• By: Kat Walcott

Ottawa Celebrates Black History Month

Photo credit: Government of Canada

This past weekend, Ottawa kicked off Black History Month with the official opening ceremony at City Hall. Hosted by Black History Ottawa (BHO), the ceremony was an afternoon of music, inspiring speeches, recognition of groundbreakers and leaders in the community, and more.

Photo credit: Canada Post

Talking about the importance of Black History Month in contemporary times, BHO member Eldon Holder Jr. mentioned its new goal is “African-Canadian truth-telling” – Black Canadians having their voices being heard and the platforms to tell their stories of struggle, resilience and success in their own words.

One of these stories, presented at the opening ceremony itself, was of Albert Jackson – Canada’s very first black letter carrier, and the face of this year’s official Canada Post Black History Month stamp. Jackson, born in Delaware in the mid-1800’s, escaped slavery by the Underground Railroad to Canada and landed a job as a postman in 1888. Jackson faced intense racism from the public and media, with Canada Post refusing to train him and re-assigning him to hall porter in result of the backlash. However, prime minister John A. Macdonald soon stepped in to re-appoint Jackson to his original position – one he kept for over 35 years until his death in 1918.

Jackson’s great-great grandson Jamaal Jackson Rogers, who is an activist and artist, was on hand to help unveil the stamp and it really cemented the impact black people have made, and continue to make everyday, on Canadian culture. Albert Jackson would have never thought that 100 years after his death the same organization that refused to train him because of the colour of his skin would release a stamp in his honour.

Jackson’s story is just one of many that need to be heard. Hopefully, we can all take some time this Black History Month to engage with our community and listen to and share these important stories of perseverance in the face of adversity. There will be various events and activities happening throughout the National Capital Region to give you a chance to engage with these topics and we've listed a few notable ones:

Connecting the Dots Documentary Premiere (Feb. 1st, National Capital Commission)

For an in-depth look at the legacy of the Black Canadian diaspora, you do not want to miss the premiere of the documentary Connecting the Dots, produced by the BHO-led volunteer-based initiative of the same name. In 2018, a group of volunteers went on a tour across the country talking with Black Canadians in the fields of activism, media, education, politics and more. This film is a cultivation of their inspiring stories. Not only will you get to watch the film, but the evening will also include a Q&A with the filmmakers and cast and a networking reception. Free tickets, with an option to place a donation, are available now through Eventbrite.

Photo credit: Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia

2019 African Day on the Hill (Feb. 16th, Sir John A Macdonald Building)

This annual gala, put on by the African Day on the Hill Planning Community, is back again to celebrate African-Canadians and the beauty of African culture from music, food, fashion and more. Celebrating the UN International Decade for People of African Descent (2015 – 2024), this year’s gala will focus on the past, present and future impact and legacy of this vibrant and incredibly diverse community. Free tickets are available now through Eventbrite.

Remembering and Understanding the Heritage of African Canadians – Part of Canada’s Heritage All-Year Long – (Feb. 23rd, St. Andrew’s Church Ottawa)

Presented by BHO, this event will highlight the military heritage of African Canadians during World War I – an important part of Canadian history that is rarely taught in classrooms. CBC’s Adrian Harewood will moderate presentations by community leaders Anthony Sherwood, Blake Seward and Kathy Grant, who will dive into this topic and how the voices of minorities are heard in the telling of Canada’s history. The event is free, but donations of non-perishables to the Centretown Emergency Food Centre will be accepted at the door.

To learn more about Black History Ottawa, and for a full list of Black History Month events, check out their website here.