Black History in Canada: Resources for Self-Education

Breaking Barriers: Black Activism and the Labour Movement

February marks Black History Month in Canada. This month serves as an opportunity to reflect on the immeasurable contributions made by Black Canadians, the enduring struggles they face, and the significant distance remaining towards true equality.

Few places are the contributions of Black Canadians more prevalent than in the labour movement. The history of Black Canadians in the labour movement dates to the early 20th century when individuals from the African diaspora sought better working conditions, fair wages, and an end to racial discrimination practices. Despite facing systemic racism and segregation, Black workers played a pivotal role across Canadian industry and in the fight for workers’ rights – establishing the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, one of Canada’s earliest labour unions, and the first to be organized by Black activists.

Though advocating not only for Black worker rights but for all workers, these activists endured persistent discrimination. The mid-20th century saw the rise of the civil rights movement. Inspired by the successes of the American Civil Rights movement, Black Canadians began demanding equal opportunities and rights, giving rise to iconic figures in Canadian history.

Viola DesmondViola Desmond, a businesswoman and civil rights activist, has since become a symbol of the  fight for equality in Canada. When she challenged racial discrimination by refusing to leave the segregated Whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre in Nova Scotia, her case highlighted racism in the justice system, and in 1954, segregation officially ended in Nova Scotia as a result of the mobilization of activists like Viola Desmond

Bromley ArmstrongBromley Armstrong, a Jamaican-born activist, emigrated to Canada during a period marked by racism and discrimination. Joining the United Automobile Workers (UAW), he soon became a leader in the Canadian trade union movement, serving as a shop steward and fighting to improve conditions for industrial workers. 

His work in advancing workers’ rights was intertwined with his fight for equality. Founding or co-founding organizations like the Congress of Racial Equality, Urban Alliance on Race Relations, and the Canadian Ethnocultural Council, he made immeasurable contributions to Canadian society. From his role in the Dresden Story to the Toronto Rent-Ins, his efforts were focused on dismantling the racial barriers in employment and housing, making significant strides in the fight for equality.

Stanley G. Grizzle

Stanley G. Grizzle – a railway worker, soldier, civil servant, and citizenship judge – was a staunch advocate for the rights of Black Canadians. 

A key figure in establishing the Young Men’s Negro Association of Toronto and a member of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Grizzle advocated for better working conditions not just for Black Porters but for all Canadian Pacific Railway workers. 

His advocacy extended to challenging restrictive labour laws, and he played a pivotal role in reforming Canada’s immigration practices, which at the time discriminated against non-White British Commonwealth applicants.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

While progress has been made, many of the same challenges still persist for Black Canadians. Racial wage gaps, underrepresentation in leadership positions, and discrimination stand as barriers that have yet to be overcome. 

As we celebrate Black History Month, it is crucial to recognize and appreciate the enduring legacy of Black Canadians in the labour movement and their continued fight for equality. 

Their contributions have not only shaped the landscape of workers’ rights but have also contributed towards building a more just and equitable Canada. By acknowledging this past and the continued fight for equality, we honour the resilience and determination of Black Canadians who continue to leave their mark on Canada’s history.

We have curated a selection of resources spanning literature, film & television, and the internet that you can use to learn more about Black History in Canada. We encourage you to invest time in learning, reflecting, and taking meaningful steps toward building a more inclusive Canada.

LITERATURE

They Call Me George- The Untold Story of The Black Train Porters_

They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada 

By Cecil Foster

A historical work of non-fiction that chronicles the little-known stories of black railway porters – the so-called “Pullmen” of the Canadian rail lines. 

The actions and spirit of these men helped define Canada as a nation in surprising ways; effecting race relations, human rights, North American multiculturalism, community building, the shape and structure of unions, and the nature of travel and business across the US and Canada.

View on Google Books.

