February is here and with that comes the time to reflect on and celebrate the important contributions of those of African descent to Canadian culture. This is also a time of awareness building and learning in order to help deepen understanding and strengthen relationships in the whole of the human family. The Racial Justice Committee and the Black History Month planning team has been working hard and will have a number of resources and opportunities available to the entire Synod beginning next week. They include:
- A video invitation from Bishop Michael introducing Black History Month.
- A weekly feature in the Friday mailer, highlighting important contributions of those of African descent to culture and society.
- Worship materials will be made available for use anytime in the month of February or beyond.
In addition, on February 26th at 11 am, Mount Zion Lutheran Church in Waterloo has invited the Synod to join them for their Black History Month worship service, either in person or via the livestream. And lastly, coming later this year, a video study will be available to all congregations so that conversation, learning and community building can continue. More information and access to these resources will be available on the Synod website very soon!
Week #1 – HISTORY
VICENTI LUSITANO- BLACK CLASSICAL MUSIC COMPOSER
Excerpts from the BBC
For hundreds of years, the remarkable Vicente Lusitano has been forgotten. But now, finally, both his music and his story are being heard once more, writes Holly Williams.
Lusitano was born around 1520, in Portugal. In a 17th-Century source, he is described as “pardo” – a commonly used term in Portugal at the time meaning mixed race. It is most likely that Lusitano had a black African mother and a white Portuguese father; Portugal had a significant population of people of African descent, due to its involvement in the slave trade.
What we do know is that Lusitano became a Catholic priest, composer, and music theorist, and in 1551 left Portugal for Rome – a multicultural musical capital of Europe at the time – most likely following a rich patron, the Portuguese ambassador. Lusitano appears to have done very well for himself there, publishing a collection of motets: sacred, polyphonic choral compositions (where voices sing several layers of independent melodies simultaneously).
Sometime after 1553, Lusitano converts to Protestantism – itself an unheard of development for an Iberian composer in the era. He also gets married, and moves to Germany; we know he receives payment for some music there in 1562, and applied for a job in Stuttgart.
But although his achievements in Rome suggests Lusitano won significant respect for his music in his lifetime, it wasn’t as widely copied or performed as some of his contemporaries, and seems not to have spread across Europe; this has led to some musicologists in Portugal appreciating him, but a failure to cut through among non-Portuguese speaking scholars since. Occasional flashes of academic interest have never transformed into sustained attention, an accessible and readily shareable modern score, or performances of the thing that really matters: his music.
Read more: https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20220615-the-lost-16th-century-black-composer-vicente-lusitano
Portia White: Classical Contralto Singer
Portia May White, contralto, teacher (born 24 June 1911 in Truro, NS; died 13 February 1968 in Toronto, ON). Portia White was the first Black Canadian concert singer to win international acclaim. She was considered one of the best classical singers of the 20th century. Her voice was described by one critic as “a gift from heaven.” She was often compared to the celebrated African American contralto Marian Anderson. The Nova Scotia Talent Trust was established in 1944 specifically to enable White to concentrate on her professional career. She was named a “person of national historic significance” by the Government of Canada in 1995.
Portia White was the third of 13 children born to William A. White, whose parents had been enslaved in Virginia, and Izie Dora White, who was descended from Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia. William White was the second Black Canadian admitted to Acadia University. He graduated with a degree in Theology in 1903. He later became the first Black Canadian to receive a Doctorate of Divinity from Acadia University. He also helped form the No. 2 Construction Battalion — the first and only all-Black battalion in Canadian military history. He served in the unit as the only Black chaplain in the British army during the First World War. Following the war, he moved the family to Halifax, where he became pastor of the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church.
Early Years and Education
Portia White began singing in the church choir under her mother’s direction at age six. By the age of eight, she was singing the soprano parts from the opera Lucia de Lammermoor. She was determined to become a professional singer and walked 16 km a week for music lessons.
