About Black History Month

Despite a presence in Canada that dates back farther than Samuel de Champlain’s first voyage down the St. Lawrence River, people of African descent are often absent from Canadian history books.

There is little mention of the fact that slavery once existed in the territory that is now Canada, or that many of the Loyalists who came here after the American Revolution and settled in the Maritimes were Blacks. Few Canadians are aware of the many sacrifices made in wartime by black Canadian soldiers, as far back as the War of 1812.

In an attempt to heighten awareness of black history in the United States, historian Carter G. Woodson proposed an observance to honour the accomplishments of black Americans. This led to the establishment of Negro History Week in 1926. Woodson is believed to have chosen February for this observance because the birthdays of the renowned abolitionist Frederick Douglass (February 14) and former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (February 12) fall in this month.

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, 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 a motion to have the Senate officially recognize 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. Senator Anne Cools was the first black woman to be appointed to the Senate.

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