In the spirit of the work we do at the Child Witness Centre with young people and their families in our community, for Black History Month 2021 we are highlighting several Black Canadians in history for their impact on the lives of children and youth!
Alton C. Parker
In 1942, Mr. Parker was the first Black Constable to be employed by the Windsor Police Department. It did not take long for him to be promoted to the rank of detective in 1953, becoming the very first Black detective in Canada.
After 28 years with the Windsor Police, Mr. Parker retired but continued to engage with his community by organizing an annual neighbourhood community party for local children. He and his wife, Evelyn, funded these parties entirely on their own, out of their love and dedication to children. These parties were coined “Uncle Al’s Annual Kids Party” and took place every year for 25 years. The park in which these parties were held was eventually named after him and became Alton C. Parker Park.
Today, there is a statue that sits in the park of a policeman holding the hand of a child, etched with these powerful words from Alton: “A lot of people talk about doing something for these kids. I don’t just talk. I want to do it.”
Alton C. Parker died in 1989 at age 81.
The Honourable Donald H. Oliver, Q.C.
Born in Wolfville, Nova Scotia in 1938, Donald Oliver is a graduate of Acadia University and Dalhousie University Law School. He was summoned to the Senate of Canada on September 7, 1990.
Mr. Oliver has been active in the Conservative Party for more than 50 years. He has had a distinguished legal career as a civil litigator and a legal educator, having taught at the Technical University of Nova Scotia, St. Mary’s University and Dalhousie University Law School. He is a member of the Canadian Bar Association and the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society
He is a speaker on a wide range of topics, and author of a gourmet cookbook. His community work includes service as President and Chairman of the Halifax Children’s Aid Society, and Director of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.
Currently, Senator Oliver is Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament and a member of the Standing Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce.
Pearleen (Borden) Oliver
Dr. Pearleen Oliver was a religious and human rights leader, writer, historian and community activist in Nova Scotia for over sixty years. As an activist, she fought to remove discriminatory barriers that restricted education and employment opportunities for Blacks and other minorities in the 1940s and 1950s. She co-founded the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People alongside her husband, Rev. Dr. William P. Oliver.
She was also a strong advocate for Black women in Nova Scotia, and in 1947 she campaigned to end the exclusion of Black women from nursing training in Canada, leading the Board of the Children’s Hospital in Halifax to take two Black women as nursing students. In 1953, she founded the African United Baptist Association (AUBA) Women’s Institute and was the first woman elected moderator for the AUBA in 1976.
Pearleen wrote a number of books, including A Brief History of the Coloured Baptists of Nova Scotia, 1782- 1953 (1953) and Song of the Spirit (1994).
For her work, Dr. Oliver received several honours, including Honorary Doctorates from Saint Mary’s University (1990) and Mount Saint Vincent Univeristy (1993), the Woman of the Year Award, YWCA (1981 and 1991), and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (2002).
On January 18, 1958, Willie O’Ree stepped on the ice at the Montreal Forum to play his first game in the National Hockey League (NHL) for the Boston Bruins — and made history.
Like any Canadian kid, as a young boy Willie played hockey with his friends. And out there on the ice, he probably pretended to be his favourite player, deking around the defence taking shots, scoring goals. Actually playing in the NHL was something most of these kids only dreamed about. For O’Ree that dream came true. In fact, he became the first Black player in the NHL. Known for his speed and checking abilities, his career was cut short by an injury.
Today, Willie O’Ree is the director of the NHL’s diversity program. He travels across Canada and the United States promoting and teaching the game of hockey to children from all cultural backgrounds.
Mary Ann Shadd
Mary Ann was nothing less than a real-life Superwoman! She was an American-Canadian anti-slavery activist, journalist, publisher, teacher, and lawyer. She became the first Black female publisher in Canada, establishing the Provincial Freeman newspaper in 1853, which was published weekly in southern Ontario. This newspaper advocated equality, integration and self-education for black people in Canada and the United States.
As a teacher, Mary Ann established a racially integrated school for Black children in Windsor, in addition to writing educational pamphlets promoting settlement in Canada. She was also an activist for numerous causes including the abolition of slavery, temperance and education.
Subsequent to her time in Canada, Mary Ann decided to return to the United States, where she was born, and became a recruitment agent for the Union Army during the Civil War. In 1883, she became one of the first Black woman to complete a law degree, when she graduated from Howard University. Mary Ann was also the first Black woman to vote in a national election! Mary Ann died in 1893, but was recognized as a Person of National Historic Significance in Canada in 1994 for the incredible impact she had, and continues to have in Canadian History.
*Information gathered from canada.ca and wikipedia.org.