On the evening of 8 November 1946, Halifax businesswoman Viola Irene Desmond (née Davis), made an unplanned stop in the small community of New Glasgow after her car broke down en route to a business meeting in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Told she would have to wait a few hours for the repair, she decided to see the movie The Dark Mirror, starring Olivia de Havilland, at the Roseland Theatre. Desmond requested a ticket for a seat on the main floor (“One down, please.”). Without informing Desmond, the ticket seller instead handed her a ticket to the balcony, the section generally reserved for non-white customers.
After being challenged by the ticket-taker, who informed her that her ticket was for an upstairs seat, Desmond returned to the cashier and asked to exchange her ticket for a downstairs one. The cashier refused, saying, “I'm sorry, but I'm not permitted to sell downstairs tickets to you people.” Realizing that the cashier was referring to the colour of her skin, Desmond decided to take a seat on the main floor anyway.
Henry MacNeil, manager of the Roseland Theatre, confronted Desmond. He argued that the theatre had the right to “refuse admission to any objectionable person.” Desmond pointed out that she had been admitted, and had then attempted to exchange her balcony ticket for a main floor one. She had even offered to pay the difference in cost, but was refused. “When she declined to leave her seat, a police officer was called. He dragged Desmond out of the theatre, injuring her hip and knee in the process, and took her to the town lock-up. Shocked and frightened, she maintained her composure, sitting bolt upright in her cell all night long, awaiting her trial the following morning.”
In court, Magistrate Roderick MacKay, the only legal official present, charged Desmond with attempting to defraud the provincial government based on her alleged refusal to pay a one-cent amusement tax ( the difference in tax between upstairs and downstairs ticket prices). Despite her insistence that, at the time, her offer to pay the difference had been refused, he fined her $26. At no point was Desmond provided with counsel or informed that she was entitled to it. Most notably, the issue of race was never mentioned even though it was clear that Desmond's real ‘offence’ was to violate the Roseland Theatre’s implicit segregated seating rule.
On the advice of Mrs. Pearleen Oliver, a regular patron of Desmond’s beauty parlour and the wife of the Reverend William Pearly Oliver, Viola sought support from the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP). Even with the assurance of support from the NSAACP if she appealed the conviction, Desmond’s husband Jack, a prominent businessman in Halifax’s Black community, objected to the appeal. “Take it to the Lord with a prayer,” was his suggestion. Others in the community were more encouraging. Carrie Best, the founder of The Clarion newspaper and an outspoken advocate of racial equality, took a special interest in the case. Her paper closely covered Desmond's story, often featuring it on the front page, and drawing greater attention to the injustice of her conviction. The Viola Desmond Heritage Minute ends with Best asking Desmond whether she plans to appeal her conviction. With courageous determination, Viola Desmond says that she will.
Subsequently, Desmond’s lawyer made two unsuccessful applications for appeal to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, after which legal action on the case ceased. At no point in the Supreme Court proceedings was the issue of racial discrimination ever raised by her legal defense. When dismissing the case, Justice William Lorimer Hall said: “One wonders if the manager of the theatre who laid the complaint was so zealous because of a bona fide belief that there had been an attempt to defraud the province of Nova Scotia of the sum of one cent, or was it a surreptitious endeavour to enforce a Jim Crow rule by misuse of a public state.”
On 15 April 2010, Viola Desmond was granted a posthumous pardon by Nova Scotia Lieutenant-Governor Mayann Francis. The pardon, accompanied by a public declaration and apology from the province, recognized that Desmond’s conviction was a miscarriage of justice and that charges should never have been laid.
Richard Pierpoint was born in Bondu (now Senegal) in 1744. In 1760, he was captured and brought to America where he was sold to a British officer. After more than 20 years in America, he won his emancipation by fighting as a member of Butler’s Rangers in the American Revolution.
