Today is a holiday in Ontario and while I'm never one to turn my nose up at a holiday, especially in the dreary month of February, did the provincial government have to name it something as completely lame as Family Day? Talk about phoning it in. I imagine some of the other, non controversial choices they could have tossed around and wonder why they just didn't go with Kitten Day or Free Ice Cream Day instead. Family Day? Really? Could I feel more condescended to? The thing that frustrates me the most is that this is such a missed opportunity. We should be celebrating our history and educating our citizens by acknowledging one of the many people of importance to this province.
Why not recognize one of our early Huron settlers or Sir Isaac Brock who fought back invading Americans during the war or 1812? What about Laura Secord? We could celebrate Laura Secord day by taking an eighteen hour walk and then eating ice cream!
Why not have a day for World War I flying ace Billy Bishop or Roberta Lynn Bondar, the first Canadian woman in space - both Ontario natives?
After his distinguished service in World War II, Lincoln Alexander became the first black Member of Parliment and then the first black Lietenant Govenor of Canada. I've had the honour and pleasure of spending some time with this great man, who despite our difference in "standing" in the world, took it upon himself to get to know me and treated me with nothing but respect and kindness. He is a wonderful role model (a great lunch date!) and someone that deserves to be acknowledged on a formal level every chance we get.
|With the exceptional Lincoln Alexander (photo by Don Vickery)|
Which leads me to this thought: if we're going to have a province-wide holiday in the month of February, shouldn't it reflect Black History Month? And as much as I love Linc, why not go a little further back and shine a light on Ontario's role in the anti-slavery movement? I'm sure there are countless individuals that we could recognize, but I'll just mention two of the most obvious choices.
The case for Josiah Henson Day isn't hard to make.
Although not born in Ontario, but Maryland, Josiah Henson made a place for himself in our province. He worked as a slave for forty-one years. In 1830, he and his family escaped to Ontario via the Underground Railroad. In 1841, he helped establish the Dawn Settlement which provided a refuge and a new beginning for former slaves. Through his leadership the British American Institute, one of Canada's first industrial schools, was founded. Josiah Henson's name became synonymous with the central character "Uncle Tom" in Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. The novel sold 300,000 copies within the first year of its publication and helped raise awareness to the brutality of slavery. Abraham Lincoln himself credited the book as being a catalyst of the Civil War.
You know what troubles me? I learned about this, just this year, by reading about it online. This was not something that was touched on, ever, during my years in Toronto's school system. How is that even possible? Give this man a day!
Rather have someone who was born in this province? Elijah McCoy Day would honour a great black Canadian and champion technology, business and innovation.
Born in Colchester, Ontario in either 1843 or 1844 (depending on your source) Elijah McCoy was the son of runaway slaves from Kentucky who had escaped via the Underground Railroad. When he was 15 years old, his parents sent him to Scotland to pursue a Mechanical Engineering apprenticeship (the kind of training he could not obtain in North America at the time). After his training, he returned to North America, this time across the border in Michigan where, despite his qualifications, he could only get work as a fire or oil man. The oil man job led him to become interested in the problems of lubricating machinery that were in motion. He perfected a method to steadily supply oil to machinery - thereby eliminating the process of shutting down machinery to lubricate them. The expression "The Real McCoy" arose out of machine buyers insisting on accepting nothing less than the inventions of McCoy. To this day, his name is associated with authenticity and quality. In his lifetime McCoy was awarded 57 patents, including for his inventions the ironing board and the lawn sprinkler! How cool is that?
This province has a rich, diverse history. We should be paying attention to pioneers like these all year long. It's a real shame that we aren't at doing so on at least one Monday every February.