Remembering and Commemorating Black History Month in Canada

As Black History Month comes to a close in the UK, guest-blogger Channon Oyeniran reflects on what Black History Month means to her.

“That the history of black people is really a part of Canadian history, the contributions that we made to Canadian history, the contributions that we made to Canadian society are part of the contributions we should have made as Canadians in Canadian society. I think that in every aspect of Canadian life you can find someone of African descent, of Caribbean descent, of black… participating and therefore it is essential that, that be recognized by the society.”

-Honourable Jean Augustine

Celebrated in the United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom, Black History Month is a time of memorialization with a goal to educate, recall and celebrate the black experience, achievements and endurance of people of African descent. What started as Negro History Week by African-American Carter G. Woodson in February 1926, has turned into a full month of commemoration in the United States (in 1976), the UK (in 1987) and Canada (in December 1995). Many often wondered why Historian Carter G. Woodson chose February (Black History Month in North America) as a time to celebrate black history. It was soon realized that February was the birth month of past American President, Abraham Lincoln (who signed the Emancipation Proclamation; 1863), and former enslaved person and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Both of whom really helped to end slavery in America.

For four centuries, the well-known Transatlantic slave trade was responsible for bringing kidnapped African peoples’ to the shores of the Americas and the Caribbean, where they were treated as nothing more than property.  During this time span, they were stripped of their rights and freedom and endured much abuse and brutality.  Even after the abolition of slavery in some countries in the 1800s, the situation for blacks did not change or improve. In fact, most had to contend with racism, inequality, unfair treatment and other effects.  Hence, the need to remember and memorialize the Transatlantic slave trade, in the form of Black History Month which is vitally important to the incredible journey experienced by people of African descent.

The black presence in Canada dates back to 1605, when Mathieu Da Costa, the first Black person to set foot on Canadian soil, who was hired as a translator for Samuel de Champlain’s 1605 excursion and was also a free man. Moreover, as time went on, the presence of black people in Canada remained steady, constant and consistent.  Therefore, the early presence of black people in Canada allows Black History Month to be a time where the spotlight is on the history of peoples’ of African descent. It’s a time when we remember our ancestors, their stories, struggles, tribulations and their contributions to Canada. This year marks the 20th Anniversary of Black History Month being declared in Canada. It is a formal recognition and a time where we can reflect on our past, celebrate our present and look forward to, in earnest, to our future.

Black History Month, whether in Canada, the United States or the UK, is a time to honour the achievements and excellency of a community who has risen, and keeps on rising above, previous and sometimes current degradation. Communities are encouraged to use this time to learn, to accomplish and to excel in all that they do. Most importantly it is a time not only to remember, but to not forget. The “Looking Back into the Future” conference, now in its second year, was created by me to continue the focus on Blacks in Canada, their achievements and contributions to the broader Canadian society. Through other conferences, public speaking engagements at schools, presentations, writing articles, trips to historic sites of black Canadians and seminars, I have found ways to remember and commemorate Black History Month in Canada for the generations now and for those to come. It is with great hope that black people continue to work hard in Canada to show that our history is not only ours but Canadian history on a whole.

Channon Oyeniran was born in Scarborough, Ontario Canada, but grew up and currently resides in Ajax, Ontario with her husband and their son. Interested in black history and eradicating racism against the black community from an early age, Channon’s keen interest in these areas helped her realize that she must do all she could to educate others, raise awareness of the rich history of black people and in turn help the black community  make great achievements in our communities and society.  Channon is an Honours graduate and was awarded with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Caribbean Studies from the University of Toronto. She has a Master’s Degree in Slavery Studies from the University of Hull-WISE (Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation), in which she examined “Black Jamaican Canadians Conceptualizing the Idea of “Home” in Private and Public Spaces, From 1945-2007”. Channon also has a Certificate in Instructing Adults from George Brown College.

Channon hosts her own blog Tuesday Justice with her colleague Michelle Palmer.

Feature image courtesy of Channon Oyeniran.



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