Category Archives: Black History

“Why I’m Not Allowed my Book Title”

The Book of Negroes 6-part miniseries premieres on CBC Television on January 7, 2015 at 9 p.m. (9:30 in Newfoundland) and continues on consecutive Wednesdays; in February, it will air in the United States on BET (Black Entertainment Television). The novel it was based on was authored by Lawrence Hill.  Allow me to introduce him to you.

Photo of Canadian author Lawrence Hill from 2008

Canadian author Lawrence Hill, 2008. Uploaded to by user Sherurcij (

Hill was born in Newmarket, Ontario. He is the son of American immigrants to Canada — a black father and a white mother. Hill has written in his bestselling memoir Black Berry, Sweet Juice of how his parents — social activist Donna Hill and social scientist/public servant Daniel G. Hill — met, married, left the United States the day after they married in 1953 in Washington, D.C., and raised a family in Toronto. Growing up in the 1960s in Don Mills, a predominantly white suburb of Toronto, Hill was very influenced by his parents’ human rights work and would go on to explore in his writing themes related to identity and belonging.

Hill has lived and worked in Baltimore, Spain and France, and now lives in Hamilton, Ontario, with his wife and five children. His brother is singer-songwriter Dan Hill.

The $10-million miniseries chronicles the dramatic journey and life of Aminata Diallo, a young West African girl, abducted from her village and sold into slavery in America. Eventually, she registers her name in the Book of Negroes, the British ledger of 3,000 Black Loyalists who declared their allegiance to the King and were allowed to leave America for Nova Scotia – and what they believed was the promised land.

Books by Hill includes novels, such as:

Among his non-fiction books, there is:


To learn more about Lawrence Hill, I suggest going to the official Lawrence Hill website; and a .pdf called A tribute: “Dad will always ‘live within us’ – A son remembers Daniel Hill III, Activist, storyteller, champion, inspirer”; and finally a Guardian newspaper article Why I’m Not Allowed my Book Title.

Come back and tell us what your thoughts are about the miniseries if you watch it!


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Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada

Did you know that as early as 1501, Portuguese explorers enslaved 50 Amerindian men and women in Newfoundland and Labrador?  In 1619, slavery began in North America with the arrival in Jamestown, Virginia of a Dutch slave trading ship carrying 20 Africans.  Not too long after that, in 1628, a six-year-old boy from Madagascar is the first Black person to appear in records as being brought directly from Africa and sold as a slave in New France for 50 crowns. He is later baptized and given the name Olivier Le Jeune.

Today in 1830 marks the day that Josiah Henson, his wife and four children moved from Maryland to Upper Canada (now Ontario) via the Underground Railway. If you don’t remember the name, perhaps you know his story.  It is thought that Harriet Beecher Stowe modelled her story in Uncle Tom’s Cabin on his life.  The book, by the way, that Abraham Lincoln said started the U.S. Civil War, was published on March 20, 1852.

Photo of Josiah Henson

Josiah Henson in 1877

Henson was born on June 15, 1789 in Charles County, Maryland; he died on May 5, 1883, at the age of 93 in Dresden, Ontario.

In 1793,  Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe passed “An Act to prevent further introduction of Slaves, and to limit the Term of Contracts for Servitude within this Province.” The legislation did not immediately end slavery, but it did prevent the importation of slaves, meaning that any U.S. slave who set foot in what would eventually become Ontario, was free.

When he arrived in Upper Canada with his family, he founded a settlement and laborer’s school for other fugitive slaves at Dawn, Upper Canada. By the time Henson arrived, others had already made Upper Canada home, including Black Loyalists from the American Revolution, and refugees from the War of 1812.

He first worked on farms near Fort Erie, then Waterloo, moving with friends to Colchester by 1834 to set up a Black settlement on rented land. Through contacts and financial help there, he was able to buy 200 acres (0.81 km2) in Dawn Township, in next-door Kent County, to realize his vision of a self-sufficient community. The Dawn Settlement eventually prospered, reaching a population of 500 at its height, and exporting black walnut lumber to the United States and Britain. Henson purchased an additional 200 acres (0.81 km2) next to the Settlement, where his family lived. Henson also became an active Methodist preacher, and spoke as an abolitionist on routes between Tennessee and Ontario. He also served in the Canadian army as a military officer, having led a Black militia unit in the Rebellion of 1837.

He traveled to England three times to raise money for the settlement, and he met Queen Victoria in 1877. After his first wife’s death, Henson married Nancy Gamble, a widowed free black woman, in 1856.

Though many residents of the Dawn Settlement returned to the United States after slavery was abolished there, Henson and his wife continued to live in Dawn for the rest of their lives.

Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe may have passed the Act that ensured freedom for so many, but Josiah Henson certainly helped many blacks achieve success after slavery. To read more about Henson, I suggest the following sites: Documenting the American South, and Dictionary of Canadian Biography. There’s a 5-page biography at Digital History (I suggest looking around this site as it has so much information!) Two legacies are  National Historic Person plaque, and cemetery photo near Dresden, Ontario and Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site, also near Dresden, Ontario.  You may also like to read Henson’s autobiography  The Life of Josiah Henson: Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada and the free Kindle version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.