The Underground Railroad Records: Narrating the Hardships, Hairbreadth Escapes, and Death Struggles of Slaves in Their Efforts for Freedom by William Still

The Underground Railroad Records  

By William Still

As a conductor for the Underground Railroad—the covert resistance network created to aid and protect slaves seeking freedom—William Still helped as many as eight hundred people escape enslavement. He also meticulously collected the letters, biographical sketches, arrival memos, and ransom notes of the escapees. The Underground Railroad Records is an archive of primary documents that trace the narrative arc of the greatest, most successful campaign of civil disobedience in American history.

View on Google Books.

In the Black: My Life  

By William Still

In the Black traces B. Denham Jolly’s personal and professional struggle for a place in a country where Black Canadians have faced systematic discrimination. He arrived from Jamaica to attend university in the mid-1950s and worked as a high school teacher before going into the nursing and retirement-home business. Though he was ultimately successful in his business ventures, Jolly faced both overt and covert discrimination, which led him into social activism. The need for a stronger voice for the Black community fuelled Jolly’s 12-year battle to get a licence for a Black-owned radio station in Toronto. 

View on Google Books.

The Hanging of Angelique  

By Afua Cooper

Writer, historian and poet Afua Cooper tells the astonishing story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, a slave woman convicted of starting a fire that destroyed a large part of Montréal in April 1734 and condemned to die a brutal death. In a powerful retelling of Angélique’s story―now supported by archival illustrations―Cooper builds on 15 years of research to shed new light on a rebellious Portuguese-born black woman who refused to accept her indentured servitude. At the same time, Cooper completely demolishes the myth of a benign, slave-free Canada, revealing a damning 200- year-old record of legally and culturally endorsed slavery.

View on Google Books.

Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged!  

By Jody Nyasha Warner & Richard Rudnicki

Vividly illustrated children’s book about the story of Viola Desmond, a Black businesswoman who fought racial discrimination. In 1946, Desmond refused to give up her main-floor seat in a New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, segregated movie theatre and move to the balcony where Black people were supposed to sit. She was arrested and jailed, but her actions encouraged and inspired Canada’s Black community. 

The book’s oral-style text is a sensitive way to introduce young learners to the history of racial segregation in Canada.

View on CMHR’s Website.

Film & TElevision

NFB Canada

Black Communities in Canada: A Rich History

National Film Board of Canada

The National Film Board of Canada has created this playlist with the intention of providing a glimpse of the multi-layered lives of Canada’s diverse Black communities. The incredible stories of strength, courage, and perseverance in the face of adversity found in these films are rarely found in mainstream history books, making them an important educational resource.

View on NFB Canada’s Website.

The Skin We’re In: Desmond Cole

CBC Gem

Watch on CBC Gem.

Home Feeling Cover

Home Feeling: Struggle for a Community

By Jennifer Hodge and Roger McTair

Watch on NFB Canada’s website.

Journey to Justice Cover

Journey to Justice

By Roger McTair

Watch on NFB Canada’s website.

dIGITAL RESOURCES

Learn

UFCW Canada is offering members an “On the go” Black History Month course.
Make your free WebCampus account below.

Learn

Learn about the struggle of Black railway porters on the Canadian Pacific Railway and their historic fight for labour rights.

Learn

Read about the history of Black Pioneers in British Columbia, who helped shape communities throughout the province.

Learn

ULearn more about Black History in Canada by reading the many articles, biographies, and videos compiled by the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Take Action

Join community organizations and support the work of anti-racism activists at Black Lives Matter.

Take Action

Support the Hogan's Alley Society, an organization supporting the social, political, economic, cultural well being of people of African descent.

FreshCo and Chalo Workers Unite at Bargaining Kick-off Conference

Image of conference attendees with the FreshCo/Chalo Bargaining Kickoff Conference logo overlaid.

FreshCo and Chalo Workers Unite at Bargaining Kick-off Conference

Preparation for the upcoming FreshCo and Chalo bargaining negotiations are officially underway, with workers from across British Columbia gathering at UFCW 1518 Headquarters this past week for the inaugural FreshCo + Chalo Bargaining Kick-off Conference. Standing as a united front, these workers are ready to mobilize their colleagues and secure a fresh agreement—one that prioritizes workers’ rights and respects the essential roles they play in FreshCo and Chalo’s stores across the province.

