Canadian Heritage Committee on Nov. 24th, 2011
A recording is available from Parliament.
On the agenda
The Chair Rob Moore
Good morning. Welcome to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
We're very pleased to have with us today two witnesses: Rosemary Sadlier is president of the Ontario Black History Society, and Anthony Sherwood is director of Anthony Sherwood Productions.
We were going to have with us Mr. Leslie Oliver, from the Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia, but as those of us who are from Atlantic Canada know, we got a little bit of a snowstorm the other day. He was unable to fly here. We tried to teleconference him in, but that wasn't going to work. But he does want to appear, and he is going to appear at a later date.
Welcome to our two witnesses.
I explained to Mr. Sherwood earlier that at this committee we don't expect at this point that everyone is going to have every answer on 2017. We're only beginning our study now. We're looking for people to bring their perspective, because one thing we have heard is it's not too early to start planning. That's one thing we've heard from witnesses who have been a part of major productions before.
We are going to get started now. Each witness will have 10 minutes, approximately, to present, and then we'll go into our rounds of questions.
Mr. Sherwood has a video he'd like us to see first.
So, Mr. Sherwood, I'll give you the floor and you can cue that up.
Anthony Sherwood Director, Anthony Sherwood Productions Inc.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Before I introduce the video, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Anthony Sherwood. I'm a film producer, actor, writer, and director who has worked in the entertainment business for over 35 years.
My production company has produced many high-profile projects for the federal Government of Canada, and for the past 20 years we've produced a number of events for the Department of Canadian Heritage. For seven years, I was the national co-chairman of the March 21 campaign for the federal government. March 21 is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. I also helped create and formulate for the Department of Canadian Heritage the “Racism. Stop It.” national video competition for students across the country, which still exists today.
Just recently I produced a special project for the Department of Canadian Heritage commemorating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. This was produced in Halifax, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.
Mostly recently, this year I produced for the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada a series of promotional videos to promote Black History Month.
I'd like to introduce one of those right now.
Director, Anthony Sherwood Productions Inc.
The nation of Canada has been built by many hands of different colours. Canada's diversity is what makes it strong and makes it the envy of the rest of the world. Today, Canada is a mosaic of many different cultures that have made significant contributions to the development of our great country. I'm here today to speak about the contributions made specifically by the African Canadian community and to ask that they be recognized in the celebration of Canada's 150th birthday.
People of African descent have been in Canada almost as long as the British and French have been. When the British and French first arrived in Canada, they brought their African slaves. Some of those enslaved Africans went on to become important heroes and heroines of our country. It would be a crime not to include the contributions of African Canadians in the 150th birthday celebration.
People of African descent have been some of the first settlers in many regions, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia.
Mathieu Da Costa was an interpreter for the French explorers to Canada in the early 1600s.
Rose Fortune came to Nova Scotia in 1783 and later became the first female police officer in Canada.
Richard Pierpoint was an African slave from Senegal who helped form the first all-black military unit that fought during the War of 1812 to protect Canadian soil. Richard Pierpoint was one of a group of Canadians who were some of the first settlers in southern Ontario.
Mary Ann Shadd was the first woman of African descent to publish a newspaper in North America and started the first integrated school in Canada in 1852.
In June 1858, Mifflin Gibbs arrived in the city of Victoria, on Vancouver Island. Gibbs opened a general store, and the business was the first challenger for the Hudson's Bay Company in Victoria. In 1866, Mifflin Gibbs was the first black representative elected to the Victoria city council and the first black politician in Canada.
Sir James Douglas was the first Governor of British Columbia and has been called, the father of British Columbia. Governor Douglas's mother was of African descent. In 1861, Sir James Douglas helped form an all-black regiment called the Victoria Rifles, the first military defence unit in British Columbia.
Elijah McCoy was born in Colchester, Ontario, in 1844. He became one of the most prolific inventors in North America, and it is from him that we get the expression, “the real McCoy”. In 1872, McCoy created his greatest invention, the automatic lubricating cup for steam engines, which revolutionized railway transportation. Elijah McCoy was known throughout the world. His inventions were used on engines, on train locomotives, on Great Lakes steam ships, on ocean liners, and on machinery in factories. Today, his lubrication process is used in machinery such as cars, locomotives, ships, rockets, and many other types of machinery. McCoy is credited with having helped modernize the industrial world with his inventions.