His support for the British in the conflict meant he was rewarded with a land grant in the Niagara region. After 1783, Pierpoint settled in Niagara, where he served as a griot (storyteller) for the local Black community. In the Senegalese tradition a griot listens to stories and associates them with a particular stone. The griot retells the stories by pulling a stone out of his bag and recounting the associated story. Before and after the War of 1812, Pierpoint travelled around Upper Canada listening to and retelling the stories of the Black community.
In 1794, Pierpoint and a number of formerly enslaved men petitioned the government of Upper Canada to grant them land adjacent to each other rather than dispersed among white settlers. The Petition of Free Negroes, as it was known, aimed to create a Black community where members would help and support each other. The petition was rejected for unknown reasons.
In the War of 1812, at age 68, Pierpoint petitioned the military for the creation of an all-black unit, by producing a list of black men in the region who had sworn to fight. The petition was initially rejected, but leadership of the unit was eventually given to Captain Robert Runchey, and the unit was named Captain Runchey’s Corps of Coloured Men. The Corps fought at Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812, (they were among the first reinforcements to arrive on the Heights in support of Mohawk Chief John Norton’s Grand River warriors) and were instrumental to the war effort throughout the Niagara region. In 1813, they were reassigned to the Provincial Corps of Artificers, and served throughout the war building and rebuilding important strategic posts.
After the war, Pierpoint stayed in Niagara, but found life difficult. In 1821, Pierpoint petitioned the government again, this time to be sent on a ship back to his homeland in Senegal. Pierpoint’s petition was again rejected, but he was given a land grant in Garafraxa, near modern-day Fergus. He took up his land and became a leader in the black community, helping formerly enslaved men and women move through the Underground Railroad. In addition, Scottish settlers, in particular James Webster, relied on Pierpoint for help when they first arrived in the Fergus area. Pierpoint died around 1837, aged about 93. Pierpoint was one of thousands of black Loyalists who came to Canada after the American Revolution, and while many faced significant hardships, they nonetheless formed an important part of early Canada. Pierpoint lived an incredible life, and his tireless work in promoting the health and livelihood of the Black community in Upper Canada is remembered in this Minute.
Canada has a long history of international peacekeeping and has been part of every major peacekeeping operation. Although the UN has been involved in missions since 1948, Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson popularized the term "peacekeeping" in the late 1950s. Pearson's efforts won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957.
In 1956, when Israel, France and the United Kingdom were trying to stop Egypt from taking control of the Suez Canal, Pearson proposed a peacekeeping force to be deployed to the region. This was the first major initiative by the UN whose goal was to stabilize the situation and to permit the withdrawal of the attackers. After Suez, Canadians came to feel that peacekeeping was their métier.
In July 1960, a newly independent Congo erupted in violence and quickly collapsed into anarchy. The UN sent 1894 men, its largest deployment ever to the region. Brigadier-General Jacques Dextraze arrived in 1963 as second-in-command of the mission. Known as "Jadex" or "Mad Jimmy," Dextraze was a daring leader. Undertaking a number of risky rescues, he once landed his personal helicopter to pick up four missionaries and was forced to keep the rebels at bay with his machine gun until escape was possible. General Dextraze went on to become the Chief of Defense Staff in Canada.
Canada continues its commitment to keeping peace. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1988 and the subsequent ethnic conflicts, there have been no fewer than 36 UN operations to bring some form of military peace as well as humanitarian aid to the area. Canadian peacekeepers made up roughly 10% of the total force. In the last decade, Canadians peacekeepers have served in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Angola, the Balkans, Cambodia, El Salvador, Iraq, Kuwait, the Western Sahara, Mozambique, Somalia, South Africa, Georgia, Liberia, the Netherlands, Rwanda, Uganda, Somalia, Chad, Guatemala, Tadjikistan, Zaire, Croatia, Bosnia, Haiti, and Ethiopia and Eritrea.