Voice Training and Professional Performances
In the 1930s, White took voice lessons as a mezzo-soprano with Bertha Cruikshanks at the Halifax Conservatory of Music. She also sang on devotional radio broadcasts hosted by her father. She competed in the Halifax Music Festival and won the Helen Kennedy Silver Cup in 1935, 1937 and 1938. The Halifax Ladies’ Musical Club provided a scholarship for White to study with Ernesto Vinci at the Halifax Conservatory of Music in 1939. Under Vinci, White began to sing as a contralto.
THE BLACK BATTALION-CANADA’S one and only all-black military battalion formed during WW1.
Excerpts from MP Pam Damoff’s (Burlington N., Oakville) newsletter: Nov 7-11, 2022 and BCC
Officially named “The Number Two Construction Battalion”, the unit was affectionately known as the “Black Battalion.”
In August 1914, tens of thousands of men across Canada rushed to their local recruiting centres to enlist at the start of the First World War. Many Black men who attempted to enlist found they also had to fight anti-Black racism. Some men were told that “this is a white man’s war” and others that “we’ll send for you when we need you.” Throughout this experience, Black Canadians were repeatedly told that many white men would not serve alongside Black men.
By 1916, there was an urgent need for military labour units. In April 1916, Canada agreed to a request from Britain to form one or two labour battalions and it was eventually decided that one would be a Black labour battalion.
No. 2 Construction Battalion was authorized on July 5, 1916. Recruiting began in the Maritimes on July 19, and by August 30, the battalion became one of the few units that was allowed to recruit across the country. In December 1916, the battalion was advised to prepare for service overseas because they were urgently needed. In late January, while it was mounting a large recruiting campaign to get the battalion up to strength, No. 2 Construction Battalion sent 250 men to New Brunswick to remove railway tracks that were urgently needed for military operations in Belgium and France.
On March 28, 1917, No. 2 Construction Battalion sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia on the SS Southland, and arrived in Liverpool, England on April 7. The Battalion was reorganized as a labour company of 500 officers and men.
On May 17, the newly renamed No. 2 Canadian Construction Company was sent to support Canadian Forestry Corps operations in the Jura Mountains of southeast France. On arrival they began operations immediately. This included operating and maintaining the water system that supplied all the camps, maintaining the roads and helping build a logging railroad. They were also directly involved in timber operations, helping cut down trees, move them to the mills and then sawing them into finished lumber. They then transported this to the railway station.
Lumber was an essential requirement in the trenches and along the front lines. It lined the sides and bottom of trenches and was used to build observation posts, bridges and walkways. Lumber from Jura was even used to build French fighter aircraft. The work of No. 2 Construction Company allowed the mills to produce over twice as much lumber as mills that did not have this support.
With the Armistice on November 11, 1918, lumber was no longer required. No. 2 Construction Company and other Canadian Forestry Corps companies were sent to England in early December 1918, before returning to Canada. Most of the men from No. 2 Construction Battalion sailed for Halifax by mid-January 1919 and were sent back to the provinces where they were originally recruited. The majority were discharged by the end of February; and No. 2 Construction Battalion was disbanded on September 20, 1920, when the Canadian Expeditionary Force was dissolved.
View documentary: https://anthonysherwood.com/portfolio-item/honour-before-glory/
JOHN WARE: Black Canadian Cowboy and Rancher
John Ware (c. 1845 – 11 September 1905) was a Canadian cowboy who was influential in the early years of the burgeoning ranching industry in Southern Alberta. Remembered for his excellent horsemanship, he was among the first ranchers in Alberta, arriving in 1882 on a cattle drive from the United States and settling to ranch until his death in 1905.
Ware was born into slavery, and there is no record of his birth. The historian J. W. Grant MacEwan claimed he was born on a plantation near Georgetown, South Carolina. However, on his marriage certificate, Ware himself was stated to be born in Tennessee. After the American Civil War, he left for Texas, where he learned the skills of a rancher and became a cowboy. Ware then worked his way north to Canada driving cattle from Texas to Montana. In 1882, he was hired to help bring 3,000 head of cattle from the United States to Sir Hugh Allan’s North-West Cattle Co in Alberta. After delivering his charge near Calgary, he found work at the Bar U and Quorn ranches before starting his own ranch near the Red Deer River. By 1900, he and his wife, Mildred Lewis (1871–1905), had five children. He moved from the Calgary Region to a spot northeast of the village of Duchess, Alberta. In 1902 his first home was destroyed by the spring flood. He rebuilt his home on higher ground overlooking a stream, now called Ware Creek. In the spring of 1905, Mildred died of pneumonia, and despite being a master horseman, John was killed only months later when his horse tripped in a badger hole, which crushed its rider and broke his neck. Ware’s funeral was reported to be one of the largest held in the early days of Calgary.