With such a long, prestigious, and rich history, African Canadians' contributions to Canada and the world must not be overlooked in the 150th birthday celebration.
This is my recommendation: that the theme of the 150th birthday anniversary be “We are one”.
One of the legacy projects for the 150th birthday of Canada could be the creation of a permanent national African Canadian museum. To limit costs, this museum could be created in an existing building, possibly in Toronto, Halifax, or Ottawa.
There are several strategies on how to develop this national museum. The Canadian War Museum could be used as a possible model.
Once the location of the museum has been selected, the Government of Canada could partner with local municipal and provincial governments to secure a venue or building for the museum. Provincial departments such as the ministry of tourism and culture and the ministry of education are possible provincial partners.
Private sector sponsorships and partnerships could be selected for the project. Banks, oil companies, and automobile companies could all be approached to help sponsor the museum.
Petro-Canada and Ford Canada may want to sponsor an Elijah McCoy exhibit in the museum because both of these companies have utilized his invention.
African Canadians have a long and rich history in the Canadian military. The Department of National Defence could possibly help sponsor this exhibit.
Black History Month is one of the biggest celebrations in schools. The national museum could offer educational tours for schools and students.
People of African descent have endured oppression because of slavery for over 200 years in this country. For hundreds of years they've been subjected to inhumane atrocities, to segregation, being barred from enlistment in the Canadian military by the federal government in the First World War and the Second World War, and being denied employment, which prevented them from pursuing their dreams and aspirations. The least the Canadian government could do on the 150th anniversary is to recognize the significant contributions of the African Canadian community by a legacy project creating a national museum.
The Chair Rob Moore
Thank you, Mr. Sherwood, and thank you for those concrete recommendations. That's something we haven't got a ton of as yet. Those are certainly things we will be able to consider.
On to you, Ms. Sadlier.
Rosemary Sadlier President, Ontario Black History Society
Thank you very much.
Before I begin, I want to say that I almost don't have to do anything because of the wonderful presentation that we've already received from Anthony Sherwood.
I also should take a moment to just frame myself as being the descendant of people of African origin who arrived in this country in 1783 and of people who arrived in this country because of the first freedom movement of the Americas, the underground railroad.
I should also add further that most of the people who enlisted in Canada's armed forces from New Brunswick in the Number 2 Construction Battalion era were related to me. I mention this because I grew up not knowing this. And if this is who I am and if this is what my legacy is, how can people who do not have this as their personal experience come to know about these particular kinds of contributions?
Mr. Chairman and honourable members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, I'm honoured to have been included in this early phase of the study regarding preparations for the pending 150th birthday of Canada. I congratulate you on putting together such a timely committee, which should lead to some important discussions about what Canada is and what Canada will be in the future.
I believe I have been invited to represent the Ontario Black History Society, La Société d'histoire des Noirs de l'Ontario, and to share my opinions and the opinions I gleaned during my brief opportunity to consult others about aspects of commemoration and celebration as they connect to this pending anniversary. I am delighted to be able to do so.
I would like to briefly familiarize you with the OBHS.
Founded in 1978 by educators, the mission of the OBHS is to study, preserve, and promote black history and heritage. As the first such black historical organization in Canada, our reach has long extended past Ontario to encompass the entire country. Now, with social media, I am happy to report that we have clear and often daily global reach.
Among the first items of business for the newly formed OBHS was to petition the City of Toronto to have February proclaimed as Black History Month, which was successful, effective in 1979. Then Ontario also proclaimed it, not without a little help, and subsequent to that, the OBHS was successful in initiating the process, introducing it to the Honourable Jean Augustine, the first woman of African descent who was an MP. That resulted in the national declaration of February as Back History Month across Canada, passed in December 1995, effective in February 1996.
At the celebration to mark the first national observance of February as Black History Month in Canada, right here on Parliament Hill the Government of Canada announced the creation of the Mathieu Da Costa Challenge, a national essay and art competition geared to students, designed to honour the first-named Canadian of African origin who arrived on Canada's east coast about 1604, if not earlier. While highly successful, I have recently learned that this program has been suspended, and I am unclear about what national initiative will replace it.
However, the OBHS program continues to include our annual kick-off brunch to launch February as Black History Month, to which you are all invited. It will be on Sunday, January 29, in Toronto. OBHS offers our speaker series, the OBHS leaders of tomorrow conference, the youth engagement program, the official OBHS Black History Month poster, our newsletter, and the nomination of people, places, and events to be formally recognized.
