Black History Month 2021

Black history month

The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada from 2005 to 2010

Michaëlle Jean

Former Governor General of Canada, Michaëlle Jean
Photo: Wikipedia

Michaëlle Jean was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1957. She was educated at home because her parents, Roger and Luce, did not want her to attend school, where she would have to swear allegiance to dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. In 1968, she immigrated to Canada with her parents, fleeing the dictatorial regime of François Duvalier.

Jean studied comparative literature at the Université de Montréal, and became fluent in five languages (French, Haitian Creole, English, Italian, and Spanish). She was equally active on the issue of domestic violence, and worked with shelters for battered women and coordinated a government-funded study on spousal abuse during her time in university. She also taught Italian in the Université’s Department of Literature and Modern Languages.

In 1988, Jean began her career as a reporter, filmmaker, and broadcaster with Radio-Canada. It was there that she became the first person of Caribbean descent to be seen on French television news in Canada, hosting news and affairs programs such as Actuel, Montréal ce soir, Virages, and Le Point. By 1995, she moved to Réseau de l’information (RDI), where she anchored programs such as, Le Monde ce soir, l’Édition québécoise, Horizons francophones, Les Grands reportages, Le Journal RDI, and RDI à l’écoute. Four years later, she joined CBC Newsworld, to host The Passionate Eye and Rough Cuts. By 2004, Jean was hosting her own show, Michaëlle, while anchoring RDI’s Grands reportages, and occasionally Le Téléjournal. Over this period, Jean also made several films with
her husband, including the award winning Haïti dans tous nos rêves (“Haiti in All Our Dreams”).

On September 27, 2005, Michaëlle Jean become the 27th Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada. As Governor General she encouraged field initiatives from civil society, stimulating constructive synergies, advocating for the disadvantaged, paying special attention to youth. As Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces, she maintained a strong presence among them, including traveling to Afghanistan to salute their valour, and attend to the families of those killed in action, and the wounded. Over the five years of her mandate, she led some forty missions and State visits to Afghanistan, China, ten African countries, nine countries of the Americas, and over ten European countries.

On January 12, 2010, a terrible earthquake devastated Haiti and in October 2010, with her mandate as Governor General coming to an end, Michaëlle Jean agreed to serve as United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Special Envoy for Haiti. For four years, she devoted her energy and powers of persuasion to support the post-earthquake reconstruction efforts. In 2010, following her term as Governor General, she cofounded with her husband the Michaëlle Jean Foundation. This independent non-profit organization serve to inspire and empower at-risk youth in Canada through the arts and culture. From 2012 to 2015, Michaëlle Jean served as Chancellor of the University of Ottawa, the largest bilingual French and English campus in the world.

In April 2011, Michaëlle Jean was appointed as the Grand Témoin de la Francophonie at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and was elected Secretary General of La Francophonie on November 30, 2014, at the 15th Summit of La Francophonie.

Richard Pierpoint

Richard Pierpoint was a lad of 16 in Senegal, Africa when he was seized and sold into slavery in 1760. He was purchased by an English officer named Pierpoint who had settled in New York’s Hudson Valley. Richard became this officer’s servant and adopted his surname. The officer and Richard were mustered during the 1763 Aboriginal uprising in British North America, but likely saw no action.

After the outbreak of the American Revolution, Richard was given his freedom and eventually became a soldier, joining John Butler’s corps of Rangers operating out of Fort Niagara. When the war of the revolution ended in 1783, Butler’s Rangers were disbanded and the men were provided with land grants in what would become the Niagara region of Ontario. Richard received 200 acres of land in present-day St. Catharines and became somewhat of a community leader among Niagara’s Black population.

When the War of 1812 broke out Richard Pierpoint petitioned Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, proposing the formation of an all-Black company of militia to fight alongside the British during the war. Brock agreed with the proposal and ordered the formation of what was known as the “Coloured Corps,” a small company of about 40 men from the Niagara and York districts mustered under white officers. The 68 year-old Richard Pierpoint served as a private in the corps and served on active duty throughout the conflict, including the Battle of Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812 when the corps was mentioned in dispatches as having played a key role in that British victory.

The Coloured Corps fought at the Battle of Fort George in May 1813, and were active in the Niagara campaign of 1813. In 1814 they worked on construction of fortifications, many of the men of the company having skills in carpentry and masonry.

When the war ended, the British offered land grants to the veterans of the Coloured Corps, establishing settlements in Oro and Garafraxa Townships. He petitioned the government to provide passage for him back to Senegal in Africa but this was never granted. He was given another land grant of 100 acres in Garafraxa in 1822 and was able to build a house and clear a few acres there but he was too old to farm it properly. Pierpoint died there in 1838.

Craig Gibson, First Black commanding officer in the RCMP

Craig Gibson grew up in a small community in Nova Scotia. He joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in 1980, and has spent more than 30 years working across the country in five different provinces, performing all kinds of policing and leadership duties.

Recognized for excellence and a commitment to helping small communities, Gibson officially assumed command of the RCMP in Prince Edward Island in July 2012, becoming the first Black commanding officer in the RCMP.