By Andrea Klassen
‘They find out about the underground railroad, or there used to be slavery in Canada, and they’re surprised to hear these things . . . A lot of people don’t even know the history.’
The first year she handed out her Black History Month quiz at Thompson Rivers University, Gail Morong was surprised to find many people didn’t know much about the subject.
“They find out about the underground railroad, or there used to be slavery in Canada, and they’re surprised to hear these things,” said Morong, co-chair of the Thompson Rivers University Faculty Association’s equity committee and one of the organizers behind a Black History dinner planned for later this month.
“A lot of people don’t even know the history, the contributions black people have been making to Kamloops, to B.C., to Canada. People just don’t know the history.”
Test your own knowledge:
1. The experiences of fugitive slave Reverend Josiah Henson, who escaped to Canada in 1830, were the subject of what famous novel?
2. William Hall won the first Victoria Cross ever awarded to a Black Canadian for his bravery in which conflict?
3. Michaëlle Jean, the first black person to serve as Governor General, was born in this country.
4. Sir James Douglas, a Hudson’s Bay Company officer and governor, referred to as “Scotch West Indian” as his mother was Creole and he was born in Demerara (now part of Guyana) was also known as?
5. The late Rosemary Brown, born in Jamaica, became the first black woman to run for this in 1975.
6. The greatest track star so far in Canadian history, with gold medals in the 100 metre sprint and 4 by 100 relay, was?
Find the answers at the bottom of this page.
On Feb. 27, the equity committee will join forces with TRU’s Pan-African Club (TRU PAC) to host a Caribbean dinner focused on the stories and talents of black Canadians past and present.
The evening will include live entertainment and food from the JamCan Cafe on the North Shore.
TRU PAC members Vine Watson and Idah Msiska, who are co-ordinating entertainment for the night, are planning to include song, poetry and African dance from the school’s Zim Zam dance group, as well as historical context for some of the performances.
They feel it’s important to highlight black history at the school, especially as the proportion of African
and Caribbean students at TRU continues to grow.
“We’re not trying to alienate it, like, oh, black people have accomplished this, that or what black people have accomplished is better than others, but just trying to highlight that and bring awareness of that because a lot of people don’t know,” Watson said.
The two groups have also hosted a pair of films and dialogue as part of Black History Month — The Help and 12 Years a Slave — which Msiska said have led to some serious and introspective discussions from students of all races.
“Last week I can say some people didn’t feel very comfortable,” she said of a showing of The Help.
“I had one guy stand up and say he feels ashamed to be white because he wouldn’t treat humans like that.”
The dinner, by contrast, is more of a celebration, Watson said.
“We’re just looking to have fun with this Caribbean dinner and just be playful with it,” he said.
Morong said she wants to highlight a number of notable figures over the course of the evening, including John Freemont Smith — the black alderman elected in Kamloops in 1903 — and Lesra Martin, who before moving to the Tournament Capital was one of the lawyers who took up the cause of boxer Rubin “Hurricane Carter,” who was falsely convicted of murder.
On a provincial level, there are the African Americans who settled on Vancouver Island to avoid discrimination south of the border, William Allen Jones — the first registered dentist in B.C. — and B.C.’s first governor, James Douglas, whose mother was a Creole woman from Barbados.
Morong said the goal of the event is to focus on ways black people in Canada have contributed to their communities and country throughout history.
“I think the more we learn about the contributions people have made in society, the less we will have the stereotypes and the racism,” she said. “You look at people in a different way.”
The dinner will take place on Friday, Feb. 27, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Southwest Community Church, 700 Hugh Allen Dr.
For tickets, call 250-299-3826 or 250-299-4023 or email email@example.com.
Answers: 1. Uncle Tom’s Cabin 2. Indian Rebellion, 1857 3. Haiti 4. The father of British Columbia 5. The leadership of a federal party 6. Donovan Bailey
*Andrea Klassen writes for Kamloops This Week