This February, Canadians, especially those in the black community, will celebrate Black History Month. Even though I am not black, I do wish to contribute, as a member of another visible minority, to the remembrance of influential black figures who became not only experts in their fields, but as pathfinders for their communities to thrive and prosper in Canada. Since I love Canadian political history, I will be dedicating the rest of this article to detailing the life of the Honourable Lincoln Alexander, PC, CC, O.Ont, CD, QC.
Early life and Childhood
Born on January 21, 1922, in Toronto, Canada, Lincoln MacCauley Alexander was the eldest son to a Jamaican mother and a father from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Alexander’s mother, Mae Rose, worked as a maid while his father, Lincoln Sr., was a porter on the Canadian Pacific Railway. After they separated during Alexander’s teenage years, he moved with his mother to Harlem in New York City.
In the early stages of World War II, Alexander moved back to Toronto and worked as a machinist at an anti-aircraft gun factory until he was old enough to enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces. Despite his poor eyesight, Alexander managed to enroll in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a wireless operator for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Corporal Lincoln Alexander was stationed in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, until he was honourably discharged in 1945.
Education and Law Career
After the war, in 1949, Alexander went to McMaster University, in Hamilton, and obtained a BA in economics and history. He later earned a law degree at Osgoode Hall Law School four years later. In 1965, Alexander was appointed the honorary title of Queen’s Counsel after practicing law at his firm. In the same year, Lincoln Alexander began his eventual career in politics by running as the Progressive Conservative candidate for the federal riding of Hamilton West. However, his first attempt was not as successful as he lost by less than 2,500 votes. Nonetheless, he did not give up. Three years later, in the 1968 Canadian federal election, Alexander made history by becoming the first Black Canadian to be elected as a Member of Parliament (MP).
MP of Hamilton West
During his four mandates, he was not shy to break ranks with his party on issues such as the abolition of capital punishment and race-related issues. He was even successful in convincing 16 Tory MPs into voting in favour of anti-hate legislation. In 1971, Alexander alleged that Prime Minister Pierre E. Trudeau said “f— off” in the House of Commons. This accusation led to Trudeau to claim to have mouthed the infamous fuddle duddle. In 1979, when Joe Clark and the Progressive Conservative won a minority government, Alexander made history again by becoming the first Black Canadian to become a federal cabinet minister. He served as Minister of Labour until 1980 when his government was defeated by a vote of non-confidence in the next federal election. In total, Alexander served as MP of Hamilton West for 12 years.
Later political career
That same year, Alexander resigned his seat and was appointed as chair of the Ontario Worker’s Compensation Board by Ontario Premier Bill Davis. Five years later, Lincoln Alexander continued to be a political pathfinder for the Black community, when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney asked Governor General Jeanne Sauvé to appoint Alexander as the 24th Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario. During his six-year mandate, Alexander oversaw the growth of multiculturalism in Ontario while fighting racism and supporting the youth and seniors. Despite retiring from politics, Lincoln Alexander was still determined in his quest to end racism when he accepted the role as head of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.
Sadly, this political giant passed away peacefully on October 19, 2012, at the age of 90. However, his legacy was not forgotten. Schools and roads across the Greater Toronto Area (Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton) were named after him. Ever since 2015, January 21 is dedicated to observing the life and career of this political first.
Today, as Canada’s visible minority population, including the Black community, grows more rapidly than ever, it is essential that we remember that no matter which race or ethnic group we come from, we are all Canadians who share a dream to live a prosperous life full of equality, fairness, peace and harmony.
Famous Quotes from Lincoln Alexander
“The experience was an eye-opener for me, not only as a lawyer, but also as a human being, because I began to realize what Black people could do. I saw that, unlike the Hollywood version, these Africans were men and women of significant talents. I became conscious of my Blackness. I had come from a White world. Now we were in Africa, and I realized we are people of skill and creativity. I was a Black man and I was a somebody. I started standing tall.” – Lincoln Alexander, after a life-changing tour of Africa, in 1960.
“I am not the spokesman for the Negro; that honour has not been given to me. Do not let me ever give anyone that impression. However, I want the record to show that I accept the responsibility of speaking for him and all others in this great nation who feel that they are the subjects of discrimination because of race, creed or colour.” – Lincoln Alexander, maiden speech in the House of Commons after being elected in 1968.
By Jacques Wang