Black History Month, Labour Unionism and the Fight for Equality

Black History, Labour Unionism and the Fight for Equality

As most of you are aware, February is Black History Month. So, this month we are introducing a series of posts on the accomplishments of Black people who have furthered labour, civil rights and more.

Please join us as we celebrate these important individuals throughout February, and continue to look into their contributions yourself to further your own knowledge.

Additionally, something important to keep in mind as we celebrate the accomplishments of these individuals, is that Black history is Canadian history.

Oliver Bowen

Many of you will recognize Oliver Bowen as the namesake of our NE Transit facility of the same name. There is good reason for this as Mr. Bowen was an engineer who was instrumental in the construction of Calgary’s first LRT line. He would go on to hold the position of Director of Transportation at The City of Calgary until his well-earned retirement in 1998.

As the Director of Transportation Mr. Bowen oversaw Calgary Transit and worked directly with ATU Local 583 signing off on contracts and was the last opportunity to reach a resolution on grievances prior to going to arbitration. Although we did not win every grievance, he was always a true gentleman.

The Honorable Lincoln Alexander

“All I try to do, is to do a job and to do it well.”

Lincoln Alexander was a leading figure in the fight for racial equity in Canada. In Provincial, Federal, public and private roles, he consistently advocated for the equal treatment of Black Canadians.

In 1985, he would become the first Black person to serve in a vice regal position in Canada as Lieutenant Governor. (

Hugh Burnett

Burnett helped found the National Unity Association (NUA), created because Black farmers and tradespeople were fed up with discrimination. With the NUA, Burnett helped lobby the government in Ontario to create anti-discrimination legislation. This lobbying went on to lead to the enactment of the Fair Employment Practices Act in 1951, which forbid discrimination in employment and services within federal jurisdiction.

Bromley Lloyd Armstrong

Bromley Lloyd Armstrong was a Canadian labour activist and a civil rights leader. He is perhaps best known for NUA sit ins in Ontario restaurants, whose owners were known to violently deny People of Colour the opportunity to dine in their establishments. These early anti-discrimination campaigns led to Canada’s first anti-discrimination laws. Interestingly, he was also a labour union member and a shop steward for United Automobile Workers (UAW) 439 with the intent of helping improve working conditions for industrial workers.

Of course, these blurbs will never truly inform us of the struggles and more importantly, triumphs of these and many other activists. Many of the individuals discussed here today experienced some of the worst in our nation’s history: slavery, racism and discrimination.

We must all actively denounce racism and discrimination. The people we discussed today are a drop in the bucket of the numerous individuals who committed their time and their lives, to breaking down the walls put up by racist ideals. That work is not finished and there is much we can all do to try and end racism. A good place to start is to acknowledge and confront any bias we may hold. Each of us has an opportunity and an obligation to do better.

Join us next week for more Black history and the accomplishments therein.

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