While Maurice Ruddick rode the trolley to begin his afternoon shift, he sang "The Shiek of Araby" in his lusty baritone. This did not surprise his fellow miners, for Ruddick, one of the few black men employed at the Springhill mine, had quite a reputation for his singing. On the afternoon of October 23, he was cheerfully thinking of his tiny seven-day old daughter, his twelfth child.
The explosion that ripped through the mine several hours later left Ruddick and six others trapped in a small tomb, 4,000 metres underground. And for nine seemingly endless days, Maurice Ruddick cheered his comrades with his singing. He sang hymns, popular tunes, told jokes, anything to keep up their spirits.
"I cried quietly in the darkness, but I made sure nobody else heard me," admitted Ruddick later. "It might have broken their resolve to live."
On the fourth day of their ordeal, Ruddick created a birthday party for 29 year old Garnet Clarke. The men divided their last stale sandwich, and poured their last water into equal sips, while Ruddick led them in a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday."
When the draegermen finally broke through the tunnel on the morning of the ninth day, they found Ruddick singing at the top of his lungs. He greeted them with "Give me a drink of water and I'll sing you a song."
Maurice Ruddick modestly underplayed his leadership role, but others felt differently. "If it wasn't for Maurice," declared the mother of one of the miners, "they'd all have been dead."
Maurice Ruddick, along with the other survivors, enjoyed the spotlight briefly in public tributes. But for the black miner, his heroism could not overcome the racial prejudice of the time. The most telling tale of tribute came from the Governor of the state of Georgia. He generously invited the nineteen survivors to vacation at one of his state's luxurious resorts, usually reserved for millionaires. When the Governor discovered that one of the miners was black, he explained that while Ruddick was still invited, he would have to be segregated from the others. "It is the law here that Negroes must be separate," said the Governor.
When the miners heard this, they were reluctant to accept the offer. "There was no segregation down that hole, and there's none in this group," said one miner. But Ruddick agreed to go on the Governor's terms, knowing how much the others really wanted the vacation.
This well-loved, brave, and selfless man died in 1988, an all-but-forgotten hero.
Eleanor Roosevelt called it "the Magna Carta of Mankind." Pope John Paul II described it as "the Conscience of Mankind." Adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized fundamental rights and freedoms throughout the world, and influenced national legislation, including the Canadian Bill of Rights and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
A Canadian commemorative stamp was issued on October 7, 1998, marking the 50th anniversary of the Declaration and honouring its author, New Brunswick-born John Peters Humphrey.
A Cornerstone The creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was one of the United Nations' greatest achievements. It espouses non-discrimination based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, and politics. Its adoption sparked a revolutionary change in how international law was practiced by recognizing that human rights are a matter for international concern. Most controversial was its assertion that individuals have a fundamental right to health care, education, and work. Though its principles are routinely violated, the Declaration is significant because it has become part of the customary law of nations.
John Peters Humphrey The author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was John Peters Humphrey, a Canadian born in the village of Hampton, New Brunswick. A product of a tragic childhood, in which he lost both parents, Humphrey attended Rothesay Collegiate and Mount Allison University. He eventually transferred to McGill University, where he obtained a Bachelor of Commerce degree and, subsequently, a Law degree. After practising law in Montréal for a few years, he joined the McGill faculty. In 1946, he was offered the position of Dean of Law at McGill, but instead chose to take up a post at the United Nations, which had been founded only the year before.
Humphrey became Director of the Human Rights Division in the UN Secretariat and was given the task of drafting the Declaration. Writing such a revolutionary document, then pursuing its adoption through committee after committee in the tense climate of the early Cold War was a demanding ordeal that tested Humphrey's character and commitment. Nevertheless, he was successful.
Unfortunately, his contribution somehow became obscured. A representative from France was credited as the "Father of the Universal Declaration" and awarded the 1968 Nobel Prize, while Humphrey modestly remained silent.
