In February we celebrate Black History Month and honour Black Canadians whose struggles and achievements have shaped our country.

In December 1995, the Parliament of Canada officially recognized February as Black History Month, following a motion introduced by the first Black Canadian woman elected to Parliament, the Honourable Jean Augustine. The motion was carried unanimously by the House of Commons.

In February 2008, Senator Donald Oliver, the first Black man appointed to the Senate, introduced the Motion to Recognize Contributions of Black Canadians and February as Black History Month. The motion received unanimous approval and was adopted on March 4, 2008.

In 2018, the ONA Board of Directors decided to designate Black History Month as one of our key human rights and equity observances. We are proud to recognize and honour the struggles and contributions of Black nurses and health-care professionals.

Black nurses have played a pivotal role in the history of nursing in Canada. During World War 1, Black women – who were denied the chance to participate in Canada’s war efforts – formed the Black Cross Nurses (modeled on the Red Cross) to aid wounded soldiers and work in the Black community, providing health care, first aid, nutrition and child care.

Toronto-born, US-educated nurse Bernice Redmon broke the barrier nation-wide when she went to work for the Nova Scotia Department of Public Health in Sydney in 1945. Redmon had been refused entry to Canadian nursing schools and instead earned her nursing diploma in Virginia. She went on to become the first Black woman appointed to the Victorian Order of Nurses in Canada.

As a result of the pressure put on the provincial Ministry of Health and nursing schools by such groups as the Hour-A-Day Study Club of Windsor and the Toronto Negro Veterans Association, Black women were finally admitted for training and gradually employed in hospitals across Ontario by the late 1940s and early 1950s.

In 1948, Ruth Bailey and Gwennyth Barton became the first African Canadians to earn their diplomas from a Canadian school of nursing.

One of ONA’s fundamental tasks is to promote and protect the human rights of our members, staff and of all Ontarians. We are embarking on an anti-racism and anti-oppression journey, as part of our ongoing commitment to challenge systemic discrimination in all its forms.

Unveiling the Truth: The Thoughts and Experiences of ONA Members

“Unveiling the Truth: The Thoughts and Experiences of ONA Members,” is an open dialogue with four of our members, along with a staff moderator, sharing their lived experiences. As we listen to those with lived experiences, we can continue to educate ourselves and support one another as we create meaningful change together.

Beyond Good Intentions: Confronting Racial Discrimination through Solidarity

As the front line of health care in Ontario, ONA members understand that anti-Black racism, discrimination and hate have no place in health care or in broader society. Click here to view ONA’s Position Statement on Anti-Racism.

Visit our Anti-Racism page for the latest ONA updates and resources.

Let’s Chat – A Discussion on Race, COVID-19 and Moving Forward by ONA’s Human Rights & Equity Team

An enlightening panel discussion presented by our Human Rights & Equity Team for Black History Month 2021.

The Original Pandemic (2020)

Canadian spoken word poet Desiree Mckenzie performs at ONA’s 2020 Human Rights & Equity Caucus.

February and Forever: Celebrating Black History today and every day

In Canada, the theme for Black History Month 2022 is “February and Forever: Celebrating Black History today and every day.”

International Decade for People of African Descent

From 2015-2024, the United Nations has proclaimed this decade as the International Decade for People of African Descent. The decade was proclaimed to try to strengthen cooperation regarding “the economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by people of African descent, and their full and equal participation in all aspects of society.” Click here to find out more about the International Decade for People of African Descent

History of Black Nursing/Health in Canada



COVID-19 + Anti-Black Racism




  • Black Wellbeing in Past-Present Tense – Lynn Jones, Rinaldo Walcott, and David Austin in a discussion about the intersections of Black Life with history, data, and the efficacy of race-based data demands during the pandemic.
  • Surveilling the Surveilled: AI, Race-based data, epidemiology, and public health – Patricia O’Campo, Sam Tecle, and Laura Rosella explore the history, methods, assumptions, and limitations of public health practice in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, artificial intelligence, and calls for race-based data. What is the role of scientific racism in both the history and current practice of public health? What kind of narratives come out of public health and epidemiology, and what consequences do these narratives have on the ground?


Black History & Experiences in Canada





  • Pod Save the People – Keep the Fight – This week DeRay, Brittany, Sam, and Clint discuss the murder of George Floyd and the protests around the nation. Then, DeRay sits down with Justine Barron and Amelia McDonell-Parry, who have been researching the death and cover-up of Freddie Gray, which just hit a five-year anniversary.
  • Wait, There’s More – The Erasure of Canada’s History of Anti-Black Racism – Any time there’s a big story about racism in the U.S., there’s a tendency for us in Canada to talk about our problems as distinct from the American ones; as if we’re much more evolved and things aren’t as bad here when it comes to racism. Today, we’re talking about Canada’s deep roots of anti-Black racism, and why that history is often overlooked.
  • Code Switch – Fire Still burning – If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that history informs every aspect of our present. So today we’re bringing you an episode of NPR’s history podcast, Throughline. It gets into some of the most urgent lessons we can learn from James Baldwin, whose life and writing illuminate so much about what it would really mean for the United States to reckon with its race problem.

Black Art, Creators and Artists


Microaggressions and Allyship

What is a microaggression

This term was coined to describe brief, casual and commonplace and daily verbal, behavioral or environment indignities whether intentional or unintentional that communicate hostile derogatory or negative attitudes towards Black or Indigenous people or persons of colour.

What is an example?

  • Colour blindness – expressing a belief that race doesn’t make a difference in life – i.e. ‘If you just work harder, you’ll succeed.’
  • Assuming that a Black, Indigenous or person of colour employee is of a lesser employment status.
  • Referring to Black or Indigenous people or persons of colour as “you people.”

How microaggressions can affect wellbeing in the workplace?

  • Racial microaggressions are constant stings and barbs.
  • No matter what form they come in, microaggressions can contribute to a toxic working environment.
  • They might seem innocuous, but over time, these incidents and comments can lead to low self-esteem, feelings of alienation and impact mental health.


  1. Become aware of your own biases and racism.
  2. Confront those beliefs and educate yourself.
  3. Tell a person exhibiting a micro aggression that it is not acceptable.
  4. Take steps to support the individual who has been targeted.

Other Resources

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