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Black History Month Part Ten

In honour of the gold medal earned today in Sochi’s Men’s hockey, and still continuing with Black History Month, allow me to introduce you to Willie O’Ree, NHL player.

Willie Eldon O’Ree was born October 15, 1935, in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and is a Canadian former professional ice hockey player, and is known best for being the first black player in the National Hockey League.

On January 18, 1958, he skated on the ice at the Montreal Forum to play his first game in the NHL — and made history.

Like any Canadian kid, Willie played hockey with his friends, and dreamed of playing professionally.  For O’Ree that dream came true. He became the first black player in the NHL. As a matter of fact, he was the only black player until another Canadian player, Mike Marson, was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1974.

He played from 1957 to 1979 and was known for his speed and checking abilities.   Unfortunately, his career was cut short by an injury.

To learn more about Willie O’Ree, I would suggest going to Internet Hockey Database, and there is a CBC interview with him at YouTube. They are good places to start.


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Black History Month Part Nine

Continuing with Black History Month, I would like you to meet Portia White.

Portia White, Canadian Opera Singer

English: Portrait of Canadian contralto opera singer, Portia White. Taken ca. 1945 by Yousuf Karsh.

Portia May White was born on June 24, 1911 in Truro, Nova Scotia, the third of thirteen children!

Her father, the son of former slaves from Virginia, attended Acadia University in Nova Scotia in 1903.  He became the university’s first black graduate.

Portia White embarked on her stellar singing career at six years old, at her father’s Baptist Church in Halifax. Before she began singing professionally, she supported her musical career by teaching in Africville, in black schools in Halifax County.  A decade later, she won a scholarship to pursue her musical training at the Halifax Conservatory, in 1939.  Soon thereafter, she made her professional début in Toronto, and then performed in New York City to rave reviews.

Portia White went on to international success.  She performed more than 100 concerts, including a command performance before Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Edward Wodson, at the Toronto Evening Telegram, said White had a “coloured and beautifully shaded contralto all the way. . . . It is a natural voice, a gift from heaven.”

White has left quite the legacy in her home country.  For starters she has been declared “a person of national historic significance” by the Government of Canada.  She was also featured in a special issue of Millennium postage stamps celebrating Canadian achievement.  And, the Nova Scotia Talent Trust was created in her honour, as was the Portia White Prize.

This Canadian Opera, Classical and Gospel singer died on February 13, 1968, at the age of 56, in Toronto, Ontario.

CBC’s Celebrating Portia White is definitely a must-see!


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Black History Month Part Eight

As part Eight of my Black History Month series, I would like to introduce you to Michael Lee-Chin.

Lee-Chin, born in 1951, came from a modest family life. His mother sold Avon products, and worked as a bookkeeper for various local firms; his stepfather ran a local grocery store

His first job came in 1965 working as part of the landscaping team at the Frenchman’s Cove Hotel.  In 1966 he got a summer job working on the Jamaica Queen cruise ship, cleaning the engine room.

Lee-Chin first came to Canada in 1970 to attend McMaster University on a scholarship program sponsored by the Jamaican government to study Civil Engineering.    In 1977, he was selling mutual funds. By 1987, he bought Advantage Investment Counsel, now AIC Limited, one of the country’s biggest mutual-fund companies with assets of more than 12 billion dollars!

Michael Lee-Chin is also known as a philanthropist. In 2003, he made headlines when he donated $30 million to the Royal Ontario Museum.

There is an interview with Michael Lee-Chin on CBC’s Lang and O’Leary Exchange,


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Black History Month Part Seven

So, continuing with Black History Month in Canada, let me introduce you to Josiah Henson.

Josiah Henson

Josiah Henson in 1877.

Henson was born a slave on June 15, 1789, in Charles County, Maryland. He was sold three times before he reached the age of eighteen. By 1830, Henson had saved $350 to buy his freedom. After giving his master the money he was told that the price had increased to $1,000!

Henson decided to escape with his wife and four children after being cheated of his money.  Once in Canada, he formed a community where he taught other ex-slaves how to be successful farmers. American abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe read his autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson (1849), which inspired her powerful and controversial novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Henson died on May 5, 1883, at the age of 93, in Dresden, Ontario.

To read “Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life. An Autobiography,” I will send you to Documenting the American South where the entire book is available to read at your leisure!


Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Black History, Canadian-related Links, Trivia


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Black History Month Part Six

Sundown (Gordon Lightfoot song)

Sundown (Gordon Lightfoot song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a repost from December 2, 2013.  As I continue with this series of Black History Month, I would like to introduce you to Gordon Lightfoot, and particularly, to his song “Black Day in July” published in December 1968.

Amazingly, it is banned on many of the United States’ top 40 radio stations.

The lyrics are about the 1967 race riots in Detroit.

The riots were set off by a police raid in an inner-city bar raid. The rioting lasted five days. Tally aftermath was 43 dead, 467 injured, 7,231 arrested and 2,509 stores burned down or looted. City officials estimated damage cost at between $40 and 80 million (US).

CBC Archives did a great job reporting on this.


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