We advocate on African Canadian history and heritage matters. We have an oral history and photographic collection. We conduct internships for university students interested in the study of black heritage. We have travelling exhibits and we have the most hit-upon African Canadian website in Canada, if not North America, wwwblackhistorysociety.ca. We assist in the launching of the Canada Post Black History Month stamps. We have an annual black heritage site tour. We have a Facebook presence. And we have the newly created OBHS Black International Film Festival, BIFF, films that are by or about people of African origin in Canada or beyond.
For BIFF, the OBHS partnered with the National Film Board to share films from their collections with the general public, as well as films from the African diaspora. In October, among the many events that we created to observe the UN International Year for People of African Descent was the OBHS conference aimed at professionals, students, and the community, which featured our keynote speaker, internationally acclaimed Dr. Molefi Asante from Temple University.
The OBHS also initiated the formal commemoration of August 1 as Emancipation Day by the City of Toronto, Metro Toronto, the City of Ottawa, since 1997, and now, through Bill 111, throughout Ontario. While the commemoration of August 1 as Emancipation Day has gone to second reading federally, it remains unacknowledged across Canada to date. This is disappointing, since August 1 marks the beginning of freedom for peoples of African origin here. It both underscores the presence and contribution of people of African origin in Canada and the role of the British Empire, which included Canada at that time, to be the first global power to legislate against slavery.
Is it the way we might remember that needs to be queried? Certainly the way we remember needs to be more inclusive, if that is the future, if that is the legacy that is to be carried into the future as the vision of Canada. While Toronto is now home to half of all Canadians of African origin, it is also the home to a number of long-established communities of African descent who have made an immense contribution to the development and survival of Canada from its earliest beginnings.
African Canadians defended the crown during the American revolution in units such as the Black Pioneers and the Ethiopian Regiment, or served with other British land regiments. Following that war, they arrived in Canada as refugees along with the United Empire Loyalists, but remember Mathieu Da Costa had already been here as a free person and interpreter.
Several thousand black loyalists played a valuable role in the reshaping of British North America, the place that would become Canada, and in particular in Nova Scotia and Ontario, some also settling in Quebec.
While the security of this country was challenged in 1812, black units and other African Canadian volunteers helped greatly in the defence of Canada, particularly along the Niagara frontier. In fact, one of the first actions of the first Parliament of Ontario in 1793 was an act limiting slavery, which effectively slowed the slave trade in Ontario, making it one of the first jurisdictions in the world to do so. It was a necessary step on the long road to the abolition of slavery, finally experienced August 1, 1834. This, in turn, sparked the first freedom movement of the Americas, the underground railroad—the underground railroad, of course, being a loosely organized means of secreting enslaved Africans out of the United States and into Canada. Clearly, prior to Confederation, there was immense activity and significant development leading to the creation of communities with culture, arts, religion, trade and commerce, and the rule of law flourishing. The infrastructure of what would become Canada had been growing since the earliest times and was formalized by the Fathers of Confederation, effective in 1867.
If the 150th anniversary were to focus solely on the Fathers of Confederation and what they accomplished, or their stories and process, it would leave out all the developments, all the stepping stones, all of which went before to facilitate the rise and consolidation of Canada as a multicultural country from the very beginning, and a country that values freedom.
For example, George Brown, a Father of Confederation and founder of The Globe and Mail newspaper, may well have become prime minister, but George Brown was also involved in an incident in Toronto that changed him forever, when his life was saved by a black man. William Peyton Hubbard's act of heroism resulted in an ongoing friendship that saw Hubbard become Toronto's first acting mayor, the first person of African descent to do so.
It may serve to raise and answer the question of who and what a real Canadian is, along with their experiences and contributions to the building of this country. What is the national narrative that informs what stories are collected, preserved, and deemed necessary? What is Canada for those who are of African descent? What role does our interpretation of history have in reinforcing white privilege? What do we want Canada to become? And how do we see our teaching of history moving us in the appropriate direction and teaching in the formal and informal ways?
I have a quote from His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, which we all are familiar with, but what I emphasize is that he wants us to build “a smarter, more caring nation”.
Similarly, Minister James Moore sees the 150th as a time that will remind us of the important events, key battles, significant people, and major accomplishments that shaped our great country and our identity.
