BY EMILY SINGH
Black history month is a time to look back into Canada’s diverse past and honour the individuals who courageously took a stand against racism. On Thursday, the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon inside the Toronto Reference Library came alive as Historica Canada hosted “An Evening Celebrating Black Women In Canada.” This interactive evening featured song, dance and storytelling that celebrated the beauty, strength and vibrancy of black women.
Historica Canada also released a new Heritage Minute that details the journey of Viola Desmond and her fight for equality.
“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.”
These are the words of Rosa Parks, an American civil rights activist who made history when she refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. However, nine years prior to this historical event, Canada’s very own Viola Desmond took a stand against racism. In 1946, Desmond was sent to jail and fined after she was arrested for sitting in the whites only section of the movie theatre.
Actress Kandyse McClure, best known for her work in Battlestar Galactica and Hemlock Grove, played the role of Viola Desmond in the Heritage Minute clip.
“I got the opportunity to play this historical figure, Viola Desmond, who is known as “Canada’s Rosa Parks.” The story was poignant to me, especially growing up in apartheid South Africa, having that experience in a very blatant kind of way also experiencing it in Canada in a very different way. I never heard of Viola Desmond, that surprised me. Every one knows about Rosa Parks and the part she plays in the civil rights movement in America, Why don’t we know about Viola Desmond? Maybe there is something about the same way racism manifests itself in Canada in a quiet and polite way,” says McClure.
As guests enjoyed cocktails they were also given the opportunity to speak with various storytellers. Each person brought something unique to the table but all of them had a similar purpose: to educate, inspire and advocate.
“Black history month highlights the contributions of people of colour here in Canada. I find it a time for us to look back and be inspired and go forward,” says Garnett Manning, former Brampton city councilor.
Following cocktails, guests were ushered into the theatre for the speakers to take the stage. The lineup of speakers included Jully Black who is Canada’s Queen of R&B, Cameron Bailey who is the artistic director of TIFF and Trey Anthony who is both star and executive producer of Da Kink in my Hair, along with many others.
However, before the speakers took to the stage, guests were greeted with a traditional African drumming performance. Immediately everyone was on their feet as the beauty of African culture came alive.
It is important to remember and reflect back on Canada’s history and the contributions made by African Americans not only during the month of February but year round.
To view Viola Desmond’s Heritage Minute visit www.historicacanada.ca.