The Woyingi Blog

Black Canadian History Quiz: Test Yourself

Posted in Black Canadian History, Black Firsts by the woyingi blogger on May 29, 2011

The following quiz was published in the Ottawa Citizen. I have made some updates and corrections-The Woyingi Blogger

Background: February is Black History Month. Test your knowledge of the significant contributions made by Canadian blacks in this quiz prepared by the black history committee of Ottawa. Answers, in bold, follow the questions.

THE ARTS

1. This internationally recognized artist was appointed artistic director of the prestigious Ballet British Colombia.

John Alleyne

2. This renowned Canadian singer-songerwriter was the first black Canadian to achieve major international success in popular music.

Dan Hill

3. This jazz composer and pianist has received numerous awards including Juno and Grammy awards. He was also named a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Oscar Peterson

4. This Jamaican born, African-Canadian artist received Juno awards for her albums Revolutionary Tea Party and Conditions Critical.

Lillian Allen

5. She came to Canada in 1967, has been active in women’s groups and jazz music. She is also the creator of Jazz message and Black Arts production.

Ayanna Black

6. She was in a singing group called “Andy and the Bey sisters” .

Salome Bey

7. Who was the founding director of Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop?

John Antonio Cayonne aka Jamaica Johnny Cayonne

BUSINESS & PROFESSIONS

1. They started one of the first black owned businesses in the Ottawa area in the 1950s.

Estelle and Herbert Brown started Brown’s Cleaners

2. This African-Canadian was the first black person to be called to the Bar in Canada.

Delos Rogest Davis

3. This first judge of African descent in Canada was Maurice Alexander Charles, in what year was he elevated to the Ontario bench?

1969

EDUCATION

1. What world leader, frequently in the news throughout the summer and fall of 1994, studied at the University of Montreal in the 1980s?

Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide

2. Marcus Garvey is renowned for his back to Africa ideology. His son Julius studied in Canada and graduated with a medical degree. What Canadian university did he attend?

McGill

3. In 1952 he became Toronto’s first black public school teacher. He served as principal at various schools from 1966 to 1986.

Wilson O. Brooks, who was one of the first black commissioned officers in the Royal Canadian Air Force

HISTORY AND DISCOVERIES

1. One of the Canadian West’s best known black settlements was established at Amber Valley, east of Athabaska, Alberta, by this 22 year old man.

Jefferson Davis Edwards

2. This African American arrived in Canada in 1825 from Virginia and formed Ontario’s first Baptist Church.

Elder Washington

3. Many blacks were among the Loyalists who fled the United States after the American Revolution. In which area of Canada did most settle?

Some black loyalists settled in Upper Canada (Ontario), however the majority settled in Nova Scotia.

4. What is the Underground Railroad and what is its significance in the settlement of Canada?

The term refers to a secret operation to help slaves in the Southern U.S. escape slavery for freedom in some northern States and Canada. A large number of the slaves who travelled on the “Underground Railroad” settled in Southern Ontario, others settled in New Brunswick and Quebec.

5. In what year was slavery abolished in Canada?

In 1834 Britain abolished slavery throughout its empire, including Canada.

6. The Elgin and Dawn Settlement were two of the earlier black settlements in Ontario. Name the persons most associated with these settlements.

Josiah Henson, upon whom Harriet Beecher Stowe is believed to have based the title character of her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was one of the founders of the Dawn Settlement. The Elgin Settlement was the brainchild of Rev. William King, a Presbyterian minister.

7. Who is the first recorded black resident of Canada?

Oliver Le Jeune. He was an eight year old boy from the island of Madagascar and was the slave of David Kirk, the English privateer who attacked Quebec in 1628.

JOURNALISM AND THE MEDIA

1. This highly respected black newspaper was founded by Trinidadian-born Arnold A. Auguste in January 1978.

Share, which is now the largest ethnic publication with a readership of over 75,000.

2. This former member of the Canadian Women’s Olympic Basketball team produced a TV special in 1992 about her famed Uncle Oscar Peterson.

Sylvia Sweeney

3. This Canadian born woman was the first black to produce a TV series here.

Betty Riley

4. One of the first black newspapers in Canada was published by Henry Bibb at Sandwich Ontario between 1851 and 1853.

The Voice of the Fugitive

LANDMARKS AND SITES

1. What important monument to black civilization is located in Amherstburg, Ontario?

The North American Black History Museum

MATHS & SCIENCES

1. During his lifetime he patented more than 50 discoveries; his first in 1871. Name him.

Elijah McCoy

MEDICINE

1. Dr. Anderson Ruffin was the first black Canadian to graduate from medical school in 1861. What medical school did he attend?

