 1946, she and her son, Calbert, founded The Clarion, one of the first Nova Scotia newspapers owned and published by Black Canadians. Initially a 20- by 25-cm broadsheet, The Clarion reported on sports, news, social activities and other significant events. Incorporated in 1947, the paper placed emphasis on better race relations. For a decade, The Clarion covered many important issues and advocated for Black rights. In 1956, it was renamed The Negro Citizen and began national circulation.

While operating her newspaper, Carrie Best took on another challenge. Unable to find radio programming to her liking, Best yearned for something soothing and inspiring. She solved the problem by broadcasting her own program, The Quiet Corner, which debuted in 1952, with Best at the microphone.

There was no raucous rock ’n’ roll on The Quiet Corner. Between classical and religious music segments, Best entertained fans by reading the works of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. For 12 years, the show filled a need for avid listeners on four radio stations in the Maritimes.

In 1968, the Pictou Advocate hired Carrie Best to write a weekly column entitled “Human Rights,” which ran until 1975. Best used her sharp pen to promote Aboriginal rights, improve living conditions on reserves and advance basic civil rights for all.

However, the Black community still faced great inequality. Among other things, most Black residents of Vale Road and its side streets in New Glasgow were overtaxed so that they would be forced to sell their properties to make way for a new development. Best mounted an in-depth investigation and published her findings in her column; they also became the basis of a report she made to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

In 1975, the activist founded the Kay Livingstone Visible Minority Women’s Society, an association that provides educational funding for Black women. Two years later, at the age of 74, Best penned her autobiography, That Lonesome Road: The Autobiography of Carrie M. Best.

Carrie Best’s substantial contributions to human rights were recognized provincially and federally. On 18 December 1974, the Governor General named her a Member of the Order of Canada. The honour was given “on behalf of the Negro community in Nova Scotia, in recognition of her zealous work as writer and broadcaster.” Five years later, she was promoted to the rank of Officer of the Order of Canada in recognition of her devotion to the “underprivileged, regardless of race, colour, creed or sex, and particularly her own people of the black community.”

She became Dr. Best in 1975, when she was awarded an honorary doctor of laws (LLD) from St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. In 1992, the University of King’s College in Halifax awarded her an honorary doctor of civil law (DCL). The university also offers an undergraduate scholarship for African-Canadian and Canadian Aboriginal students — the Dr. Carrie Best Scholarship — in her honour.

Additional awards were bestowed on the human rights advocate, including the Queen Elizabeth Medal (1977), Black Professional Women’s Group Award Certificate (1989) and Award of Excellence in Race Relations from the Minister of State for Multiculturalism (1990); she was also inducted to the Nova Scotia Black Wall of Fame (1980).

On 24 July 2001, Dr. Best died peacefully in her sleep at home. In 2002, she was posthumously awarded the Order of Nova Scotia. Canada Post issued a stamp that featured Best in February 2011.


Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia



Donald H. Oliver - Senator

Donald H. Oliver, QC, senator 1990–2013, lawyer, businessman (born 16 November 1938 in Wolfville, NS). Donald Oliver was the second Black Canadian and the first Black Canadian man appointed to the Senate of Canada, on 7 September 1990.

Donald Oliver was one of five children born to Clifford Oliver and Helena White. Both parents were devout Baptists who instilled in Donald a strong sense of community and a desire to assist those around him.

Donald Oliver has several notable family members, including his grandfather on his mother’s side, William A. White, who helped form the No. 2 Construction Battalion —  the first and only all-Black battalion in Canadian military history. Oliver’s aunt Portia White was a world famous opera singer and his uncles Bill and Jack White were both politicians.

Oliver attended Acadia University, majoring in history with minors in philosophy and English literature. After graduating in 1960, he enrolled in the Faculty of Law at Dalhousie University and earned his law degree in 1964.

Donald Oliver was called to the Bar of Nova Scotia in 1965 and began practising law with Halifax firm Stewart McKelvey Stirling and Scales. Over the years, he became active in the professional community, serving on the boards of several legal committees, in a career that spanned 36 years. Oliver maintained distinguished tenures both as a civil litigator and as an educator, teaching law at the Technical University of Nova Scotia, Saint Mary’s University and Dalhousie. He has served also on the executive of several private companies and lectured on human rights, the Canadian constitution and election law.

