Small awarded Order of Canada

Veteran Black Artist Appointed to the Order of Canada

By Neil Armstrong

Robert Small
Photo contributed     Robert Small, executive director of LEGACY Enterprises, has been newly appointed a Member of the Order of Canada

A Toronto artist who has documented the lives of Black Canadians through posters for almost 30 years has been named to the Order of Canada.

Robert Small, artrepreneur of Legacy Enterprises, is the creator of the annual Black History Month Legacy posters. 

Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada, announced today 135 appointments to the Order of Canada. The new appointees include 2 Companions (C.C.), 39 Officers (O.C.), 1 honorary Member and 93 Members (C.M.).

Appointments are made by the governor general on the recommendation of the Advisory Council for the Order of Canada.

Small has been appointed to the Order “for his long-standing commitment to highlighting the accomplishments and contributions of Black people in all sectors of Canadian society.”

“I am so honoured to be named to the Order of Canada. To be mentioned among such famous Canadians and join other notable Canadians of African descent is truly an honour and a historical achievement for myself and others to come,” says Small.

In 2019, Small told me that he was primarily buoyed by the community’s response to his Legacy posters noting that every year he is energized to do it again for the following year because of the reactions of people.

“For me, that’s always been an energy booster in that regard and knowing that my posters are having an impact in the school system.” 

Small also enjoys doing it knowing that his children “will grow up knowing that their father did something that very few have accomplished.” 

When he created the first poster in 1995, the artist just wanted to get his name out there where anywhere he showed his artwork people would mention the work of Ugandan-Canadian artist David Kibuuka.

He said people also alluded to the work of Jamaican-Canadian photographer, Michael Chambers, and so he thought about being in the middle ground between both of them.

Their work inspired him and today he considers both men his role models. 

Small also had a student loan to pay off for his studies at the University of Windsor so that was further motivation to get his name out in the community.

To create the annual poster, he takes recommendations from the community, chooses community stalwarts but also tries to have a balance of males and females, diverse fields that they represent, “as well as the diversity with respect to gender but also with respect to which part of the country they’re at.”

He usually features people based on their accomplishments from Ontario and Nova Scotia because his posters are very popular in those provinces.

A few years ago, he indicated that he would do some research on western Canada, the Maritimes and the Yukon Territory to find people whom he could feature on future posters.

Small acknowledged that his poster has withstood the years, noting that when he started there were several other posters promoting Black History that apparently are no longer around.

Initially, he called it ‘The Official Black History Month Poster’ but decided to change the name because of these competing posters, and when in 2007 the Bank of Montreal wanted to put his poster in every branch across Canada.

“I was having problems with the name itself because it was too long to say in an interview,” says Small, noting that it was too convoluted and he was having problems with the term ‘black.’ 

“Because if I asked ten people randomly what does black mean, ten black people will come up with ten different explanations. So I just felt that I was calling my book markers ‘Legacy’ at the time because ‘legacy’ can only fit on the book marker so I decided why don’t I call the poster ‘legacy’ and it will be fitting because I’m actually benefitting from the legacy of calling it The Official Black History Month Poster while I’m still alive.”

It also happened at about the time he became a father so he thought it was really a legacy to leave to his two daughters.

Over the years, several Black Canadians have been featured on Small’s posters including Denham Jolly, Fred Upshaw, Ekua Walcott, Beatrice Massop, Marci Ien, Ginelle Skerritt, Minnijean Brown-Trickey, Kike Ojo-Thompson, Jully Black, Michael Lee-Chin, Dudley Laws, Charles Roach, Sherona Hall, Afua Cooper, d’bi.young anitafrika, Trey Anthony, Pamela Appelt, Avis Glaze, Sandra Whiting, among many others.

Among the new appointees to the Order of Canada are other Black and/or Caribbean Canadians such as Neil Devindra Bissoondath of Québec “for his contributions to Canadian literature through his groundbreaking examinations of multiculturalism and diversity,” andJustice Hugh L. Fraser of Ottawa “for his transformative contributions to Canadian sport as an internationally recognized expert in sports law and as a former Olympian.”

Jackie Richardson ofThornhill, Ontario, received an honorary appointment “for her contributions as a Canadian jazz legend, and as a leader and mentor to young performers in her community” and Bruny Surin ofMontréal, Quebec has been appointed “for his excellence in track and field, for supporting student-athletes and for promoting healthy lifestyles across the province.”

Also included among those appointed are leading experts in the study of racism and anti-racism, educators and authors Carol M. Tator, a former president and executive director of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, and Frances Henry, professor emerita at York University, both of Toronto.

Tator is recognized “for her advocacy of social justice, and for her commitment to identifying and dismantling systemic racism in Canadian society” and Henry “for her groundbreaking contributions to the study of racism in contemporary democratic society.”

“Canada is defined by the people that make up this great country. These most recent nominees to the Order of Canada are shining examples of the commitment and outstanding contributions Canadians have made to the well-being of communities throughout this land, whether it be social, environmental, scientific, economic, cultural or related to mental and physical health. To all of the nominees, congratulations and thank you,” says Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada.

The new appointees will be presented with their insignia at investiture ceremonies to be held on future dates.

“The Order of Canada is one of our highest honours. Created in 1967, it honours people whose service shapes our society, whose innovations ignite our imaginations and whose compassion unites our communities.

“More than 7 500 people from all sectors of society have been invested into the Order of Canada. Their contributions are varied, yet they have all enriched the lives of others and have taken to heart the motto of the Order: DESIDERANTES MELIOREM PATRIAM (“They desire a better country”),” notes the website of The Governor General of Canada about the Order of Canada. 

Source: Angles Covered

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