Trinity College, University of Toronto

MILITARY

1. During the war of 1812 this all black company of soldiers participated in several battles including Queenston Heights and the battle of Stoney Creek.

The Company of Colored Men

2. This Canadian of African descent was made an officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) by King George VI for his distinguished service in the Second World War.

Beresford Augustus Husbands

POLITICS & SOCIAL ACTIVISM

1. Who was the first African Canadian to be elected mayor in Canada?

Dr. Monestime Saint Firmin who was elected mayor of Mattawa, Ontario in 1974.

2. This black woman coordinated the first National Congress on Black Women in Canada.

Kay Livingstone. Born in London, Ontario, Livingstone travelled across the country, contacting organizations for women of color and informing them of their rights. She was also a successful radio broadcaster on CBC and CFTR.

3. In 1959, this man became the first black Canadian to run for the Ontario Legislature.

Stanley G. Grizzle. Grizzle was defeated in the election and four years later Leonard Braithwaite became the first black elected to the Ontario Legislature. He also held a post with the Ontario Ministry of Education.

4. What do these six Canadians of African descent-Isaac Phills, Harry Winston Jerome, Oscar Peterson, Winslow A.S. Case, William White and Dr. Carrie Best-have in common?

They have all received the Order of Canada.

SPORTS

1. Who was the first Canadian baseball player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame?

Ferguson Jenkins

2. This black Canadian is a Vezina Trophy winner and a member of five Stanley Cup winners with the Edmonton Oilers. Who is he?

Grant Fuhr

3. Who became the first Canadian woman to run the 800 metres race in less than 2 minutes in 1990?

Charmaine Crooks

Further Reading:

Canadian African Heritage Month Document available online

Black Canadian Profile: William Sylvester Alpheus Beal 1874 to 1968

I recently just got back from Winnipeg, Manitoba. It was my first time visiting this province so in honour of my trip, I decided to write a profile of one of the province’s first Black settlers. The Black population of the Canadian West grew quite slowly in the 19th and 20th Century, with most migrants coming from the United States. One of the first and best documented Blacks to migrate and settle in Manitoba was William S. A. Beal aka Billy Beal.

Billy Beal, Photo Taken by Beal himself

Billy Beal was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts on January 16th 1874, the son of Loretta H. Freeman and Charles R. Beal. Billy Beal grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota where he graduated from high school. Minnesota was a region where the Manitoba government was focusing its immigration advertising at the time. Beal immigrated to Canada in 1906 where he worked in the Swan River area of Manitoba as a steam engineer at a saw mill. The area was mainly settled by Icelandic, Scandinavian and German immigrants. Beal describes life on a pioneer homestead in the region as follows (I have made spelling corrections to the original):

The idea of taking a homestead did not occur to me at that time. It was in the fall of 1906 that one of my acquaintances asked me to spend the winter on his homestead. That was in the district that is called Lancaster now. We went out there to fix up the house and things because he had a wife to share his good fortune with him. The scrub was so dense out there that we had to climb a tree to see much of his possessions. I had originally come from the city and I thought a man must have an awful grudge against a woman to take her out in the woods like that.

Unlike many other Black immigrants to the Canadian West, Beal was not initially interested in building a homestead, but he soon changed his mind under the influence of men at the sawmill and a book he read. He decided to settle in the Big Woody region. He writes:

Two years after at the sawmill where I worked most of the men were homesteaders and there was nothing but homestead talk every evening in camp. They would set around the table talked and joked each other about their braking and clearing. […] This and a book that I read that summer inspired me to try homesteading myself. So in the fall when the summer season at the mill was over, I applied at the land office in Swan River for a permit to file on a homestead. The only land then available near Swan River was ten miles North West of town some new land just opened for settlement. It was not then even included in the municipality and I was the first one to locate there. This was in 1908. It was very discouraging looking then, all heavy bush or rather dense trees like a forest and I had to clear and break fifteen acres in three years. There were no roads of course of any kind. Then too, there was the Woody River between it and town and no bridge. I had to cut a road in to haul material in to build my first shack.

But instead of focusing on clearing his land and farming, he started building a library. He collected catalogues from publishing houses and sent away for hundreds of books including the works of William Shakespeare, the Bible, Scientific Literature, Astronomy, and Philosophy. Unfortunately, Beal’s library was lost in 1911, burned to the ground in a spring fire which swept through the Swan River Valley. After this disaster, Beal focused on farming but gave it up in 1916 and returned to working for local lumber companies, just returning to his homestead on off seasons.