Donald Oliver’s community involvement led to a career in politics, where he was particularly interested in promoting equality for Black Canadians, Indigenous peoples and other racialized communities in Canada.

Inspired by former Nova Scotia Premier Robert Stanfield, Oliver began working with the Progressive Conservative Party in 1972, and has remained involved with the party for nearly 50 years. During that time, he served as the director of legal affairs in six general elections between 1972 and 1988 and served as national vice-president of the party, representing Atlantic Canada. Oliver was also a director of the party’s fundraising organization, the PC Canada Fund. At the provincial level, he served as constitution chairman and as member of the PC Party of Nova Scotia’s Finance Committee. He also served as vice-president of the provincial party.

On 7 September 1990, on the recommendation of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Donald Oliver was appointed to the Senate of Canada by Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn. Oliver was the second Black Canadian appointed to the Senate, after Anne Cools in 1984, and the first Black Canadian man in the Senate.

After his appointment, Oliver served as a member of standing Senate committees on banking, trade and commerce; agriculture and forestry; and was the chairman of the standing committee on transport and communications, as well as other Senate-House of Commons committees. Oliver worked on several private Member’s bills, including one to amend the section of the Criminal Code regarding stalking, and another to address online spam.

On 4 March 2010, Oliver was nominated Speaker pro tempore, or deputy speaker, of the Senate.

Oliver retired from the Senate in 16 November 2013, when he reached mandatory retirement age at 75.

Donald Oliver continued to be active in community service throughout his career, serving in positions that included president and chairman of the Halifax Children’s Aid Society; chairman, president and director of the Neptune Theatre Foundation (see Neptune Theatre); director of the Halifax-Dartmouth Welfare Council; founding director of the Black United Front; and founding president and first chairman of the Society for the Protection and Preservation of Black Culture in Nova Scotia.

Oliver has received five honorary doctorates, including from his alma mater Dalhousie University, in 2003, awarded in recognition of his lifetime of achievement, both in the public and private sectors.

Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia


Elijah McCoy - Engineer, Inventor

Elijah McCoy, engineer, inventor (born 2 May 1843 or 1844 in Colchester, Canada West; died 10 October 1929 in Wayne County, Michigan.) McCoy was an African-Canadian mechanical engineer and inventor best known for his groundbreaking innovations in industrial lubrication.

Elijah’s parents, George McCoy and Mildred Goins, escaped enslavement in Kentucky by way of the Underground Railroad, arriving in Upper Canada in 1837. Following brief military service, George McCoy was awarded 160 acres of farmland in Colchester Township, where Elijah was born and raised. At the age of fifteen, Elijah McCoy left Canada for Edinburgh, Scotland, where he apprenticed for five years as a mechanical engineer. By the end of his career, he had registered over 50 patents.

Elijah McCoy had difficulty finding a job upon his return to Canada and instead found work in Ypsilanti, Michigan, as a fireman for the Michigan Central Railroad. Steam-powered engines of that era faced consistent mechanical problems as industrial lubricants would quickly wear off, overheating and corroding the machinery and wasting tremendous amounts of fuel. Locomotives had to stop frequently as firemen such as McCoy tended to the engine, squirting oil onto its axles, gears, and levers — a time-consuming process that delayed many passenger and freight trains.

After six years on the job, McCoy developed a device commonly known as an “oil-drip cup,” which administered a regulated amount of lubricant into the engine through a spigot. On 23 July 1872 he filed his first patent on the drip cup, registered under the title “Improvement for Lubricators in Steam Engines.” The innovation spread rapidly through the railroad business, as it enabled locomotives to work without interruption.

The following year, McCoy married Mary E. Delaney and moved to Detroit. He soon found work instructing mechanical engineers on the proper installation of his lubricator, and consulting with manufacturers such as the Detroit Lubricator Company. He also continued to design new lubrication devices for a variety of mechanical engines. His 1882 hydrostatic lubricator for locomotive engines, as well as his designs for ship engines, made a significant impact on the transport industry in the late 19th century. His most elaborate innovation, however, was the graphite lubricator, designed for “superheater” locomotive engines, which he patented in 1915, when he was 72 years old. Due to the immense heat generated by these new engines, a more viscous lubricant was required, which he developed by mixing graphite and oil. McCoy considered this to be his greatest invention. The engine, combined with the lubricator, drastically reduced the quantity of coal and oil used in train travel.

