The roots of Black history in Canada are deep. It was in the early 17th century that Mathieu da Costa, the first person of African descent to reach Canada, worked as an interpreter for Samuel de Champlain and other French and Dutch explorers. Canada Post is recognizing da Costa in its new stamp for Black History Month. “Every stamp helps tell Canada’s story,” said Deepak Chopra, President of Canada Post, on introducing the stamp.
Similarly, every Heritage Fair project helps tell our country’s story. One of the core principles of the Society is to “promote an appreciation of the diverse experiences of people in the past.” Many of our students do this by telling stories from their family or cultural group. The best of these do more. They connect the personal or family stories to larger narratives such as migration of people, development of human rights, or in da Costa’s case to exploration, commerce, first contact and settlement.
In a time when there are forces that seek to divide us on ethnic or religious lines, the Heritage Fairs Society wants students to see how their lives are part of the larger fabric of Canadian history and that is another BCHFS core principle. This often needs a teacher to help them see that bigger picture.
A federal government web site has short videos of important figures in Canadian Black history, a poster of Viola Desmond that can be downloaded, and a virtual museum. The Black History Portal has a super teaching resource, “Black History in Canada Education Guide” with a message from Lawrence Hill, the author of A Book of Negroes. Teachers may also want to look at an article by Pat Russo from the American web site Teaching Tolerance called “Dos and Don’ts of Teaching Black History” at http://www.tolerance.org/article/dos-and-donts-teaching-black-history.
Students interested in British Columbia Black History can find engaging posts on Crawford Killian’s Pioneers: Blogging the Black Pioneers of British Columbia . Killian’s book Go Do Some Great Thing: the Black Pioneers of British Columbia (Vancouver: Commodore Books, 2008) is the best source for more in-depth research.