Beal was something of a renaissance man. Beal even built a homemade telescope out of lengths of stove pipe and rolled metal from tin cans. Some even believed he had medical training and he even assisted in giving inoculations in the diphtheria scare of 1915, the influenza epidemic of 1918 and the smallpox outbreak of 1920.

In 1912, he was involved in the formation of the Big Woody School District and was elected its first Secretary Treasurer, a position that he held for 37 years. Beal helped to establish a circulating library within the school system. He was the first secretary of the Big Woody Sunday School. He also formed a literary society and debating teams, directed plays, and organized poetry readings and musical concerts.

On top of all this he was also an amateur photographer. Most of his photographs are of people from the Swan River Valley, pictured in their homes of outside in natural settings so that the photographs do not look staged. A selection of his photographs were featured in the self-published 1988 amateur biography entitled Billy: The Life and Photography of William S. A. Beal Beal by Robert Barrow and Leigh Hambly.

Beal was a life-long bachelor. After he retired, he moved to the volunteer run Eventide home in the Pas in 1955. He died penniless on January 25th 1968 at 94 years of age. He was buried in an unmarked grave in The Pas Cemetery.

Very little is known about Beal’s life before he immigrated to Manitoba. Beal wrote an 8 page memoir in the 1950s but it begins, unlike most memoirs, with his immigration to Manitoba, not his birth. The memoir begins:

I came up to this country during Laurier’s land boom and effort was being made to settle the west by giving every man a “homestead” for $10.00, three years residence and fifteen acres cleared and broke. I did not come to this part of the country to homestead then but to follow my trade of engineer as there [were] many saw mills being operated.

Barrow and Hambly, who wrote Beal’s biography, interviewed neighbours, friends, and aquaintances of Beal’s in order to learn more about his early life. Much that they uncovered was only rumour and speculation as Beal didn’t tell many people about his past. According to Tom and Mary Barrow, two acquaintances of Beal’s, Beal immigrated because he was the dark-skinned child of a family that could pass as white, in an interview they state: “Well, he was a—he had Negro blood in him and it really came out in him, and his family, I guess, persuaded him to come up to this country so they wouldn’t be embarrassed having this fella who showed so much Negro in the family.”

Filmmakers Ernesto Griffiths and Winston Washington Moxam have written and produced a feature film about Beal’s life, entitled Billy. Griffiths stars in the film, playing Billy Beal, and Moxam directs. The film’s webpage on Telefilm Canada provides the following description for the film:

In 1967, a young journalist arrives at a retirement home to interview Billy, a 94-year-old black man. Billy tells him the story of his eventful life dating back to his early recollections of when he left the United States to move to northern Manitoba. He recalls his struggle as a homesteader, the racism he endured, his love of a woman, and his gift of photography.

Billy is the story of one man’s constant search for acceptance.

The filmmakers received the 2010 Human Rights Commitment Award of Manitoba for their film.

Further Reading:

The Black Prairies: History, Subjectivity, Writing by Karina Joan Vernon (thesis available online)

Billy Beal: One of the First Black Pioneers in Manitoba by G. Siamandas (article available online)

Profile of Beal by The Manitoba Historical Society available online

Webpage for the film Billy on the Telefilm Canada website

Interview with Ernesto Griffith about the film Billy Beal available online

Trailer for the film Billy Beal available online

Black Canadian Profile: William Hall (VC) 1827 to 1904

It is only fitting that the first Black Canadian Profile I write for my blog be that of the first Black Canadian I ever read about with any interest. During my Grade 10 history class, which I had with a wonderful visiting teacher who was originally from Scotland, I learned about William Hall (VC), the first Black person, the first Nova Scotian, and the first Canadian sailor to be honoured with a Victoria Cross.

William Hall (VC)

William Hall was born in 1827 in Horton Bluff, on the Minas Basin, in Nova Scotia. He was the son of former American slaves Jacob and Lucy Hall who had fled to Halifax as refugees of the War of 1812. . He grew up in Hansport which was a thriving wooden shipbuilding area. Hall began his career building wooden ships but eventually joined the American merchant navy, then the British Royal Navy. His first service was a Able Seamen with the HMS Rodney. He spent two years in the Mediterranean and Black Seas during the Crimean War, during which he took an active part in a gun crew during the bombardment of Sebastopol (in present day Ukraine) and was captain of one of the Lancaster Guns on Green Hill. He received both British and Turkish medals for his efforts during this campaign.

