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5 Canadian Black History Figures

5 Canadian Black History Figures You Should Know About

5 Canadian Black Historical Figures You Should Know About

Canada has a rich and diverse history, but the stories of Black Canadians have often been overlooked or forgotten. From pioneers and activists to artists and athletes, Black Canadians have made significant contributions to the country’s cultural, social, and political landscape. In this article, we will highlight five Canadian Black historical figures who have left a lasting legacy and deserve recognition for their remarkable achievements.

Viola Desmond: The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement in Canada

Viola Desmond

Viola Desmond, born on July 6, 1914, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was a trailblazer in the fight for racial equality in Canada. She was a successful Black businesswoman and a beautician who owned a beauty salon in Halifax. In 1946, Viola Desmond’s life took a historic turn when she refused to leave a whites-only section of a movie theater, Roseland Theatre, and was subsequently arrested and fined.

This act of civil disobedience was a pivotal moment in Canadian history. Viola’s courageous stand against racial segregation and her determination to fight injustice laid the foundation for the civil rights movement in Canada. She was posthumously pardoned in 2010, and her image now graces the Canadian ten-dollar bill, making her a symbol of the fight for equality and justice.

Lincoln Alexander: Canada’s First Black Member of Parliament

Lincoln Alexander

Lincoln MacCauley Alexander, born on January 21, 1922, in Toronto, was a remarkable figure in Canadian politics. He shattered racial barriers by becoming the first Black Member of Parliament in Canada in 1968. Throughout his political career, Alexander served as a Member of Parliament, a federal Cabinet Minister, and, ultimately, as the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, making him the first Black person to hold such a position in Canada.

Lincoln Alexander was not only a symbol of progress but also a dedicated advocate for racial equality and social justice. He inspired generations of Canadians with his commitment to public service and his unwavering belief in the principles of diversity and inclusivity.

Portia White: The First Black Canadian Concert Singer

Portia White

Portia White, born on June 24, 1911, in Truro, Nova Scotia, was a remarkable soprano and the first Black Canadian concert singer to gain international acclaim. Her remarkable vocal talent and dedication to her craft made her a trailblazer in the world of classical music.

Portia White’s journey was not without challenges. She faced racial discrimination and prejudice, but she persevered and gained recognition for her exceptional voice. Her performances in Canada and Europe earned her praise from critics and music enthusiasts alike. Portia White’s legacy as a pioneer in the classical music world continues to inspire young Black artists to pursue their dreams.

Elijah McCoy: The Inventor Known for “The Real McCoy”

Elijah McKoy

Elijah McCoy, born in Colchester, Ontario, Canada, on May 2, 1844, was a prolific inventor who left an indelible mark on the world of engineering and innovation. His most famous invention was an automatic lubrication system for steam engines, which significantly improved the efficiency and reliability of machinery. McCoy’s invention was so reliable that when people sought quality, they would ask for “the real McCoy.”

Despite facing racial prejudice and discrimination throughout his life, McCoy’s inventions were widely sought after and utilized in various industries. His contributions to engineering and machinery revolutionized the way machines were lubricated, leading to safer and more efficient operations in factories and on railroads.

Herb Carnegie: The Hockey Pioneer Who Broke Barriers

Herb Carnegie

Herb Carnegie, born on November 8, 1919, in Toronto, Ontario, was a talented hockey player who overcame racial barriers and discrimination to become a trailblazer in the sport. In an era when the National Hockey League (NHL) was not open to Black players, Carnegie and his brother, Ossie, formed the “Carnegie Line” in the Quebec Senior Hockey League. Their exceptional skills and sportsmanship earned them the respect and admiration of fans and players alike.

Despite being one of the most talented players of his time, Herb Carnegie was never given the opportunity to play in the NHL. However, his impact on the sport extended far beyond the ice. He founded the Future Aces program, which aimed to instill values of leadership and character in young people. Carnegie’s dedication to using sports as a vehicle for social change left an enduring legacy in the world of hockey and beyond.


These five remarkable Canadian Black historical figures have made significant contributions to the country’s history and culture, challenging racial prejudice and paving the way for a more inclusive and diverse society. Viola Desmond’s stand against segregation, Lincoln Alexander’s political achievements, Portia White’s international acclaim as a concert singer, Elijah McCoy’s groundbreaking inventions, and Herb Carnegie’s trailblazing role in hockey all serve as a testament to the resilience, talent, and determination of Black Canadians.

It is essential to recognize and celebrate the achievements and contributions of these individuals to Canada’s rich tapestry of history. By doing so, we honor their legacies and acknowledge the ongoing struggle for equality, diversity, and social justice in Canada and around the world. These figures serve as a source of inspiration for current and future generations, demonstrating that through perseverance and determination, individuals can overcome adversity and bring about positive change.

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