Black Canadians you probably don't know, but should
Jackie Dunham, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, February 22, 2017 9:56AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 22, 2017 11:36AM EST
Most Canadians are familiar with black Canadian icons such as Harriet Tubman, who helped slaves find freedom along the Underground Railroad, or Viola Desmond, a businesswoman who publicly challenged racial segregation, but there are a number of lesser-known black Canadian entrepreneurs, business leaders and community advocates who also deserve attention for their society-shaping contributions to this country’s history.
As Black History Month draws to a close, Natasha Henry, a black history educator, spoke to CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday, about the importance of recognizing the achievements of these ground-breaking black Canadians.
“The more that we present a diverse Canadian story and experience and weaving in these stories into that bigger narrative, the more we’ll be able to learn,” Henry explained.
1) Albert Jackson
Toronto’s first black postal carrier
Fleeing slavery in the United States, Albert Jackson’s mother travelled from Delaware along the Underground Railway to Toronto with her six children in 1858.
In Toronto, Jackson received an education and successfully applied for a job as a postal worker in the city in 1882. He had trouble receiving training for the position, however, because white employees refused to train him or work with him.
In response to the protest from white postal workers, Toronto’s black community rallied together, pressing local politicians to ensure Jackson would get training.
Henry said, because it happened to be an election year, the Liberal candidate at the time reached out to Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald on Jackson’s behalf. Macdonald recognized the significance of the issue to the black population and intervened so that Jackson was eventually trained as the city’s first black postal carrier.
2) Beverly Mascoll
Founder of Mascoll Beauty Supply
Beverly Mascoll was born and raised in Nova Scotia, but moved to Toronto when she was a teenager. While she was working as a receptionist at Toronto Barber and Beauty Supply, Mascoll recognized there was a need for beauty services specifically for black women, according to Henry.
In 1970, Mascoll incorporated her own company called Mascoll Beauty Supply Ltd. with only $700. She sold beauty products targeted to black women out of her trunk before she eventually convinced U.S. manufacturer Johnson Products to grant her the rights to be the company’s first and only Canadian distributor.
Mascoll’s beauty supply chain stores became a multi-million dollar business.
Henry said it’s important to remember the businesswoman’s activities in the community as well. Mascoll was involved in numerous organizations, particularly in the area of education. In 1998, she was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada for outstanding entrepreneurship and assisting Canada’s youth.
3) Leona and Oscar Brewton
Business owners and community activists
Leona and Oscar Brewton moved to Toronto from Emerson, Ohio after the First World War. The married couple started up their own businesses in the city. Oscar was a podiatrist who ran a foot care clinic and Leona operated a beauty school and hair salon.
Henry said the pair was also heavily involved in the First Baptist Church. She said the Brewtons did a lot of outreach to the youth in the community and helped them with their educational training.
The couple also hosted Emancipation Day celebrations at High Park in Toronto during the 1930s. They were also involved with the homecare service community centre that served the black population in the city.
4) Violet King
First black Canadian female lawyer
Violet King graduated from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law in 1953, and became Canada’s first black female lawyer when she was called to the Alberta Bar in 1954.
King practiced criminal law in Calgary before she moved to Ottawa to work in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. She eventually moved to New Jersey to work in a senior management position with the YMCA.
“We see from her story how a black woman was able to achieve this success in her career in the 1940s and 1950s,” Henry said.
5) Black Women in Windsor
Founded the Hour-a-day Study Club
The Hour-a-day Study Club, originally called “The Mothers’ Club” was founded by a group of black women in Windsor, Ont. in 1934. The women met to study and read for an hour a day. They became prolific activists in the community who advocated for school achievement and support for parents. The group also studied maternal health and they often gave books to families who had newborn children.
Henry said the club continues to operate to this day, by supporting education as a way to uplift the community and offering scholarships to black Canadian students.