In February 2008, Senator Donald Oliver, the first Black man appointed to the Senate, introduced the Motion to Recognize Contributions of Black Canadians and February as Black History Month. It received unanimous approval and was adopted on March 4, 2008. Since then, February is an official time to celebrate Black Canadians – their experiences, stories, achievements and contributions.
Learn more: Government of Canada – Black History Month
VIOLA DESMOND (1914-1965):
Entrepreneur and Defender of Social Justice
The 2017 Black History Month poster (pictured right) shows Viola Desmond as an example of the courage and strength shown by so many Black Canadians throughout history.
Watch, listen and read about how Viola Desmond and other Black Canadians have taken a stand against racial segregation in Canada.
The story of Viola Desmond, an entrepreneur who challenged segregation in Nova Scotia in the 1940s. The 82nd Heritage Minute in Historica Canada’s collection. (1 min.)
A dramatized account of a pivotal moment in Canadian race relations. On November 8, 1946 Viola Desmond refuses to move to the upstairs balcony in the Roseland Theatre, and is forcibly removed from the theatre and thrown in jail. The resulting legal battle was taken all the way to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. (RRC network log in required)
Most Canadians are aware of Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a racially segregated bus in Alabama, but Viola Desmond’s act of resistance occurred nine years earlier. However, many Canadians are still unaware of Desmond’s story or that racial segregation existed throughout many parts of Canada during most of the twentieth century. On the subject of race, Canadians seem to exhibit a form of collective amnesia. Viola Desmond’s Canada is a groundbreaking book that provides a concise overview of the narrative of the Black experience in Canada. (Available to borrow from RRC Library)
“This documentary pays tribute to a group of Canadians who took racism to court. They are Canada’s unsung heroes in the fight for Black civil rights. Focusing on the 1930s to the 1950s, this film documents the struggle of 6 people who refused to accept inequality. Featured here, among others, are Viola Desmond, a woman who insisted on keeping her seat at a Halifax movie theatre in 1946 rather than moving to the section normally reserved for the city’s Black population, and Fred Christie, who took his case to the Supreme Court after being denied service at a Montreal tavern in 1936. These brave pioneers helped secure justice for all Canadians. Their stories deserve to be told.” – NFB website