Firsts

An array of Canadians of Black ancestry have achieved an impressive number of Canadian firsts.

Stanley Grizzle, born in Toronto of Caribbean parents in 1918, was a railway porter on the national rail system. He became involved in the formation of a union for porters, and served as the president of the Toronto branch of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. He organized the first broad-based Black History Month celebration out of the British Methodist Episcopal Church in Toronto in 1950. He was the first African-Canadian to run for election to the Ontario legislature and the first Black citizenship court judge. He was awarded the Order of Canada in 1995.

Jamaican-born Rosemary Brown was always interested in politics; following her studies at McGill, she became involved in the women’s movement and ran for public office. In 1986 Brown became the first African-Canadian woman elected to the British Columbia legislature and was appointed chief commissioner for the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Lincoln Alexander became the first African-Canadian to serve in Cabinet following his 1979 appointment as Minister of Labour. He became the first Black lieutenant-governor of Ontario. Jean Augustine was the first African-Canadian woman in Cabinet and was responsible, with the Ontario Black History Society, for having February declared Black History Month across Canada.

Haitian-born Michaëlle Jean’s appointment as Canada’s Governor General announced in August 2005 provides Canada with its first “GG” of African origin. As the queen’s representative, the governor general is our head of state and the commander-in-chief of the Canadian Forces.

Delos Rogest Davis
A brief biography of Delos Rogest Davis, first Black lawyer in Canada. A University of Western Ontario website.

Delos Rogest Davis
Detailed biography of the first Black Canadian lawyer Delos Rogest Davis. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

Jackie Robinson, the first Black pro in baseball
Watch a 1987 CBC News story featuring scenes of Jackie Robinson playing for the Montreal Royals of the International League.

Jackie Robinson and 1945 Royals
This article focuses on the early years of Jackie Robinson’s baseball career. Also features a photograph of Jackie Robinson in a Montreal Royals uniform. From the website for the Society for American Baseball Research – Quebec.

Jackie Robinson: A Life Story
A video clip about baseball great Jackie Robinson. From YouTube.

Aspects of African-Canadian Culture: Pioneers
Brief profiles of noteworthy historical figures in Canada’s Black community. From the York University African Canadian Online website.

Opening The History Books
A list of prominent Black Canadians from The Gazette, the University of Western Ontario.

Canada's famous first black doctor
Profile of Anderson Ruffin Abbott, first Black medical school graduate in Canada. From The National Review of Medicine.

Curing Injustice
Scroll down to the article about Anderson Ruffin Abbott, first Canadian-born Black doctor and rights activist. From the University of Toronto Magazine.

Anderson Ruffin Abbott
About Anderson Abbott, the first Black doctor in Upper Canada. From the University of Toronto.

Anderson R. Abbott
Detailed biography of Anderson R. Abbott, multitalented Black Canadian physician. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

Distinguished War Service
Scroll to page 8 of this Heritage Matters newsletter for a brief article about Black Canadian doctor Anderson Ruffin Abbott. A pdf file.

Lincoln M. Alexander, PC, QC
A profile of Lincoln M. Alexander from the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario website.

Lincoln Alexander
An article about former Ontario Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander. From The Canadian Encyclopedia.

The Hon. Jean Augustine, P.C., M.P.
Brief profile of The Hon. Jean Augustine, P.C., M.P. From the website for The Speaker, House of Commons Canada.

The Hon. Jean Augustine
Detailed parliamentary profile of the honourable Jean Augustine. From the Library of Parliament.

Carrie Best
About Carrie Best, publisher of first Black-owned Nova Scotia newspaper. From the Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library.

Dr. Rosemary Brown
An obituary for Dr. Rosemary Brown, first Black woman in Canada elected to public office. From the CBC website.

George Elliott Clarke
About George Elliott Clarke, first Black Canadian recipient of the Governor General’s Award for Poetry.

Delos Rogest Davis
Brief biography of Delos Rogest Davis, first Black lawyer in Canada. From the Ontario Black History Society. A University of Western Ontario website.

Delos Rogest Davis
Detailed biography of the first Black Canadian lawyer Delos Rogest Davis. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

Rose Fortune and Peter C. Butler III
Brief profiles of the first Canadian black law officers, Rose Fortune (1774-1864) and Peter C. Butler III (1859-1943.) From the Association of Black Law Enforcers. A PDF file.

Rose Fortune
Illustrated bio of Rose Fortune, pioneer Black settler in Annapolis Royal. From Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management.

Robert Sutherland
Scroll down the page for a profile of Robert Sutherland, the first Black university graduate in Upper Canada. From Queen’s University.

Indepth: Governor General
This CBC website features a biography of the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean.

James R. Johnston
Photo of James R. Johnston, the first Black Nova Scotian law graduate. A Government of Nova Scotia website.

Willie O'Ree
About Willie O'Ree, first Black to play in the National Hockey League. From the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame.

Willie O'Ree
Willie O'Ree, the first black man to play in the National Hockey League, has been named to the Order of Canada. From the CBC website.

Jackie Robinson
This Historica Radio Minute features Jackie Robinson, the first Black to play in professional baseball.

Jackie Robinson
Watch this Historica Minute about former Montreal Royals baseball player Jackie Robinson.