It’s Black History Month and CUPE BC is celebrating. CUPE takes an active role in promoting inclusion and equality that includes honouring Black History Month every February.
Black History Month is an opportunity to share the history, contributions, and culture of Black Canadians. It was first celebrated in the 1950’s in Toronto. Here in BC, Black history goes all the way back to early colonial times. In 1858, nearly 800 ‘Free Blacks’ left oppressive racial conditions in San Francisco for a new life on Vancouver Island.
Around 1900, many members of the Black community on Vancouver Island moved to the Lower Mainland and settled in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood. Hogan’s Alley at Main and Union became the social centre of the black community while the African Methodist Episcopal Fountain Chapel on Jackson became its religious heart. Many of the men in the community worked as porters on Canadian railways.
For more information on the black community in early Vancouver, visit the new Black Strathcona video history project at blackstrathcona.ca later this month.
Despite the intense discrimination, these pioneers enriched the political, religious, and economic life of the province. Many went on to play significant roles in politics, the arts, sports, and human rights work.
This marks the seventh year that Canada Post has issued stamps for Black History Month and the third year the City of Vancouver has officially launched the month-long tribute. This year one of those stamps will honour Hogan’s Alley, the social centre of the early Black Vancouver community.
Black History Month gives us an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the many contributions made to Canadian society, and to our union, by Canadians of African origin.
Among them have been:
Emory Barnes, NDP activist, former BC Lions player and Speaker of the Legislature Rosemary Brown, a leading women’s advocate and teacher
Leonard Lane, community builder and rights activist
Seraphim “Joe” Fortes, English Bay’s first official lifeguard
Harry Jerome, Olympic athlete and recipient of the Order of Canada
Mifflin Gibbs, businessman and civic leader
Jeni LeGron, actress, instructor and tap dancer
- Sir James Douglas, colonial governor often called the “Father of British Columbia”
Check your local listings to find events in your community.