The two-day conference was opened by Chief Rhonda Larrabee of the Qayqayt Nationwho spoke on the Nation’s ongoing pursuit of land rights in their ancestral territories, and highlighted the importance that guests on these territories in their struggle, and our shared pursuit of respect and fairness.

The conference included informative workshops, panels featuring union activists, presentations by industry experts, and interactive sessions where FreshCo and Chalo members collaboratively outlined key priorities and goals for the upcoming negotiations. Union leaders also shared insights into effective negotiation techniques, highlighting the impact of collective action and member involvement.

Members engaged in an interactive Bargaining Workshop hosted by UFCW 1518 President Kim Novak, and Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Johnson focused on understanding their rights, strengthening communication skills, and building a united front to address common challenges faced by workers in FreshCo and Chalo stores. The educational sessions aimed to empower members with the knowledge and tools necessary to advocate for fair wages, improved working conditions, and enhanced benefits.

Panel featuring Jaime Emerson, Angie Crosato, Erica Jones, Dean Patriquin, and moderated by UFCW 1518 President Kim Novak.

In addition to workshops and strategy sessions, the conference presented a panel of UFCW 1518 Executive Board Members Jaime Emerson, Angie Corsato, Erica Jones, and UFCW 247 Director of Training, Dean Patriquin. These seasoned advocates shared their experiences in securing positive outcomes for workers through strategic bargaining and community engagement. Their stories served as a source of inspiration, motivating FreshCo and Chalo members to stand strong in their commitment to achieving a groundbreaking agreement that prioritizes the well-being of the workforce.

Canadian Labour Congress Senior Economist, Troy Cochrane also took the stage, providing valuable insights into the current landscape of the grocery industry, workers’ roles in it, and the importance they play. This knowledge equipped FreshCo and Chalo members with a comprehensive understanding of the broader context in which their negotiations would take place, empowering them to make informed decisions that would benefit both workers and the industry as a whole.

As FreshCo and Chalo members return to their respective units, they are more prepared to enter bargaining united in their pursuit of building fair and equitable workplaces.  This momentum sets the stage for a historic push towards a fair and respectful deal, recognizing and valuing the indispensable contributions of workers.  

Member Spotlight: Activist and Actor Alyssa Scott

Photo of Alyssa Scott, interview. Text reads Line 1: "Alyssa Scott" Line 2: UFCW 1518 Member Line 3: Vancouver, BC

Alyssa Scott is an up-and-coming actress and UFCW 1518 member who is originally from Terrace, BC, but currently calls Vancouver, BC, home. A Gitxsan wolf from the Niist house of the Gitsegukla Band, Alyssa’s roots also extend to the Kispiox Band through her mother. Her journey has been marked by her passionate pursuit of the arts, with a drive to reconnect with her heritage.

Embarking on her debut film role, Alyssa embodies the captivating character of Princess Delta Dawn in an upcoming documentary chronicling the life of the legendary Indigenous BC wrestler.

Can you tell us about your journey and how it led to acting?

My upbringing involved a lot of moving around which exposed me to different places, people, and experiences. This meant that from a young age, making new connections became second nature to me. 

Eventually I settled in Terrace, BC, where I started exploring various interests, one of which was acting. Joining a drama class there, I quickly realized it was something that I loved. I was surrounded by people who were engaged, passionate, and excited about the same thing as me – they built a safe space which allowed me to explore my passion. My first real play was in middle school – I saw my family show up to support me, and in that moment, I decided ‘ok, this was what I want to do with my life’.

While you’ve been pursuing acting, you have also been reconnecting to your Indigenous heritage. 

Can you share how you started down that path?

I didn’t really grow up at home – constantly being on the move meant I didn’t have the opportunity to connect to my Indigenous culture as others had. As I’ve started learning more about my heritage, about the struggles my family went through, generational trauma which extends all the way from my grandparents to myself, I have become more passionate about making change for my community. There are many barriers Indigenous youth my age face which makes them feel like there’s a lack of opportunity.

