In Canada, “the 2022 theme for Black History Month is ‘February and Forever: Celebrating Black History today and every day,’ which focuses on recognizing the daily contributions that Black Canadian make to Canada” (Canadian Heritage, 2022a). Unfortunately, the history and communities of Black Canadians has largely been ignored throughout Canada’s history; it is important to take this time to learn about these Canadian stories and contributions.
Black History Month began in 1926 when African American historian Carter G. Woodson proposed time be set aside and devoted to “honour the accomplishments of African Americans and to heighten awareness of Black History in the United States” (Canadian Heritage, 2022a). Celebrations for Black history began in Canada shortly after they did in the United States, at first it started as Black History Week but was eventually expanded to Black History Month in 1976. Then, in 1995 the House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month (Canadian Heritage, 2022a).
Eleanor Collins, known as Vancouver’s “First Lady of Jazz”, moved to Vancouver in the late 1930’s, and began working as a musician for CBC Radio. During her time at CBC, she was asked to join Serenade in Rhythm, a jazz series that was popular with Canadian troops in Europe. Eleanor then went on to host two national television show: CBC TV’s The Eleanor Show (1955) and later Eleanor (1964). Eleanor was the first Canadian woman to have her own national television show. She is known today for her musical talent, her support of equality and acceptance in the music industry and beyond, and her work in developing the music industry in BC (Canadian Heritage, 2022b).
Joe Fortes was a prominent community leader, lifeguard, and swim teacher. Joe was declared the Vancouver Citizen of the Century by the Vancouver Historical Society in 1986 after saving more than 29 lives from drowning as well as teaching three generations of Vancouver children how to swim. In 1910, the City of Vancouver recognized him as the first English Bay lifeguard (City of Vancouver, 2022).
Image: Thomson, S. (1905). Joe Fortes [Photograph]. Vancouver Museums and Planetarium Association fond. City of Vancouver Archives. https://searcharchives.vancouver.ca/joe-fortes
Mel “Trick” Davis
Mel Davis, a former Harlem Globetrotter, had lived in Vancouver from 1987 until his passing in 2021. Mel is best known in Vancouver for “his ‘Have Ball, Will Teach’ basketball clinics, which taught basketball skills and the importance of education. He also founded the Kitsilano Youth Basketball league in 1998” (CBC News, 2022). In 2011, Davis was inducted into the Basketball B.C. Hall of Fame. Director Hubert Davis, the son of Mel Davis, directed the film Hardwood which explores how his father’s decisions affected his life and those of his extended family.
Want to learn more? Watch the film here via NFB: https://elibrary.alexandercollege.ca:2255/film/hardwood/
Canadian Heritage. (2022a, February 1). About Black History Month. Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/black-history-month/about.html
Canadian Heritage. (2022b, February 14). Noteworthy Historical Figures. Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/black-history-month/black-canadians.html
City of Vancouver. (2022). Honoring Black History in Parks. City of Vancouver. https://vancouver.ca/people-programs/honoring-black-history-in-parks.aspx
CBC News. (2022, January 16). Former Harlem Globetrotter Mel Davis leaves behind B.C. basketball legacy. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/mel-davis-obituary-1.6316791