But this year, Alexander is being celebrated in a new way – as the first Black Canadian political figure to have a parliamentary bust at Queen’s Park and in the entire country.
The bust was unveiled at a ceremony, co-hosted by the Honourable Ted Arnott and the LINC Committee inside the West Wing of the Ontario Legislature, where it will remain permanently. There is also a display case of special memorabilia honouring Alexander.
Born in Toronto on January 21, 1922, Lincoln Alexander accomplished a trio of firsts. He was Canada’s first Black Member of Parliament, the country’s first Black federal Cabinet Minister, and Ontario’s first Black Lieutenant Governor.
“This is the first statue of a Black individual ever erected at Queen’s Park and the first ever statue of any Lieutenant. For too many years the significant achievements of Black historical figures, including Black Canadians, have been erased or diminished. This is an important opportunity to celebrate and profile an exceptional Black Canadian within one of Canada’s most hallowed halls of government,” Craig Wellington, the Executive Director of Black Opportunity Fund (BOF), told ByBlacks.
The Black Opportunity Fund worked in partnership with RBC, the LINC Bust Committee and Licensed to Learn (L2L), to fund and commission multi-award-winning afro-futurist artist and educator Quentin VerCetty to mould the bust.
The bust, in finished bronze, is a 3-dimensional head and shoulders cast of Alexander’s likeness. It’s crafted with rich organic compounds, decorated in medals which Alexander received, and wore regularly during his official duties.
“Lincoln Alexander’s exemplary career, breaking many barriers, as well as his steadfast leadership and integrity, was a beacon of light inspiring many Black Canadians to achieve their full potential. It was important for BOF to help be a catalyst to memorialize Linc in this way, to educate and inspire future generations of Canadians about the important role Linc has played in writing the story of Canada,” said Wellington.
The project has significant meaning to Wellington, beyond his work with BOF.
Wellington first met Alexander when he was working as head of marketing and sponsorships for Caribana, while Alexander was the Chair of the organization's advisory board at the time. After getting to know Alexander, Wellington quickly became a staunch advocate for Alexander’s legacy in Canada.
After browsing through several Chapters–Indigo locations in the GTA in hopes of finding a copy of Lincoln Alexander’s biography: Go To School, You're a Little Black Boy – Wellington came to find the book was filed under “local interest and travel” along with travel maps and atlases. Wellington complained to the store manager which began weeks of back-and-forth with Chapters management.
“They justified their placement of Lincoln's life story in ‘local interest’ by arguing that the achievements of the great Lincoln Alexander were only relevant locally in southern Ontario, and had no relevance Canada-wide. I responded strongly, including pointing out the quote from former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, stating that: ‘Lincoln Alexander represents the very best of Canada,’ that was on the Chapters website accompanying the listing of Linc’s biography,” said Wellington.
After launching an email campaign, speaking to media and advocating to different levels of government, Chapters properly cataloged Alexander's biography in the Canadian History and Biography sections in all Chapters locations across Canada and online.
“CEO Heather Reisman eventually responded to the correspondence and offered an apology for the misfiling and ensured resolution. Just an example of why these things (the bust) are important, and the need for us to be advocates to ensure our story and history is told. Thankfully this disrespect was rectified prior to Lincoln's passing away,” said Wellington.
He’s not the only one basking in the historic moment.
Erika Alexander, Mr. Alexander’s granddaughter feels the unveiling of the bust is a full-circle moment for the Alexander family.
“My family was extremely honoured with there being such a big push to memorialize him in this way. To have this committee push for so many years to get this done – it’s a really heartfelt and fulfilling moment – especially where it’s displayed in Queen’s Park. It’s such a big deal for who he was and his career and his influence at Queen’s Park and the fact that he popularized the Lieutenant Governor role. He made it a cool, exciting thing compared to how it was perceived before,” said Erika Alexander.
She was 30 years old when her grandfather passed away so she recalls years of memories and spending time as a family. She remembers Lincoln Alexander as a social person with a good sense of humour who brought joy to the rooms he entered. She also remembers the life lessons he taught her along the way.
“He had excellent perseverance and determination. He never let someone tell him no. He was going to be the person who decided what he could do and if a door closed, he would find a better route. And I think that's what he instilled for my sister and I – to really push towards what you want regardless of what other people are going to say about your journey,” she told ByBlacks.
The bust is now` available for viewing by the public – from school groups to public tours, during regular operating hours of the legislature.
“The impact that he had on people and young children was such a huge one. When he would walk into a room, kids would get excited and they didn’t even know who he was. He just really pulled and captivated people. Seeing a version of him in a bust in a place like Queen’s Park is super impactful. Not only because he will be one of the only Black people who have recognition in Queen’s Park, but also the hard work and fundraising and community effort to get there. So for kids to see someone who looks like them or their parents or their grandparents will have the biggest impact on how they see themselves and their learning.”
For more information, you can visit: https://l2l.ca/lincoln-alexander-bust/