To begin this discussion, it is important that we are working from the same general black history background. Black history is as much a part of Canadian history as African history is to world history. The disciplines are connected and mutually reinforce each other.
To begin to discuss this, we might ask ourselves how it is that we have managed to further a part of a Canadian narrative that has excluded Canadians who were here from the earliest times. If we were including black history in a regular and routine way, why was there a need for the creation of an African Canadian historical organization, or even more currently, a need for an Afrocentric school?
African Canadians are unique due to the loss of their culture due to enslavement, and the loss not only of the ways of knowing their religions, their foods, but most significantly through the loss of their names. Researchers in the broader community are often challenged to consider that a veteran or a community icon or an inventor might be of African origin.
The celebration of Canada's 150th is a time to embrace the diversity that is Canada through underscoring and showcasing the long-term presence, achievements, and experiences of Canadians of African origin who define Canada's multicultural reality.
The OBHS has already developed a business plan for the creation of a centre for African Canadian history and heritage, to provide a space for Canadians to learn and share more about the long-term and contemporary accomplishments and challenges faced by this founding culture that has shaped and added to the wealth of Canada from the beginning. And we could go on. It will continue to shape and add to the wealth of Canada in the future.
History is about recognition. It reflects, reports, and influences our understanding of justice. It results in the fair development of communities based on an adequate understanding of their contributions and achievements. History raises awareness while creating our national story, and we channel that story to those we inform.
We do not celebrate that Canada is 150 years old. We celebrate that Canada has moved from one multicultural reality to another. This is the right moment in time for Canadians to deal with their past as they prepare for their future.
For Canada's 150th, the dedication of a centre for African Canadian history and heritage, and/or the creation of a memorial, a monument to honour African Canadians, both for the benefit of the local and global communities, is vital to our survival as the Canada we say we are.
The Chair Rob Moore
Thank you both for your presentations.
Now we'll go into our rounds of questions. We try to keep the first round to seven minutes; that's seven minutes for the questioner and also for the response. Each member is responsible for their seven minutes. I've been a little lax in the past in letting it go over the time, but we're going to try to tighten things up now.
Mr. Brown, you're up first.
Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you to our witnesses for coming today. Thank you for coming and talking to us about black history in Canada.
I had the opportunity a few years ago to go to a museum in Amherstburg, Ontario, which I know is a great opportunity for Canadians—and Americans who come to Canada as well—to learn about black history, the underground railroad, and the role it played in the development of Canada. Also, I was not aware that in fact the Thousand Islands area, where I'm from, was one of the routes of the underground railroad. So thank you for coming and talking to us about that.
One of the things I've talked about a number of times at this committee is the fact that only three out of ten provinces in Canada actually require a student to have a history course to graduate from high school. Obviously black history is a great part of Canadian history. So maybe you could talk just a little bit about what you think about that and what we can do with Canada 150, in an overall sense and in integrating black history and other history in Canada, to make that an important part of Canada 150.
Director, Anthony Sherwood Productions Inc.
I know that in the province of Nova Scotia there is an elective program—students can choose a history course as an elective course, whether it be black history or aboriginal history, to graduate. My company spends a great deal of time in producing educational material for the school systems. Black History Month is an extremely popular celebration in the educational system across Canada. In most of the large cities' inner city schools, a great deal of time and preparation is devoted to teaching black Canadian history. My company has produced several educational plays for schools, to help introduce kids to the rich black Canadian history.
History is history. It should not be defined by colour. People like Elijah McCoy, the great inventor, Mary Ann Shadd, and William Hall were Canadian heroes who belong to every Canadian and should be included in Canadian history books as Canadian heroes and heroines who contributed to this country. So I think the educational system has to take a serious look at incorporating these Canadian heroes. We know the reasons why it wasn't done in the first place years ago. Now that we have the opportunity to recognize them and now that Canadians have been informed of these wonderful Canadians, the educational system should really take a serious look at incorporating the contributions of these amazing heroes and heroines.
President, Ontario Black History Society
It's a very complicated question. I think we know that Black History Month is incredibly successful, and we are the organization of February's Black History Month in this country. That being said, we know black history is something that should be happening not just in the confines of one month. It's very hard to encourage educators and the media to consider expanding that opportunity.