Hall went on to join the crew of the HMS Shannon as Captain of the Foretop. Indian regiments with the British Army mutinied violently in resistance to the British occupation. In 1857, Hall volunteer to accompany a relief force bound for Lucknow where mutineers were besieging a British garrison. The army was required to breach the inner wall of the Shah Najaf mosque that was being used as a fortress by the mutineers.

According to the biography of William Hall written for the Nova Scotia Museum:

William Hall volunteered to replace a missing man in the crew of a twentyfour- pounder. The walls were thick, and by late afternoon the 30,000 sepoy defenders had inflicted heavy casualties from their protected positions. The bombardment guns from Shannon were dragged still closer to the walls and a bayonet attack was ordered, but to little effect. Captain Peel ordered two guns to within 20 yards (18 m) of the wall. The enemy concentrated its fire on these gun crews until one was totally annihilated. Of the Shannon crew, only Hall and one officer, Lieutenant Thomas Young, were left standing. Young was badly injured, but he and Hall continued working the gun, firing, reloading, and firing again until they finally triggered the charge that opened the walls. “I remember,” Hall is quoted as saying, “that after each round we ran our gun forward, until at last my gun’s crew were actually in danger of being hurt by splinters of brick and stone torn by the round shot from the walls we were bombarding.”

For this act of bravery, he was awarded the Victoria Cross on October 28th, 1859. The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest military decoration awarded to those who have shown valour “in the face of the enemy”. It was introduced by Queen Victoria in 1856 to award soldiers who fought in the Crimean War.

Canada Post Stamp

William Hall (VC) retired from the navy in 1876, having reached the rank of Quartermaster. He went to live with his two sisters, managing a farm in Avonsport. He died of paralysis and was buried without military honours in an unmarked grave, His grave was neglected for some time until local community members launched a campaign in 1937 to have his valour recognized by the Canadian Legion. In 1945, his was reburied in a special plot in the cemetery of a Baptist Church in Hansport and in 1947 a memorial cairn was erected on ground obtained by the Hansport Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. The inscription on the memorial reads as follows:

William Hall V.C. the first Nova Scotian, and the First Man of colour to win the Empire’s highest award for valour

A branch of the Canadian Legion in Halifax was also named in his honour.

William Hall’s medals were returned to Canada from England and were put on display during Expo ’67 in Montreal. They are now property of the province of Nova Scotia and are kept at the Nova Scotia Museum. Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp of William Hall in time for Black History Month in February 2010.

Personal Reflections

When I first learned about William Hall (VC), I remember feeling surprised, surprised that a Black person had been able to achieve what William Hall had achieved in the 19th Century. As a Black person, I feel that I have a complicated relationship with history. So much of the history that directly relates to my ancestors is not accessible to me and/or is deemed unimportant within mainstream Canadian society because it is considered to not be of any significant consequence to the more important history of Western Civilization. William Hall’s achievement of the Victoria Cross places him within the “important history of Western Civilization”. Both his involvement in the Crimean War and the Siege of Lucknow place him at key moments in the development and expansion of the British Empire. As Black people, we are often made to feel, or are even bluntly told, that we have not contributed anything of worth to Western Civilization. The life of a Black person like William Hall (VC) contradicts this belief and can be used effectively to help Black Canadian students feel that Black people like them have played a significant role in Canadian as well as British and Western history.

However, does celebrating the life of the first Black person to be awarded a Victoria Cross  necessarily mean we need to celebrate his role in the expansion of the British Empire? You see, as I have grown older and learned more history, although I don’t doubt the heroism involved in William Hall’s actions during the Siege of Lucknow, I can’t agree that the British were right to be attempting to occupy India. Although British History often portrays the British army as victims of this mutiny, Indian history sees the mutiny as a struggle of resistance against Britain’s colonial ambitions and expanding occupation of the Indian sub-continent. Although there is no doubt that some of the mutineers were involved in unspeakable crimes against humanity, particularly the butchering of the families, mainly women and children, of British soldiers and settlers, Britain’s subsequent colonial take-over and occupation of the subcontinent could hardly be expected to be accepted without serious resistance from the Indians.

Much like African Americans who celebrate the history and achievements of Buffalo Soldiers as somehow “upping the race”, while ignorning that fact that many Native Americans and Filipinos may see these men as agents of American colonialism, we need to look at the achievements of William Hall (VC) as Indians might see them. We live in a very multicultural country and an increasingly globalized world. Far too often, we limit ourselves to seeing our achievements as Black people only in a Western, often North American context. This must change.

Further Reading:

Nova Scotia Museum Biography of William Hall (VC)

Black History Canada: William Hall Profile

Canada Post Profile of Willam Hall (VC) and his Commemorative Stamp

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