Black History Month 2020

February 19, 2020

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.

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.


We encourage ONA members, family, and friends to join us in recognizing and celebrating Black History Month. If you or your Local will be participating in Black History Month activities in your community, let us know by emailing and we will post the details here for other ONA members. We also invite you to submit any photos from your event - be sure to include the names and Local number with your submission.

The Ontario Black History Society posts information about upcoming Black History Month events and news on their Twitter page. You can also find events in your community through eventbrite.

See below for details about 2020 Black History Month events:

Kitchener-Waterloo: The Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum will be hosting the blockbuster exhibition Mandela: Struggle for Freedom. Proudly developed by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, in partnership with the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, this immersive and interactive exhibition tells the story of Nelson Mandela's journey from prisoner to president, and of the many South Africans and Canadians who fought against apartheid. For more information, contact Kim Haliburton at  or 1-613-355-4249.

Thunder Bay: People in Thunder Bay, Ont., can participate in more than a dozen activities to celebrate Black History Month in the city this year. Please click here for more information.

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.


We have prepared English and French versions of our Black History Month poster. Below you will find two versions of the poster: a generic poster (PDF) and one with a blank space at the bottom (Word) which Locals can customize with their own message and/or event details. Click on the document name below and download the PDF or Word document of your choosing.

We have also created this shareable image that you can download and post to your social media accounts. Show your support and spread the word!

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.

Watch ONA's "Human Rights and Equity Caucus" video and learn more about the role we play in promoting equity and diversity for our members in the workplace and in the Union.

More 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.