Like for any other folk hero, there are a wide range of tales about his ability to eat, ride, and shoot, all of which contribute to the cowboy lore of the time. It is said that he was never tossed from a wild horse and that he popularized steer wrestling, which would then become a highlight of the Calgary Stampede. His story is that of a remarkable figure in history who helped to lay the foundations of the ranching industry in Western Canada and at the same time defied stereotypes. Ware became one of the most well-respected figures on the Albertan frontier and is still an important part of Alberta history.
View CTV Youtube video: “Black rancher John Ware named a Canadian of national historic significance”
ALLAN GEORGE BALDING – Canadian Golfer
Balding was born in Toronto, Ontario on April 29, 1924. Growing up during the Great Depression, Balding quit school in the 7th grade and began caddying at the nearby Islington golf course, despite not previously golfing before. Balding enlisted in the Canadian Army at 19 for during World War II, and saw duty in France and Germany. Balding enlisted thinking that his small stature would land him in the Service Corps, however he was assigned to the 13th Field Battery of the 2nd Artillery division as a driver-mechanic. He was discharged before the end of the war due to a shoulder injury sustained while “fooling around” on a motorcycle. After the war in the late 1940s, Balding worked at a Toronto tire manufacturing company, and later at a golf club in Burlington. He had played golf only occasionally as a youth, but began playing more after the War ended, improving his game rapidly under the instruction of pro Les Franks.
Balding began on the Canadian Professional Golf Tour, winning his first two tournaments in 1952. In 1955, Balding became the first Canadian to win a PGA Tour event in the United States, when he won the Mayfair Open. In 1957, Balding decided to play full time on the U.S. tour, winning three events on the Tour and finished 6th on the money list with $28,000, the highest of any Canadian at that point, and would not be eclipsed until Mike Weir finished 6th on the money list in 2003.
Balding would go on to win an impressive number of tournaments in many different venues over a long period of time during his career. He won ten events on the Canadian Tour from 1952 through 1973. He won four tournaments on the PGA Tour, the most of any Canadian to that point. In 1968, in Italy, he won the World Cup team title for Canada (with George Knudson), as well as the individual title. Balding played on the Canadian National Team in the Canada Cup / World Cup from 1956 to 1970, except in the years 1962, 1965 and 1966. Balding was named Ontario Athlete of the Year in 1955 and 1957. He was elected to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1968.
Balding’s career was slowed by several health issues, requiring shoulder surgery in 1965, and being diagnosed with blood cancer in the 1970s. Balding was also very critical of the Canadian golf establishment in the 1970s, noting that there were fewer Canadians on the U.S. tour in the 1970s than when he was active in the 1950s and 1960s.
Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_Balding
DR. ANDERSON RUFFIN ABBOTT, FIRST BLACK CANADIAN PHYSICIAN
Anderson Ruffin Abbott (7 April 1837 – 29 December 1913) was the first Black Canadian to be licensed as a physician. His career included participation in the American Civil War. Significant roles included coroner of Kent County, Ontario, and surgeon-in-chief.
Anderson Abbott was born on 7 April 1837 in Toronto to Wilson Ruffin and Mary Ellen Toyer Abbott. His parents are Americans of African ancestry. The Abbotts were a prominent Black family in Toronto, who had left Alabama – as free people of colour – after receiving a warning that their store was to be ransacked. After first living a short time in New York, they settled in Upper Canada in 1835 or 1836. Wilson Abbott soon began to purchase real estate, in and around Toronto, where he owned 48 properties by 1871. The senior Abbott also became active in politics.
