Black History/Black Futures Month

January 19, 2023

Each February, ONA celebrates Black History/Black Futures Month and honours Black Canadians whose achievements have shaped who we are today.

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 voted unanimously to designate Black History Month as one of our key human rights and equity observances. Last year, ONA launched an ambitious four-year action plan that will help guide our union in addressing the ongoing racism and oppression that exists for so many of our members and staff, and within our communities. The Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression (ARAO) Action Plan is the direct result of a call to action from our members, leaders and staff with lived experiences of intersectional forms of racism, including anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, discrimination and acts of exclusion.

Black nurses have played a vital 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 worked 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.

Our 2023 Black History/Black Futures Month artwork was created by Alexis Eke (

In this illustration, my aim is to unify the themes of Black Resistance, nursing and the strong female presence within the nursing community. These are a wide spectrum of topics, and I incorporated the many gradients of colour in the background to highlight that…Warm, vibrant colours and shapes are used repeatedly throughout this piece to visually present the strength, perseverance and hope nurses have ignited in their communities and that many nurses possess within themselves. 

Alexis Eke, artist


We encourage ONA members, family, and friends to join us in recognizing Black History/Black Futures Month by participating in events in your community.

Have photos you'd like to share with the ONA community? Submit them via email to, or tag us on social media.


Learn More





  • 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.

COVID-19 and 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?

Let's Chat - A Discussion on Race, COVID-19 and Moving Forward

Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression

In ONA’s Anti-Racism Member Advisory Team and ONA’s Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression Working Group launched a series of resources to continue to bring awareness to current issues impacting those who are Indigenous, Black, Racialized and members of historically marginalized communities.

Visit our Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression page for the latest news and resources, including our Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression Action Plan.

For further information, questions or comments, email

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