Celebrating notable Black immigrants this Black History Month

February marks Black History Month—an annual celebration and appreciation of the contributions that those of African heritage have given to Canada. As of the 2021 census, there were an estimated 1,438,900 Black Canadians—encompassing various national backgrounds including Nigerian, Ghanaian, Jamaican, Haitian, Trinidadian, and Tobagonian, and many others.

Black Canadians have made an impact in every sphere and aspect of Canadian society—from politics and media to economics, sports, education, healthcare, and much more. Today we have highlighted just a few of these key members of society who have helped shape the cultural tapestry of Canada while making lasting impacts to this country.

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Immigrants of today

Samuel Oghalé Oboh

Samuel Oghalé Oboh (commonly referred to as Sam Oboh) is a Nigerian Canadian architect and leader. Oboh has had a decorated career as an architect, working in multiple countries across the globe. Among his many achievements include being elected as the president of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada—the first Canadian of African descent to hold such an honor.

Additionally, Oboh is the former Vice President of architecture at AECOM, a Fortune 500 company. In 2018 he was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects, becoming one of only three percent of architects (both in and out of the U.S.A.) to receive this distinction. His achievements also extend to politics, as Oboh serves as the highest-ranking representative and Consul for the Republic of Botswana in Canada.

Oboh immigrated to Canada in 2003, at the age of 33.

Alphonso Boyle Davies

Alphonso Davies is a Ghanaian Canadian professional soccer player who plays for the Canadian national team. In 2017 he became the youngest player to play for the Canadian national team (at the time just 17 years of age). That same year he also became the youngest player to ever score for the Canadian national team, and the first player born in the 2000s to score at a top-level international tournament.

Davies was recruited to play for Canada in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, where he scored Canada’s first-ever goal on the world stage. He is widely considered the best national team player and the face of Canadian soccer.

Davies also holds the prestige of being the first soccer player and Canadian to become an ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) a UN agency mandated to help, protect, and support refugees, forcibly displaced communities, and stateless people.

The son of Liberian parents, Davies was born in Buduburam, a refugee camp in Ghana. At the age of 5, he immigrated with his family, settling in Edmonton, Alberta.

Dione Brand

Dione Brand is a Trinidadian Canadian poet, writer filmmaker, educator, and social activist. She served as the third poet laureate of Toronto from 2009 to 2012 and was the first Black person to hold this honour. Brand has written poetry, works of fiction, and essays (among other works) exploring themes of gender, race, feminism, racial injustice, and Canada’s history of race relations—among other topics.

Her work has received widespread acclaim, with Brand receiving the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, the Trillium Book Award, the Pat Lowther Award for poetry, and the Toronto Book Award, among many others. She has also taught creative writing, literature, and women’s studies at various universities across Canada.

Brand also has a long career in social work and politics. She has chaired the Women’s Issues Committee of the Ontario Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, worked for Toronto’s Black Education Project, and served on the board of the Shirley Samaroo House, a Toronto shelter for battered immigrant women. She has also worked as a counselor at the Immigrant Woman’s Centre of Toronto. In 2017 Brand was inducted into the Order of Canada, the second highest honour for merit in the country.

Dione Brand immigrated to Canada from Trinidad in 1970 at the age of 17.

Notable immigrants in Canada’s recent history

Jean Augustine

Jean Augustine is a Grenadian Canadian who was the first Black Canadian woman to serve as federal Minister of the Crown, and Member of Parliament (MP). In addition to breaking barriers for Black women in Canadian politics, Augustine also had a long and accomplished career in the field.

From 1993 to 2006 she served as the liberal MP representing the district of Etobicoke—Lakeshore; as well as the Minister of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women between 2002 and 2004.

Additionally, Augustine served as the Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien from 1994 to 1996, and the first-ever Fairness Commissioner of Ontario between 2007 and 2015.

Augustine immigrated to Canada from Grenada at the age of 23.

Michaelle Jean

Michelle Jean is a Haitian Canadian journalist and the first Black person ever to serve as Governor General of Canada, after being chosen for the role by Queen Elizabeth II. Jean held the post between 2005 and 2010, and over her tenure was respected for her work with the Canadian Armed Forces, Aboriginal Canadians, and the arts.

In 2010, Jean was appointed as the special envoy for Haiti for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Jean also served as the third Secretary General of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, an international organisation that represents countries and territories where French is the predominant and official language.

Jean immigrated to Canada as a refugee from Haiti in 1968, at the age of 11.

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