The family’s prosperity allowed Anderson Abbott to receive an excellent education. He attended both private and public schools, including William King‘s school, in the black Elgin settlement (now North Buxton, Ontario). He was an honour student at the Toronto Academy and later attended Oberlin College in Ohio. He returned to Canada and in 1857, entered University College in Toronto and in 1858, became a medical student at the Toronto School of Medicine. He studied under Alexander Thomas Augusta, a Black physician who was born in the U.S. Although he did not graduate, Abbott received a license to practise from the Medical Board of Upper Canada, in 1861, thus becoming the first Canadian-born Black physician.
In 1866, Abbott resigned from service to the Union Army and returned to Canada. He attended primary medical classes at the University of Toronto the following year. While he did not graduate, he established a medical practice and was admitted to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in 1871. In an Anglican wedding ceremony in Toronto on 9 August 1871, he married Mary Ann Casey, the 18-year-old daughter of a successful Black barber. Abbott and his wife moved to Chatham where he resumed his medical practice. They eventually had three daughters and two sons.
Like his father, Abbott soon became an important member of the Black community in Toronto. From 1873 to 1880, he fought against racially segregated schools as president of the Wilberforce Educational Institute and was appointed coroner for Kent County, Ontario, in 1874, the first Black man to hold that office. Abbott contributed to a local newspaper, the Chatham Planet, and was associate editor of the Missionary Messenger, the journal of the local British Methodist Episcopal Church. Abbott was made president of both the Chatham Literary and Debating Society and the Chatham Medical Society in 1878. Abbott moved his medical practice to Dundas, Ontario, in 1881 where he also served in some important community roles including trustee of that community’s high school and chairman of the town’s internal management committee from 1885 to 1889. He also worked as an administrator for the Dundas Mechanics’ Institute.
The family moved to Oakville, Ontario in 1889 but returned to Toronto the following year. He was elected a member of the local post of the Grand Army of the Republic and one of 273 Civil War veterans in Toronto to wear the badge of that fraternity. He was then known as “Captain Abbott”, a rank which might reflect his office within the Grand Army of the Republic rather than his actual rank during the American Civil War. In November 1892, Abbott was appointed aide-de-camp on the Staff of the Commanding Officers Dept. of New York. A source of great pride for Abbott and his family, this was the highest military honour ever bestowed on a Black person in Canada or the United States.
REV. ADDIE AYLESTOCK-First Black woman to be ordained in Canada.
Rev. Addie Aylestock (1909–1998) was a Canadian minister in the British Methodist Episcopal Church, the first woman minister to be ordained in that church, and the first Black woman to be ordained in Canada.
Aylestock was the daughter of William Aylestock and Minnie Lawson and was the eldest of eight children. She was born in Glen Allan, near Elmira, Ontario, from one of the many Black farming communities in the province of Ontario; her family lived depending on where work was available. Her family was descended from Blacks who settled along the Conestogo River in Regional Municipality of Waterloo and Wellington County, Ontario.
She was raised in the (White) Methodist Church; she moved to Toronto when the Great Depression struck, and got a job as a domestic servant, and later as a dressmaker. While working as a domestic servant, she attended evening classes at Central Technical School in Toronto. A desire to become a missionary (in Liberia) led her to enroll in the (transdenominational) Toronto Bible College, from which she graduated in 1945. While a student in college, Aylestock became active with the youth and working with Sunday school in a BME (British Methodist Episcopal) church on Chestnut Street in Toronto. The pastor encouraged Aylestock to consider becoming a deaconess.
She joined the British Methodist Episcopal Church (an offshoot of the African Methodist Episcopal Church) and became a deaconess in 1944. Her first position was in the church in Africville. She also served as a deaconess in Halifax, Montreal, and Toronto. After the BME allowed for the ordination of women in 1951 (prompted by the church superintendent’s belief in Aylestock’s capability), she was the first to be ordained, and was assigned to the BME Church in North Buxton. She served as pastor in three further churches, namely in Montreal, Toronto and Owen Sound. Aylestock’s obituary, published in the St. Catharines Standard, said she also presided over churches in Fort Erie and Niagara Falls.