Black History Month 2021

February 1, 2021

Anti-racism statement button


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.

Today the legacies of these nursing pioneers live on, and are reflected in the diversity of our members. In an issue of Front Lines, we spoke to some of those members about the importance of seeing Black History Month recognized. Click here for the article.

ONA's Anti-Racism StatementBeyond Good Intentions: Confronting Racial Discrimination through Solidarity.

Read ONA's anti-racism statement.

Multimedia Header

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

An enlightening panel discussion that was done by the Human Rights & Equity Team for Black History Month.

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.

Our union will be presenting a series of events culminating in our Biennial Human Rights and Equity Caucus in 2021, where our theme will be “Beyond Good Intentions: Confronting Racial Discrimination through Solidarity.” This is the first of these events.

ONA's Black History Month Podcast:

We dedicate this podcast to celebrating and recognizing the contributions, leadership and resiliency of Black and African nurses and health-care professionals.


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

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman delivers a poem at Joe Biden's inauguration


More Resources

ONA Resources:

ONA is committed to being an inclusive and equitable organization that recognizes membership diversity. Visit our Human Rights & Equity webpage to learn about the work being done by our Human Rights & Equity Team and to access valuable resources. Check out our FAQ guides for ONA members and leaders to help recognize and deal with racial discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

COVID + 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



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

  • Toronto Black Film Festival – February 10 -21st (all online!)
    Created by the Fabienne Colas Foundation, TBFF returns for an impactful 9th edition which amplifies more Black voices through a record number of 154 films from 25 countries and various special events. #TBFF21 promises to inspire through a strong, diverse, and bold programming, available entirely ONLINE across Canada and around the World, which highlights important topics such as the Women’s Rights, Mental illness, US politics, Environment, Immigration, Music, Human Rights, Systemic Racism and Black Lives Matter.
  • Toronto Public Library - Before the 6ix: Kardinal Offishall 'Quest for Fire' 20th Anniversary
    Wednesday February 10, 2021. Before the 6ix is a series that connects the dots from Toronto's present-day internationally recognized hip-hop influence to the rich and vitally important roots of its past. This year, we will be in conversation with special guest Kardinal Offishall who is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his album Quest For Fire: Firestarter Volume 1 which features "Bakardi Slang" and "Ol' Time Killin,'" two of the most important hip-hop songs to emerge from Toronto's hip-hop history.

Micro Aggressions 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 micro aggressions can affect wellbeing in the workplace?

  • Racial micro aggressions are constant stings and barbs.
  • No matter what form they come in, micro aggressions 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:

For more information about Black history in Ontario, visit the Ontario Black History Society.

Learn about the history of Black Canadian workers in the 20th Century with the Workers History Museum.

Historica Canada offers an interactive guide to information and supplementary online resources on the history of Canada’s Black community.

The Canadian Race Relations Foundation is Canada's leading agency dedicated to the elimination of racism and all forms of racial discrimination in Canadian society.

Karen Flynn has a variety of articles published about the history of Black Canadian nurses. We've listed a few below for you to check out.