The Draft Document Many years later, when researchers examined Humphrey's papers at McGill University, they uncovered the original draft of the Declaration, scrawled in Humphrey's handwriting. Humphrey was belatedly honoured with a UN Human Rights Award. Ever humble, Humphrey explained to an interviewer, "To say I did the draft alone would be nonsense... The final Declaration was the work of hundreds." Humphrey stayed with the United Nations for 20 years, overseeing the implementation of 67 international conventions and the constitutions of dozens of countries. He worked in the areas of freedom of the press, status of women, and racial discrimination. Upon retirement from the UN, he resumed his teaching career at McGill. He established the Canadian Federation for Human Rights, founded the Canadian Society of Amnesty International, worked as a director of the International League for the Rights of Man and served as a member of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. He died in March of 1995, a week after his McGill retirement party.
"I submit that the Government exists to provide for the needs of the people, and when it comes to choice between profits and property rights on the one hand and human welfare on the other, there should be no hesitation whatsoever in saying that we are going to place the human welfare consideration first and let property rights and financial interests fare as best they may." - J.S. Woodsworth, 1922
James Shaver Woodsworth, the "conscience of Canada," helped create Canada's social-security system. His combination of leadership, determination, and an unrelenting desire for social reform changed the lives of all working Canadians.
Born in Etobicoke, Ontario in 1874, J.S. Woodsworth was educated at Victoria College and Oxford University. He later worked with urban immigrant populations, was a staunch democratic socialist, and an ardent supporter of trade-union collective bargaining.
Woodsworth maintained his controversial views at great personal expense. In 1917, he resigned from his government position because of his opposition to conscription. Two years later, he was arrested for his participation in the Winnipeg General Strike. His fortunes changed in 1921 when Manitoba's voters elected him to the House of Commons with the Independent Labour Party slogan "Human Needs before Property Rights." He mastered parliamentary procedure and effectively used the House of Commons to focus awareness of the unemployed, the elderly, immigrants and farmers. His parliamentary genius helped establish a multiparty political system and forced the government to recognize the labour movement.
In 1926, Woodsworth realized his lifelong ambition when he and fellow Labour Party MP A.A. Heaps guaranteed Prime Minister Mackenzie King a coalition government in return for Mackenzie King's creation of Canada's Old-Age Pension plan. The following year, the plan was introduced and became the cornerstone of Canada's social-security system.
In 1933, Woodsworth became the leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, forerunner to today's New Democratic Party. Ever the adamant pacifist, Woodsworth won his last election in 1940 by a scant majority. He subsequently suffered a stroke and died in 1942.
What thoughts ran through Louis Riel's mind as he stood on the scaffold, waiting for the trap door to open to his death? Perhaps he thought about the turmoil that surrounded him, a turmoil that still surrounds the controversial Métis leader today. Even now, Louis Riel is a hero to many, a visionary, the fiery leader of a downtrodden people. To others he is a madman, a traitor, or a misguided zealot.
Riel was born in the Red River Colony of what is now Manitoba, the son of a prominent Métis leader and a French Canadian mother. He was educated as a lawyer in Montréal, but he returned to his home at the age of 24, just as Canada was preparing to acquire the vast territory called Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company. Since the Red River Colony was part of Rupert's Land, the Métis people feared that they would lose control of their own homeland.
The Métis are the proud descendants of French Canadian coureurs de bois and voyageurs and Indigenous mothers. They were great buffalo hunters of the plains who saw their way of life threatened by the arrival of English-speaking Canadians from the East.
Riel gathered others around him to stop Canadian representatives from entering the settlement. They formed a "provisional government" to negotiate with the Canadian government. Their actions, known as the Red River Rebellion, led to the creation of the province of Manitoba in 1870.
Though there was also no bloodshed in the Rebellion, the provisional government did execute one unruly prisoner named Thomas Scott. The heated reaction the execution created in Ontario forced Riel to flee for his safety. He spent years in Québec, New England and in the American Midwest. Though he was twice elected a member of Parliament, he did not dare take his seat in Ottawa.
It was during these confusing years that Riel's religious feelings, which had always been strong, grew to a steadfast conviction that he was sent by God as the prophet of a new North American Catholicism.
In 1884, Riel was teaching school in Montana when some Métis from Saskatchewan asked for his help in their difficulties with the Canadian government. Like the Red River Métis, they feared that their lands would be taken. Riel wrote petitions and letters to Ottawa. Then in 1885 the Métis lost patience and claimed a provisional government of their own. On March 26, about 300 Métis, led by Riel, clashed with about 100 North West Mounted Police and volunteers, touching off the Northwest Rebellion.
The Canadian government responded quickly with a force of 8,000 men. The armies met on May 9, 1885 at Batoche, and by May 12, the overpowered Métis were defeated, and Riel surrendered.
The names of women are conspicuously absent from the lists of famous Canadian medical pioneers. During the 19th Century, while male physicians and surgeons were exploring new treatments and innovative medical procedures, Canadian women were struggling for the mere right to practice medicine. For them, acceptance into a medical school was a major achievement. The two women most responsible for breaking down the barriers and advancing medical training for women in Canada were Emily Stowe and Jennie Kidd Trout.
In 1875, Jennie Trout became the first woman licensed to practice medicine in Canada. Born in 1841, Jennie grew up on a farm near Stratford, Ontario. A quiet, reserved child, Jennie excelled in school. Upon graduation, she took one of the few career paths open to women and began teaching in a public school. She taught in Stratford until she married Edward Trout in 1865.
A lengthy illness occupied the next six years of Jennie Trout's life, but when she recovered, she decided to take up a career in medicine. Jennie's plans were encouraged by her husband, as well as by her longtime friend and mentor, Emily Stowe, who had been practising medicine in Toronto since 1867 although she was not licensed by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Entering a Man's World During most of the last century professional medical practice was exclusively a male domain. Hospitals were designed for the poor, since wealthy people could afford home treatment. In most hospitals, nursing care was provided by nursing sisters, or nuns. In cases where lay women acted as nurses, they were treated as little more than servants, with no professional respect. Florence Nightingale's campaign to create a nursing profession only began to have an impact in Canada late in the nineteenth century.
In this climate, it is not surprising that the male medical establishment was hostile to the idea of educated and paid female doctors. When the Toronto School of Medicine reluctantly allowed Jennie Trout and Emily Stowe to attend lectures, it was on the condition that they "make no fuss, whatever happened." Plenty happened. Trout and Stowe were the only women in a lecture hall filled with men. Led by the lecturers themselves, the male students jeered at the women. Obscene sketches had to be white-washed from the walls four times in the course of the lectures.
Finally, Trout went to the United States for her medical education. She returned to Canada in 1875 with a medical degree from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania.
Licensed to Practice Back in Ontario, Jennie Trout passed an examination before the College of Physicians and Surgeons, who complimented Mr. Trout for having "such a talented wife." Jennie Trout went on to practice medicine at Toronto's Therapeutic and Electrical Institute until 1882, when poor health forced her to retire. Still, she did not abandon the work she had begun, and her next objective was to establish a college for the medical education of women in Canada. After a long campaign to gather support for the college, Trout had another fight to see that women could sit on the college's board of governors. Finally, the Women's Medical College at Kingston opened on October 2, 1883, partly supported by a large financial contribution from Trout herself. The heroic struggles of Jennie Kidd Trout - the quiet woman whose life's aim transcended personal ambition - opened the door for the many Canadian women doctors who came after her.
Between 1840 and 1860, more than 30,000 American slaves came secretly to Canada and freedom
"When my feet first touched the Canadian shore, I threw myself on the ground, rolled in the sand, seized handfuls of it and kissed them." These were the words of Josiah Henson recalling his first moments as a free man. Henson had escaped to Canada along the "underground railroad," a network of secret paths, hiding places and safe houses that stretched from southern states to the borders of Canada. Like countless other immigrants, Henson came to Canada as a refugee escaping brutality and oppression.
The slaves fled the inhuman treatment they suffered in the southern United States, where they were - by law - the property of their owners. Beaten and whipped and forced to obey, many worked up to eighteen hours a day in the fields, returning at night to squalid shacks for meagre rations of corn meal and bacon scraps.
Among the many tragic stories of slavery were tales of husbands taken from wives and of children torn from their mothers to be sold like animals. Captured runaway slaves were often tortured. Professional slave catchers, notorious for their cruelty, tracked runaway slaves all the way from the deep South to the Canadian border. It took enormous courage to escape.
But thanks to the "agents" on the underground railroad [men and women, white and black, Canadian and American], many slaves found freedom in Canada. Some of these agents have become legends. The great Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave herself, returned south again and again to lead others north. A Canadian, Alexander Ross, travelled to southern plantations in the guise of a gentleman bird fancier. His real mission, however, was to direct slaves to the escape routes.
Dr. Martin Luther King said that in the history of black America, "Canada was the north star." The old spiritual, "Follow the Drinking Gourd," gave slaves the hidden advice to keep their eyes on the Gourd [the Big Dipper], which pointed the way north to "heaven," in this case Canada.
Nellie McClung was a political activist. She was also a charmer with a gift for oratory and a delightful sense of humour. Her spirited leadership rallied others to the cause of women's suffrage in Manitoba in the early 20th century.
As a young girl, Nellie questioned traditional "women's roles." She recounts, for example, being an excited nine year old looking forward to her first small town public picnic. "I was hoping there would be a race for girls.... But the whole question of girls competing in races was frowned upon. Skirts would fly upward and legs would show! And it was not nice for little girls, or big ones either, to show their legs! I wanted to know why, but I was hushed up." When she was sixteen, Nellie began teaching at a rural school. In a long skirt and starched blouse, she would play football with the students at recess. Some parents objected - Football was not a ladies' game - but Nellie finally won the parents over with tact and good sense.
Nellie McClung's personal commitment to women's rights became her political cause as well. She began to speak out for female suffrage and to write fiction. Her novel, Sowing Seeds in Danny, is a witty portrayal of a small western town. Published in 1908, it became a national best seller, the first of her many literary successes.
Marriage, five children, and a successful writing career did not stop Nellie McClung from campaigning for women's rights. Her concern for less fortunate women grew out of deep religious beliefs and devotion to her family. She had seen firsthand the suffering of women and children caused by neglect, overwork, poverty and alcohol abuse. "The real spirit of the suffrage movement," she once wrote, "is sympathy and interest in the other woman, and the desire to make the world a more homelike place to live in." Manitoba Women Lead Canada Women's suffrage was not a popular cause in Canada. Men and women were frightened that women's rights would lead to the breakdown of home and family. McClung calmed these fears with reasonable discussion, personal charm, irrepressible humour, and her fanciful hats.
In 1912, Manitoba women formed the Political Equality League to improve women's working conditions. The League convinced Premier Roblin that factory conditions for women were indeed terrible, but in spite of McClung's eloquence, the League did not convince him that female suffrage was the remedy for such abuses.
To rally public support, the League held a Mock Parliament on January 28, 1914. The subject of debate was whether or not men should have the vote. A male delegation presented its case for male suffrage, and then "Premier" Nellie McClung rose to speak. She complimented the men on their splendid gentlemanly appearance, then she launched into her satiric attack: "Oh no, man is made for something higher and better than voting...Politics unsettles men, and unsettled men mean unsettled bills ? broken furniture, broken vows, and ? divorce!" The resounding success of the Mock Parliament lent energy and support to the League's campaign. The 1915 election saw the defeat of Roblin's Conservative government, and on January 28, 1916, Manitoba became the first Canadian province to give women the vote. Nellie McClung continued to fight for women's suffrage in other provinces, and saw, slowly but steadily, tradition giving way to equality.