Rediscovering the Roots of Black New Brunswickers | UNB

Global Site Navigation (use tab and down arrow)

College of Extended Learning

Rediscovering the Roots of Black New Brunswickers

The UNB Art Centre Celebrates Black History Month with a special exhibit

While Willie O’Ree and Meesha Brueggergosman may be household names, have you heard about Arthur St. George Richardson, Fred Hodges, or Betty Riley?

Rediscovering the Roots of Black New Brunswickers celebrates the lives and accomplishments of some of New Brunswick’s most outstanding Black citizens. The exhibit was on display at the UNB Art Centre from Feb. 21 – March 27, 2020, with an opening featuring poetry readings by UNB students Thandiwe McCarthy and Chevelle Malcolm.

The exhibition is part of a larger project to bring to light those Black New Brunswickers who have made a significant contribution to shaping contemporary New Brunswick in their fight for freedom and equality. In conjunction with the Bi-Campus Standing Committee on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Human Rights and the Black History Month Organizing Committee at UNB, the UNB Art Centre spearheaded a research project to uncover significant Black New Brunswickers and develop a poster project for display at UNB’s Student Union Building on the Fredericton campus and at UNB’s Saint John campus.

The exhibit and poster campaign features such notable New Brunswickers as Mary Matilda Winslow, who was UNB’s first Black female graduate in 1905, Ralph “Tiger” Thomas the godfather of amateur boxing in New Brunswick and co-founder of PRUDE (Pride of Race, Unity and Dignity through Education) in 1997, and Georgina Whetsel who ran such a successful ice business in Saint John at the turn of the century that she was considered the wealthiest Black woman in North America! Discover 25 other Black New Brunswickers who have made an indelible mark on this province’s history.

View the full exhibition panels

Black History Month posters

Full text of exhibition panels

Birthdate: 1880-1963
Location: born Woodstock, N.B.
Significance: First Black woman to attend UNB

Winslow graduated from the University of New Brunswick in 1905, with a bachelor’s degree in Classics. She graduated top of her class, winning the Montgomery-Campbell Prize for Classics. As a result of being unable to find work in New Brunswick as a black woman in her field, Winslow immigrated to Birmingham, Alabama, where she taught classics and became a virulent supporter of schools promoting Black education. In her writings and letters, Winslow noted that her advocacy for education made her wary of Klansman activity. She left the southern United States in 1916 to avoid raising her children in segregation, moving to Springfield, Massachusetts, and eventually settling in Detroit, Michigan, where she continued to teach until her retirement. In 1954, she wrote to a UNB classmate, “In looking over these fifty years, I realize I have failed in the shining ideals I had at graduation – ‘to follow knowledge, like a shining star, beyond the utmost bounds of human thought.’ I am comforted, however, with remembering the hundreds of young people I have contacted during these short years… I like to think that to some of them I have given part of the two most precious gifts UNB gave to me – the ability to think and a clear knowledge of the freedom of thought.”

Birthdate: 1938
Location: born Saint John, N.B.
Significance: Community activist

Ralph ‘Tiger’ Thomas, born and raised in Saint John, has been active in the history of Black New Brunswickers, believing it to be integral to the heritage and fabric of New Brunswick. He became president of the organization, Pride of Race, Unity and Dignity through Education (PRUDE), in 1997, a group focused on creating inclusion through programs and mentorships throughout the province. He co-founded the New Brunswick Black History Society and was successful in the efforts to get New Brunswick to change racist geographic names of 5 places in the Saint John and Grand Bay-Westfield areas. Before his activism, Thomas was a successful boxer, known as ‘Tiger,’ and is considered the godfather of amateur boxing in New Brunswick. He retired from the sport at age 26, and founded the New Brunswick Amateur Boxing Association, serving as its president for 20 years. He opened the Golden Gloves Club in 1968, where several Saint John pupils have won both national and international boxing titles. Thomas was inducted into the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame in 1976, the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 2000, received the New Brunswick Human Rights Award in 2012, and granted an honorary doctorate from the University of New Brunswick in 2019.

Birthdate: 1935
Location: born Fredericton, N.B.
Significance: First Black player in the NHL

Born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Willie O’Ree became the first Black player in the National Hockey League (NHL) when he debuted in 1958 while playing for the Boston Bruins. He had a decorated professional career spanning over twenty years and across several teams. O’Ree was inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1984, and received the Order of Canada in 2008. In 2018, O’Ree was honoured in the Hockey Hall of Fame, recognized as a ‘Builder’ within the sport. The same year, the NHL instituted the annual Willie O’Ree Hero Award in his name, to “recognize the individual who has worked to make a positive impact on his or her community, culture or society to make people better through hockey.” As of May 2019, a bill in the 116th United States Congress is being authorized to award O’Ree the Congressional Gold Medal, “in recognition of his contributions and commitment to hockey, inclusion, and recreational opportunity.” Reflecting on his experience with racism in his sport, O’Ree stated, “[I]t didn’t bother me, I just wanted to be a hockey player, and if they couldn’t accept that fact, that was their problem, not mine.”

Birthdate: born 1828-1901
Location: Saint Andrews, N.B.
Significance: Artist

Edward Mitchell Bannister was a celebrated artist of the 19th century, having been born in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, and spending much of his adult life in New England. Bannister was a Tonalist painter, known for his detailed landscape scenes featuring dark hues and quiet nature. He became an art sensation when his painting, “Under the Oaks,” won a medal at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial. During his lifetime, Bannister was an outspoken advocate for the abolition of slavery in the United States and greater racial inclusion in American fine arts. Despite prejudice and bigotry during his career, he was and today remains celebrated as a talented painter. His work, “The Farm Landing,” is part of a 450-piece permanent art collection at the White House in Washington, DC, listed as one of only five paintings by Black artists, while Bannister Gallery, Rhode Island College’s central fine arts exhibition hall, is named in his honour. Several of Bannister’s paintings are also on display in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, with other individual works in galleries and personal collections around the world.

