"A Black People’s History of Canada" set to produce a seismic shift in education about Canadian history

Federal gov't invests $1M+ in knowledge mobilization project

- April 9, 2021

The Honourable Stephen Guilbeault (bottom middle) announces funding for A Black People's History of Canada with representatives including Dr. Afua Cooper (bottom right) and Provost Frank Harvey (upper right). (Photo screencaptured via Zoom)
The Honourable Stephen Guilbeault (bottom middle) announces funding for A Black People's History of Canada with representatives including Dr. Afua Cooper (bottom right) and Provost Frank Harvey (upper right). (Photo screencaptured via Zoom)

“The Future is Now” was the theme for this year’s Black History Month. Perhaps it was right.

On Thursday (April 8), The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Canadian Heritage announced more than $1 million in funding to Dalhousie for a three-year project led by Dalhousie prof Afua Cooper that aims to fill a gap in African Canadian history education.

“The history of Black people in Canada is more than 400 years old but remains mostly untold,” Guilbeault noted during the virtual announcement event. “That is why it is essential for every Canadian to know more about the remarkable achievements and struggles of Black people in Canada throughout history.”

Black history is Canadian history

The new project, called A Black People’s History of Canada, will support leading Black history scholars and organizations to create engaging new classroom-ready learning materials and digital media about the history of Black Canadians.

It’s a project with the potential to expand the celebration and acknowledgment of the history of Black Canadians beyond Black History Month by getting it into classrooms year round.

“For too long the history of Black Canadians has not received the attention or care that it deserves in our education system and this is rooted in systemic racism that continues to hold back our communities of colour,” said Andy Fillmore, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities and Member of Parliament (Halifax). “The funding we’re announcing today is going to help ensure that the rich history of Black Canadians is taught, celebrated and informs the next generation of leaders in social justice.”

A Black People’s History of Canada will create new learning materials, published online, in English and French, and will be shared to teachers and students in elementary and secondary schools across the country. All content will be developed and evaluated in consultation with leading educators, community organizations, and government agencies.

A recognition of incredible scholarship and contribution

The project will be led by Dr. Cooper, professor in Dalhousie's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences who is jointly appointed to the Department of History and the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology and cross appointed to the Gender and Women's Studies program.

“Throughout her career, Afua has been a trailblazer for Black Canadian culture and studies as a poet, performer and internationally recognized historian,” extolled Frank Harvey, Dal’s acting provost and vice president academic. “She has worked tirelessly to support the growth of this field of study at Dal.”

A rich history that needs to be shared

“Black people's history in Canada has languished in the doldrums in spite of the 400-year presence of Blacks in this country,” said Dr. Cooper. “And that is why I am truly excited to receive this wonderful support from Canadian Heritage for A Black People’s History of Canada. Our project will fill the lamentable gap in African Canadian history education. Researching, writing, conceptualizing and teaching Black history in a comprehensive manner will produce a seismic shift in African Canadian knowledge mobilization.”

By empowering educators and Canadians through workshops and conferences, with bilingual materials promoted through social media, the project website, and through a network of professional, community, institutional and government partners, A Black People’s History of Canada could reach millions of young Canadians.

“It is important that all Nova Scotians and all Canadians know the full story of people of African descent in this country — not just one or two names or places,” said The Honourable Tony Ince, Nova Scotia Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs and Minister responsible for the Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives. “That's why I'm so thrilled to see Dalhousie University and Canadian Heritage undertaking this historic project.”

Gathering an impressive team

Dr. Cooper will lead a project team comprised of well‑known, award‑winning historians, researchers and writers including senior research fellow Dr. Karolyn Smardz Frost, adjunct professor at both Acadia and Dalhousie universities, as well as Natasha Henry, president of the Ontario Black History Society, and Adrienne Shadd.

“A big thanks to Adrienne Shadd and Natasha Henry for their part on this mobilization team — together they bring their vast and outstanding skills and capacities to this project,” said Dr. Cooper. “And in so many ways, we would not be here today if it had not been for the immense and invaluable contribution of Dr. Karolyn Smardz Frost whose work helped to ensure this application was successful.”

The team has a weighty task before them that includes research in every province and territory, encompassing African Canadian history beginning in 1604 — not to mention developing the reference work, creating a series of classroom‑ready instructional and digital storytelling media, testing and evaluation with professional educators in collaboration with African Canadian organizations before launching a nationwide knowledge mobilization program.


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