Alyssa Scott wearing a graduation gown. Her sisters are standing on either side of her.

My sisters are also such an integral part of my life. I am really driven to care for and support them, so that has played a big role. When they moved in with my grandmother, I started taking a more active role in helping support them. That was when I started to see the discrepancies between the education Indigenous youth had access to, versus the education others were receiving. Seeing their experience and the shortcomings of the system when it comes to Indigenous youth was what drove me to get more involved.

You also recently took on your first role in front of the camera with a documentary about legendary Indigenous BC wrestler Princess Delta Dawn. 

Can you share your experience and how it helped you reconnect with your roots?

The Princess Delta Dawn documentary was one of the most amazing experiences of my life thus far. Working on the project was intense, especially since I had no prior wrestling background, unlike most of the others on set. I was so fortunate to have a supportive crew, and my director, Asia Youngman, who was not only encouraging but was also able to help me strike a balance between creativity, while still staying true to Dawn’s story.

Dawn is an inspirational figure who made waves for Indigenous women like me, so that made my first film experience even more meaningful. The highlight for me was when I was honored with the opportunity to wear her grandfather’s headdress, an artifact which is so important to Dawn’s family and community, and a symbol reserved only for Chiefs in my own culture. I feel so privileged that she trusted me to help share her memories and will treasure it for the rest of my life.

What drove you to join and get involved with UFCW 1518?

I was very fortunate to meet (UFCW 1518 Executive Board member and Shop Steward) Chris Holowka and be exposed firsthand to all the advocacy she is engaged in, and ways she is vouching for Indigenous peoples. Chris was so open to share her story, and so accepting of mine – that when she suggested I get more involved with the Union, I knew I wanted to participate. She is so driven to involve more young people with Union, particularly those who don’t often have the opportunity.

What advice do you have for those who want to get more involved with their Union?

It just goes back to speaking your mind – feeling comfortable to share your thoughts and ideas, while also speaking out about the change you want to see. I think that really applies to every aspect of life. You never know who’s listening, and whether that person can play a pivotal role in your journey, so it’s important to be outspoken and engaged. The communities I grew up in were so involved, impactful, and supportive of new ideas and initiatives that participating in the Union was just a natural fit for me.

With so many achievements already under your belt, what’s next for you?

My passion lays in my career, in acting, and continuing to be exposed to more of my own, and other cultures, moving forward. I really want to start building my own foundations in a literal sense, settling down into my own place, etc., but also laying down a solid foundation for my sisters so that they have an easier path as they grow up.

Alyssa Scott speaking with crew members on set.

A few years ago, I made this list of goals for the next 10 years of my life starting from 20 years old, and I’m very fortunate to have already checked off many of them. I’ve finished three years of college, written and directed my own short films, and am pursuing my dream career. I also want to keep reconnecting with my heritage and incorporating my culture into every aspect of my life – I’m passionate about starting my own businesses in skincare, makeup, etc., and incorporating my culture into it, whether it be involving the traditional artists in my family within the design process, making it accessible to my community, or many other ways.

UFCW 1518 Calls for an Immediate Ceasefire

UFCW 1518 is deeply horrified and heartbroken by the unfathomable death of thousands of people including children, the elderly, and the vulnerable in Israel-Gaza.

At UFCW 1518, we are joining the call for a ceasefire. We stand strongly against and condemn all acts of hatred, racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia in our communities and abroad. 

We call on the Canadian Government to take steps to pressure all parties involved to agree to an immediate ceasefire and find sustainable resolutions for peace and the safety of many innocent people caught in the war.

We also recognize the extreme impact and devastation on our members who have family, friends and loved ones living in these regions. We believe that it is our collective responsibility to work towards a future where all people can live in peace, safety, and dignity.


Ways for UFCW 1518 members to take action:

  • Email your MP to push for an immediate and permanent ceasefire. Click here to use an online tool to take action
  • Find and attend the next local event to work together and build a movement.