In 1923, Mary — by then known as a prominent activist for civil and women’s rights — passed away. McCoy’s health subsequently began to deteriorate and in 1928 he was committed to the Eloise infirmary, where he died a year later. By the end of his career, McCoy had registered over 50 patents. In September 2001 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio.

Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia

Ferguson Arthur Jenkins - Baseball Athlete

Ferguson "Fergie" Arthur Jenkins, OC, baseball player (born 13 December 1943 in Chatham, ON).  Jenkins was an outstanding athlete in three sports including basketball, baseball and hockey.  Nicknamed “Fergie”, he was a member of the famous all African American basketball team, the Harlem Globetrotters, and played professional baseball.

Arguably the finest Canadian-born baseball player, Jenkins began his major-league career in Philadelphia before joining the Chicago Cubs in 1966. In 1967 he began a six-year string of 20 or more pitching victories per season. A control pitcher, he rebounded from a disappointing 1973 season to win 25 games for the Texas Rangers, the team to which he had been dealt in 1974. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox (1976) and, after another period with the Texas Rangers (1977–81), signed with the Chicago Cubs again in 1982.

Released by the Cubs prior to the 1984 season, his pitching record includes 284 wins, 3192 strikeouts, a remarkable strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.20 and one of the best records of putouts by a pitcher (363). He won the Cy Young Award for pitching excellence (1971), the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's outstanding athlete (1974) and was Canadian male athlete of the year four times.

Jenkins made an unsuccessful bid as a Liberal candidate in the 1985 Ontario provincial election and, since 1988, has farmed near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and been a part-time minor-league pitching coach. In 1987, he was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and in 1991 he received baseball's ultimate honour when he became the first Canadian elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Jenkins was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1979. In 2009, the Cubs retired his jersey (#31).

Source: Canadian Encyclopedia Online(link is external)
Source: Big Dreamers, The Canadian Black History Activity Book for Kids – Volume 1(link is external)

Black Shirt Day

On January 14th, 2022, thousands of students, educators, and citizens across Canada, including British Columbia will be wearing black shirts in recognition of the struggle for civil rights fought by black and racialized Canadians.

Commemorating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., Black Shirt Day is both a day of education and remembrance, and an invitation to a necessary conversation about racial justice.

Black History Month is February 1 – March 1, 2022, with resources here.

Download the Black Shirt Day Poster 2022  

Eleanor Collins - Canadian Jazz Singer

Born in 1919 in Edmonton, Alberta, Collins moved to Vancouver in the late 1930s, immersing herself in a thriving jazz scene. After appearing on CBC Radio with the gospel group Swing Low Quartet in the early 1940s, she began performing with Ray Norris for the jazz series Serenade in Rhythm. In the early 1950s, she started singing with other top musicians of the time, including Chris Gage, Phil Nimmons, Lance Harrison, Doug Parker, Fraser MacPherson, Don Thompson and Dave Robbins.

Collins went on to make history in Canadian music and television in the 1950s. Her elegance, charm and moving performances on the airwaves and at clubs earned her the informal title of Canada’s first lady of jazz.



Frank Collins - Union Leader and Black Activist

(Photo: Four members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Canadian Pacific Railroad Division, posed standing: Frank Collins, Joe(?) Hudson, L.M. Alexander, and Sam Lewis, ca. 1943. Frank Collins became President of the Vancouver Division of the Union, as well as the BC branch of the Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People. Library of Congress photo, 90715591)

Four Collins brothers – Frank, Fred, Richard (Dick), and Dave – lived in Strathcona and worked as Canadian Pacific Railway car porters

Phillip Randolph, one of the founders of the  Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), set up Vancouver's division and established a branch of the Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People (CLACP), later named the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (BCAACP). Frank Collins, was elected and served as President of both organizations. 

Find out more about the achievements of Frank Collins here: