Saturday February 1 saw what many have described as the best Black History Month launch ever. From the moment MC Sarah Onyango stepped up to the podium to announce the commencement of the event, everything seemed to flow the ease of a well oiled machine. From Singer Angelique Francis, Nigerian “talking drum” exponent John Adeyefa and the children’s choir, to the SIFA choir led by the irrepressible Neema Mugala, the audience was treated to an afternoon of inspirational speeches, exceptional entertainment and an outpouring of community support for the celebration of the contribution of people of African descent to Ottawa and to Canada.
Mayor Jim Watson was there to read the proclamation for February as Black History Month; Minister of Labour Yasir Naqvi brought greetings from Premier Kathleen Wynne. Both was unanimous in their praise of Black History Ottawa for leading the celebration and showcasing positive role models such as the John Dennison, first Black Citizenship Judge, and strong advocate for multiculturalism and minority rights, who passed away in January. There was great delight from the families and friends of the winners of the esteemed BHO community Builder awards: Len Puckerin, Lunette Johnson, Canadian Somali Women’s Association in the adult category and Yoahanan Bemeke, at age fourteen, the youngest ever winner in the youth category.
Arguably the crowning glory of the day’s celebrations was the unveiling of the Black History Month Canada Post stamps by Canada Post Elizabeth Wong and Black History Ottawa President Godwin Ifedi. The two stamps commemorated two distinctive and historical communities of early black settlers in Canada: Africville in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Hogan’s Alley in B.C. Dismantled in 1960 to make way for new construction, Africville was a small but vibrant neighbourhood which made its mark in the history of some of the earliest black settlers in Canada. The lesser known Hogan’s Alley was a vibrant destination for food and jazz through the 1960s, and was the unofficial name of a four-block dirt lane that formed the nucleus of Vancouver’s first concentrated African –Canadian community. The story goes that the grand-mother of the late iconic guitarist Jimmi Hendrix lived there and that, as a youngster Jimmy would visit with his grandmother in this small and relatively unknown neck of the woods.