Safeway and FreshCo Pharmacy Workers Ratify Historic New Agreement

The majority of workers at Safeway and FreshCo Pharmacy this week have voted in favour of a historic new contract that will add over 300 full-time jobs, bring needed benefit improvements, and create the highest wage increases at these units in 25 years.

Some key highlights of the new agreement include:

  • Access to 300 *NEW* full-time jobs
  • Highest top rate wage increases in 25 years with retro pay
  • Improved wage scale with NO ONE frozen at minimum wage
  • Voluntary severance
  • Night work premium of an additional $2/hr on top of wage increases
  • No wage cap on Starbucks/Coffee Bar employees
  • Significant wage improvements for Pharmacy
  • Vacation bridging for many employees to capture up to 7 weeks of vacation
  • Increased mobility through postings in stores around the province

The agreement came together after 98% of Sobeys members voted in September to authorize a strike. The company initially offered wage increases as low as less than 1% and demanded several concessions from the workers.

“Workers at Safeway and FreshCo Pharmacy stood up together and demanded better from their employer by delivering a 98% strike vote that empowered our committee to make significant gains for workers at the bargaining table,” said UFCW President Kim Novak. “This agreement is significant because it not only provides the highest wage increases in decades, it offers workers a pathway to more full-time jobs, a much-improved wage scale and more flexibility in what their schedules look like.”

UFCW 1518 will work hard to finalize the agreement over the next several weeks and will send it to Sobeys workers upon completion. The new contract will come into effect this Sunday, October 22. Members who would like to know more about the agreement can reach out to their Shop Stewards and Union Reps for more information.

Statement on Honouring Survivors & their Families on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Today, Saturday, September 30, marks the third anniversary of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and for the very first time, British Columbia is recognizing it as a statutory holiday. Our UFCW 1518 Indigenous Committee used its collective union power to successfully advocate for this change from the Government of BC. This is a small but significant step toward meaningful recognition of the atrocities that Indigenous people have suffered in the Residential and Day School System across generations.

Many Indigenous people in BC can now have time off to participate in healing ceremonies within their communities, addressing the trauma endured by survivors, their families, and communities, while also remembering those who did not return home. It is an opportunity for UFCW 1518 members and others in the community to reflect and educate themselves about the history of Indigenous peoples and the genocidal legacy of settler colonialism.

In recognition of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we ask all of our members and the community to show their support by wearing orange this weekend to commemorate the experiences of Indigenous children who were removed from their families and forced to attend residential schools where they were abused and their language and culture were repressed.

UFCW 1518 has sent out “Every Child Matters” buttons to all units—members can ask their Shop Steward if they would like a button. We also encourage members to wear the “Every Child Matters” T-shirts designed by Bear (Doug) Horne that were distributed last year.

Now is the time to listen to the stories of survivors and their families and to learn from them, so that these mistakes are not repeated. We share in this history and trauma and we must reflect on how we can support our Indigenous communities as we move forward.

Sobeys Bargaining Update: Back to the Bargaining Table

Today, UFCW 1518 returned to the bargaining table with Sobeys with the membership’s 98% strike vote in hand. The Bargaining Committee entered the negotiations with confidence, ready to fight for the improvements that Sobeys members need to see in their next contract.

The strong strike vote has clearly had an impact on Sobeys, who did come back to the table with an improved offer. 

However, even with some moves in the right direction, the two sides are still far apart. The revised offer is not one the Sobeys Bargaining Committee is willing to recommend to members. They are preparing a counter and response back to the employer.

UFCW 1518 is committed to using the days ahead to reach an agreement with Sobeys, but will also prepare to take job action in the event talks come to a halt, or Sobeys is not willing to make the moves the committee needs to see to bring back a recommended agreement to the membership. 

That is why, while we continue to bargain, UFCW 1518 staff are also preparing for a dispute. We have begun preparation for Picket line Captain recruitment and training. If you are interested in stepping up, we would encourage you to register to become a Picket Captain, which you can do by signing up for the Contract Support Team

Negotiations are scheduled to continue every day for the next 8 days with Sobeys. As long as the momentum continues and the union continues to see moves from the employer, our committee is committed to working hard to reach a deal. We will provide members with another update on Friday evening once negotiations conclude for the day.

