The brainchild of African-American scholar Carter G. Woodson, Black History Month has been celebrated in the United States since 1926. In December 1995, the Parliament of Canada passed a motion that, as in the U.S., officially designated February as a month to mark the achievements of people of African descent at home and abroad.
This year, the world will turn its attention, during Black History Month, to the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. The confluence of race, culture and international athletic competition is sure to have delighted Sir James Douglas (1803-1877), the first provincial governor of British Columbia. Born in Guyana, Douglas was the son of a black woman from Barbados and a Scottish planter. He’d later marry a woman of mixed Cree and Anglo heritage. As such, Douglas and his descendants stand as shining examples of Vancouver’s vaunted multicultural image.
The author of Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone: A Photo Narrative of Black Heritage on Salt Spring Island, I was thrilled to feature Kitsilano resident Teresia Vakaloloma (and family) in the first book to document the continuous 150-year black presence on Salt Spring. The island widely hailed as one of the top artist colonies in North America counts as its first year round residents a group of free blacks from Northern California that settled on the island in 1859. In need of civic and commercial leaders to meet the boomtown frenzy after gold was discovered along the Fraser River, Douglas had invited the blacks to migrate to Canada at a time when increasingly repressive laws in the U.S. threatened their hard-won freedom. Direct descendants of Salt Spring’s black pioneers still reside on the island. In recent years, people of African descent from the U.S., the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, the South Pacific Islands, and other regions of Canada have settled on Salt Spring, inspiring a renaissance in the island’s black heritage.
An acclaimed Vancouver executive coach and community activist, Teresia (Sia) Vakaloloma also owns property on Salt Spring. “On a DNA and cellular level, Salt Spring immediately felt like my South Pacific home,” said Vakaloloma who was born in Fiji and proudly identifies herself as a “Fijian Nepalese black woman.” She also notes that on Salt Spring she’s experienced an affirmation of her mixed race lineage that has strengthened ties to her native cultural traditions.
I first saw Sia one day at a Salt Spring ferry terminal. She was a whirlwind of motion with a colourful scarf draped around her neck and her hair flying in the tradition of singer Diana Ross. I consider myself lucky to now call Sia, her husband Dean (aka Stingy Brim) and daughter Sunshine great friends.
If you’ve ever had a hankering to learn the line dance known as the Electric Slide, consider Black History Month an excellent time to get your groove thing on. With Sia and family, Kitsilano has Electric Slide masters in its midst. I’m telling you what I know!
Evelyn C. White is the author of Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone; Alice Walker: A Life;The Black Woman’s Health Book: Speaking for Ourselves; Chain Chain Change: For Black Women in Abusive Relationships as well as a veteran journalist with many articles, essays and reviews to her name. A former reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, Evelyn makes her home on Salt Spring Island where she is beloved in the community.
Evelyn C. White can be seen on City TV’s Breakfast Television on February 4th and will be signing autographs for her book Every Goodbye Ain’t Gone at Rhizome’s on February 5th.
Last modified: January 27, 2010