With another hat I wear as a writer, I have written six books on African Canadian history, one of them having being adopted by the entire province of Nova Scotia, even though it's a very good general text, if I do say so myself—I'm not the only writer in the book on that one. There is a limited interest, unfortunately, in having a black history course, which I think would be very helpful, to make sure that some of this material gets out there. If there is no required black history course or component, then it increases the need for there to be something else. While Anthony has a wonderful company and I represent a wonderful non-profit operated by volunteers, there should be some additional capacity-building measures to make sure everyone is informed about all aspects of African Canadian history.
Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON
Thank you, Mr. Sherwood, for saying that black history really is Canadian history. Often some of our ethnocultural groups are not included—as you say, for reasons in the past. Today there is no reason why they should not be included.
How can we reach out to ethnocultural communities to integrate them even more into Canadian history and help teach that to Canadians, not just Canadian children but Canadians in general?
Director, Anthony Sherwood Productions Inc.
I think it starts with the local provincial ministries of education taking an active part in changing the teaching of history. History is such an important subject to Canadians. You have to know where you come from to move on to the future.
Certainly in Nova Scotia they've recognized this, because Nova Scotia is the centre of the oldest African Canadian community. The provincial educational system there has taken a serious look at incorporating that.
It starts with the ministries of education. It starts with the local parent-teacher associations. It starts with educational groups and organizations in this country, such as the Canadian Teachers' Federation, based here in Ottawa. These are all organizations that should be approached in terms of redefining the teaching of history in this country.
As I said, it's wrong to classify history by colour. The way Black History Month is introduced in schools today, it's optional. It's the school's choice whether or not to celebrate it. Mind you, many schools do. Still, it's the school's choice whether to celebrate it or not.
What we're telling kids is that they are not required to know and will not be tested on the contributions of black Canadians. But the contributions of other Canadians they will have to know and they will be tested on that. What are we telling our students?
Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON
That's a good point.
President, Ontario Black History Society
I think that gets back to the idea of what we are telling Canadians. If our founding peoples are European, and somehow, magically, the aboriginal people have suddenly become in vogue again or recognized as having a history and a presence....
How can you look at somebody who came here in 1604, who was free, who facilitated the development of Canada by facilitating those trade connections between the aboriginal communities and the European communities, and somehow say that he doesn't count? Further, we aren't going to offer an essay contest or an art contest in his name. Yet we'll say that black history is important or that we're a multicultural country. How can you say on a global stage that it's global, but it's really European. I think that's another message that comes through.
We can go to the ministries. But it's a top-down approach. It's bottom up and top down. Bottom up has been very strong and has been working hard, with limited resources, for a long time. I think it requires that top-down approach also, where we say that we value this community, we recognize these contributions, and all Canadians need to know.
The Chair Rob Moore
Thank you, Mr. Brown.
Go ahead, Mr. Benskin.
Tyrone Benskin Jeanne-Le Ber, QC
Thank you so much, both of you, for being here.
It's a battle, as Tony knows, that for a long time we shared.
The theatre company I ran for six years, prior to being elected, the Black Theatre Workshop, is Canada's oldest black theatre company. It's an anglophone company, in Quebec, that's survived 40 years, which in and of itself is a feat. The dedication to telling those stories is something that's really important.
One of the things that comes out in these explorations is the concept of inclusion. The aboriginal community contribution to this country and the black contribution to this country are not simply add-ons. It starts from the very beginning, with Mathieu Da Costa, and with the black loyalists. Not being taught in schools, it does send a very clear message that it is optional, in fact; it's not something we need to know about. That tells our young people that they are not important. That feeds that disenchantment. That feeds that disconnection with this society, which leads to crime and leads to trying to find something to give themselves value.
With the 150th anniversary, we have an opportunity to rectify that. Part of that is telling those stories. For example, sitting outside the Chateau Laurier, there are bronze busts of people who won the Victoria Cross in Canada. William Hall is not among them. Why is that? What is the message we're sending?
Mr. Sherwood, you put forward some concrete ideas as to how we could recognize that and open the door to all of Canada becoming connected with that history and how it was founded.
I will pose this to both of you. As far as education is concerned, what would be your recommendations as to how we make that an ongoing thing so that we do not need Black History Month? Black History Month would no longer be Black History Month; it would be Canadian Month. It would be Canadian Year. It would be about what everybody has contributed.
That's a hard question.