As always, members with questions can reach out at safewaybargaining@ufcw1518.com

In solidarity,

Angela Crosato, Sobeys 4908, Vancouver
Peter Dombrowski, Sobeys 4920, Surrey
Teresa-Lyne Dziedzic, Sobeys 4920, Surrey
Armin Reyes, Sobeys 4996 Reline Crew
Marlene White, Sobeys 4977, Coquitlam
Shiela Scarr, Sobeys 4912, Langley
Jennifer Brown, Sobeys 4966, Vancouver
Leslie Ramsperger, Sobeys 4911, Burnaby

& UFCW 1518 Staff Negotiators:
Stephen Portman and Ronda Melbourne

Statement on Standing up for Human Rights: No Space for Hate

UFCW 1518 is deeply concerned about the recent surge of hate and intolerance towards transgender and LGBTQIA2S+ people – we know this affects and impacts many of our members and their loved ones and we are speaking out against the rallies targeting these communities that are scheduled to take place across BC and Canada today.

These rallies are a direct attack on the LGBTQIA2S+ community and the principles of equity, respect, and inclusion, which are the pillars upon which our union stands. This puts the safety, well-being and lives of those in these communities at risk. The rise of extremist agendas are promoting intolerance, discrimination and anti-LGBTQIA2S+ hate is creating unsafe spaces in our communities.

These actions place the safety of transgender and LGBTQIA2S+ individuals, both within and outside of educational institutions, in jeopardy.

In response to the anti-trans marches scheduled for today and the rise of hateful speech and actions towards these marginalized people of our communities, we encourage our members and the public to speak up and take action against the hate and join peaceful counter-protest demonstrations in solidarity.

Just as we advocate for worker rights, we wholeheartedly champion the rights and dignity of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Let us amplify the voices promoting inclusivity, allyship, acceptance and unwavering support for the rights of children and young people to live authentically, free from both physical and psychological harm, as everyone deserves safety and dignity.

Safeway Workers Vote ‘YES’ to Strike Mandate

98% of Safeway workers throughout the Lower Mainland voted ‘YES’ to authorize a strike in the highest voter turnout in decades.

On September 14 2023, 98 per cent of UFCW 1518’s Safeway workers officially voted ‘YES’ to authorize job action. A record number of members were mobilized — the highest turnout of Safeway members in decades — and overwhelmingly cast their vote in support of strike action.

The affirmative strike vote results come on the same day as Empire Co. Ltd — the parent corporation that owns Sobeys/Safeway — posts an increase in first quarter profits. In the 13 weeks (ended Aug. 5), they reported net earnings of $261 million on sales of $8 billion. Meanwhile, Safeway workers have been offered less than one per cent wage increases a year.

A strike would affect about 40 Sobeys locations in the Lower Mainland and with over 3,000 workers, but is not currently imminent. Prior to issuing notice of job action, UFCW 1518 will return to the bargaining table on behalf of Safeway workers from Sept. 20 to 29.

Says UFCW 1518 president, Kim Novak, “With a 98 per cent yes vote, our members are sending Sobeys a message loud and clear: They’re united and prepared to take action if the employer refuses to move on the insulting wage offer that led us to take a strike vote in the first place. One percent wage increases are unacceptable. Our members deserve to share in the success of the company they work for, and that means higher wages, access to full time jobs and respect for the hard work they do. Our focus is to negotiate a deal that does just that, and we hope with this strong mandate, Sobeys comes to the table to do the same thing.”

Notably, UFCW 247 (representing Safeway’s meat, deli and seafood workers) is also taking a strike vote at the end of this month.

UFCW 1518 President Kim Novak will be available for comment about the strike vote results and the impending job action on Friday, Sept. 15, from 7:30 a.m. to 2:00p.m.

To connect with her please reach out Diana Perez, 778-791-3550, DPerez@ufcw1518.com