In December of 2014, it was decided that January 21st was to be observed as Lincoln Alexander Day across Canada, celebrating the birthday and the life of Lincoln M. Alexander, the first ever Black Member of Parliament, federal Cabinet Minister, and Lieutenant Governor in Canadian History.
“It’s not just a saying, it’s a reality: if we want kids to be it, they have to see it,” Rosemary Sadlier says, explaining what is achievable by installing the bust on the second floor in Queen Park’s Legislative Assembly building.
“I, myself, was very much touched by having been invited to Queen’s Park when Lincoln Alexander, early in his days as a Lieutenant Governor, reached out to the Black community and I had the opportunity to go. There are many things that spur you on, but certainly seeing him in that place made it seem more possible that people who look like me could be in that place. I think that bust can provide students who come through on school tours, visitors who come into the building with a source of and a place to affirm the history of Queen’s Park that includes a man of African origin, and who became the first Black vice regal in Canada. A symbol can be very useful; this, I think, will be an incredibly powerful symbol for our community.”
Lincoln Alexander, who passed away in October of 2012 at age 90, has left a long track record and legacy of success pushing past the barriers that have oppressed Canada’s Black population. Over the course of his career as a student, Air Force assembly line worker, lawyer, and politician, he inspired and often encouraged education and perseverance in the community as noted in the title of his memoir: Go To School, You’re A Little Black Boy. Three schools in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area carry the name of Lincoln Alexander, as well as a few community centers and institutions, and a highway.
The bust will be the first sculpture of a Black figure installed in Queen’s Park. “I don’t know if my grandfather was an exception in certain ways, but people of every kind of background gravitated towards him mainly because of his personality,” says Erika Alexander, who represents her grandfather at public events since his death. “I think with this coming to fruition it’s a great start towards the beginning of other projects that can be done on other Black figures in Canada to recognize them. I think it’s important.”
There is still resistance to Black community advancement and progression still present now, as pointed out by Sadlier, who was awarded the Order of Ontario for her work to have formal commemorations and nationwide celebrations of Black History Month and Emancipation Day.
“People are still shocked and surprised that Black people have done anything in this country. The idea that Black people have been in this country since before Confederation is not well known or well appreciated, and certainly not shared. You can be a really good person and a really knowledgeable person, and still fail to have learned anything about Black history at school.”
The bust is expected to be unveiled in January 2024 near the suite of the Lieutenant Governor, which is attached to the Legislative Assembly building in Queen’s Park.