Vancouver celebrates Black History Month

Roger B. Jones, CEO and owner of World Accessibility - Photo courtesy of Roger B. Jones

Roger B. Jones, CEO and owner of World Accessibility - Photo courtesy of Roger B. Jones


If you take a few minutes and briefly browse the streets of downtown Vancouver at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, you will notice that the city consists of people from virtually all parts of the world. Diversity is, and has always been, at the very heart of our culture.

In light of this diversity, distinct cultures have contributed significantly in shaping Vancouver as a city. One pertinent yet often overlooked factor in this development is Black history. In celebration of the Black History Month, let us take a few minutes to briefly discover how African-Canadians shaped the city we live in.

1858 marks the arrival of the largest group of Black immigrants. This group composed of roughly 800 people withdrawing from the racially oppressive society in San Francisco. They became one of the first groups of people to pioneer Vancouver Island. Over the years, the African-Canadian population gradually spread to other parts of the province.

In 1955, Eleanor Proctor Collins from Vancouver became the first African-Canadian woman to own a national television show. This was the first time African-Canadian culture became a part of the Canadian media and influenced our culture.

In 1986, Emery Barnes, the Canadian football player, social worker and later politician, took on the challenge to live on the same income as people on social assistance. This was a compassionate and inspirational act that continues to influence millions of Canadians, even 25 years later.

“What I would like to see happening is respect and equal opportunity for all diverse groups living in our cities,” says Roger B. Jones, a prominent African-Canadian who lives in Vancouver. As a professional speaker, he has devoted himself to issues of disability, inclusion and diversity over the past two decades.

“In my opinion, the term ‘multiculturalism’ only serves to further fragment our societies by putting one group against another to compete for government dollars,” says Jones. Everyone should feel safe and secure practicing their own cultures while co-existing with the dominant culture.”

When prompted for advice to new African immigrants, Jones stresses the necessity to understand Vancouver and take the initiative to help improve the city.

“Many African people do immigrate to Vancouver and they face too many challenges to list,” he explains. “That said, we are lucky to live in one of the greatest cities in the world. The only advice I would give is to study the history and culture of Vancouver, British Columbia and Canada. Once you have an understanding, determine the best way for you to contribute and help improve this wonderful place.”

Here, Jones makes the implication that by making an effort to improve the city, an immigrant can find ways to overcome the “many challenges” on the list.

Jones also thinks it is “deceiving to think that there aren’t as many African-Canadians in Vancouver.”

“The demographics are more spread out here, which means that people are less visible in clusters. With increased immigration and cross-country mobility, I believe that we will see many more African-Canadians moving to the West Coast.”

Jones highlights some notorious figures in the Black history of Vancouver.

“Since its inception, Vancouver and British Columbia have been a welcoming place for people of African descent,” he says. “Contributions from James Douglas, Rosemary Brown, Joe Fortes, John Sullivan Deas and many others too numerous to mention, have helped to shape the city and province into the great place that it is today.”

Famous Black Vancouverites (from left to right): Joe Fortes, James Douglas, Rosemary Brown and Emery Barnes.

Famous Black Vancouverites (from left to right): Joe Fortes, James Douglas, Rosemary Brown and Emery Barnes.