History gets buried, but not erased. With a little effort and a lot of research, truths long forgotten find their way to the sunlight.
Clyde Wray, a Saint John, New Brunswick poet and playwright did a little digging. Unearthed the stories of Black Canadians who never made it into the history books I read in high school.
In his play, We Were Here—livestreamed by the Saint John Theatre Company Feb. 25-27—Wray gives voice to eight Saint John residents most of us have never heard of.
One of the eight, Cornelius Sparrow escaped from slavery in the U.S. and arrived in Saint John in 1851. He opened a barber shop and then became the owner of the Victoria Dining Saloon, the largest saloon in the city. A local newspaper claimed Sparrow’s saloon was the nicest in Saint John, rivalled by only a few saloons in the whole country.
In the same year that Sparrow arrived in Saint John, Abraham Beverley Walker was born near Belleisle. He became the first Canadian-born Black lawyer in the Commonwealth and the first person of any colour to enroll in the Saint John Law School.
Race issues being what they were, and still are, Walker struggled to build a law practice. While working for a time as a court stenographer, his colleagues ridiculed him in open court. In later years, when Walker was recommended for the designation of Queen’s Counsel, white lawyers who had received the same honour vowed to renounce it.
In Michael Moore’s 1995 comedy, Canadian Bacon starring John Candy and Alan Alda, Canada is portrayed as a “White” country with no minorities. Not true then and not true now.
Our snow may be white, but we aren’t, and never have been.