Birthdate: 1739-1792
Location: Born in Nigeria
Significance: Black Loyalist leader

Thomas Peters was a Black Loyalist leader, born in Nigeria and brought to Colonial America as a slave. During the American Revolutionary War, Peters escaped enslavement and joined the Loyalist cause, joining the Black Pioneers, a unit made up of formerly enslaved men. The British government had previously promised freedom for all enslaved peoples who fought against the American patriots, prompting many to leave their owners and join the Loyalist forces. After the war, Peters moved to the province of Nova Scotia (which included New Brunswick until 1784), with ~3,000 other Black Loyalists, many of them formerly enslaved people. When the British government failed to uphold their promises of land grants to Black Loyalist settlers, Peters travelled around the Maritimes, even across the Atlantic to London, to petition on behalf of the community. In 1792, when the grievances of Black Loyalists in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were still not acknowledged, he organized the migration of 1,190 community members, departing from Halifax for Freetown, Sierra Leone. He remained a leader in the newly-founded colony until his death. Peters is considered to be one of the ‘Founding Fathers’ of Sierra Leone, and his statue was erected in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 2011, to honour his legacy.

Birthdate: James Douglass Bohee (1844-1897), George Bohee (1857-1930)
Location: Indiantown, N.B.
Significance: Musicians

The Bohee Brothers, James Douglass and George, were respected banjoists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Records indicate that James was a self-taught musician, and could not read printed music. In 1879, the Bohees moved from New Brunswick to the United States and worked for a touring minstrel show. In 1881, their troupe went to London to perform, where the brothers then stayed and created their own business, the “Bohee Brothers Coloured Minstrel Company.” The Bohee Brothers continued to live in London when not on tour, making their livings as performers, promoters, composers and music teachers. The brothers taught private banjo lessons to many middle and upper-class Victorians of the time, including then Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. They were amongst the earliest Black musicians to have recorded their music, some of which survives in British archives. Following James’ death, George continued to perform, teach and record music. An obituary for James in 1897 described the duo as “the best banjoists in the world.”

Birthdate: 1857-1909
Location: Kars, N.B.
Significance: Canada’s first Afro-Canadian lawyer

Abraham Beverley Walker was a lawyer and publisher, born and raised in Kars, New Brunswick. He was educated in a one-room schoolhouse in rural New Brunswick and went on to study at the National University School of Law, in Washington, DC, a prestigious program at the time. In 1881, Walker was admitted as a solicitor to the Supreme Court of New Brunswick, making him the first Black Canadian-born lawyer in the country. He opened a law practice in Saint John and took courses at the Saint John Law School when it opened in 1892, making him among its first students to enroll, as well as its first student of colour. Despite his high education and tenacity, Walker’s legal career was deeply affected by New Brunswick’s colour-line, suffering ridicule by white lawyers in open court and unable to acquire white clients. He was promised consideration for Queen’s Counsel and King’s Counsel positions but later excluded on account of his race. Walker was also the first Black magazine publisher in Canada when, in February 1903, he began publishing “Neith,” a magazine aimed at not only improving civil rights but also discussing topics such as literature, politics, science, and economics. In 2019, Walker was honoured posthumously with the Order of New Brunswick.

Birthdate: 1951-2007
Location: Born in Guyana, lived in Fredericton, N.B.
Significance: Documentary filmmaker

Errol Williams was a Black pioneer filmmaker, writer, director and producer who was born in Guyana, and later immigrated to Fredericton. Williams was introduced to filmmaking in the late 1980s, where he became involved in the New Brunswick Filmmakers’ Co-operative over the course of his career. Williams’ body of work included eight films, focused primarily on race, civil rights and Black history. Williams is best known for his work, Echoes in the Rink: The Willie O’Ree Story (1997), which was included at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1998, making it the only New Brunswick Film to be accepted that year. When Voices Rise: Dismantling Segregation in a Polite Society (2001) premiered at the 5th Annual Bermuda International Film Festival, where it won the Audience Choice Award. His film, Walking on a Sea of Glass (2006), a documentary following activist Kingsley Tweed and desegregation in Bermuda, won the Best Black Filmmaker Award and Best Film/Video on Matters Relating to the Black Experience/Marginalized People at the 2006 Black International Cinema Awards. Williams was also sought out to document the history of the Bermuda Industrial Union in 2007; the film was completed posthumously. The New Brunswick Filmmaking Co-operative now awards a documentary film prize in his name.

Birthdate: 1915-2003
Location: Saint John, N.B.
Significance: Civil rights activist

Lena O’Ree was a civil rights activist in New Brunswick, challenging social conventions and advocating for equal rights for the Black community since childhood. As a teen, O’Ree had tried to join her local Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), but the organization told her they would not make concessions for one Black woman. She then organized her friends to join and returned; O’Ree and her fellow Black women became the first Black members of the YWCA in Canada. In the early 1950s, O’Ree was employed as an elevator attendant at the Admiral Beatty Hotel in Saint John. Following the social boundaries of racial segregation, hotel policy stated that Black staff and guests were required to use the back doors of the hotel. O’Ree refused, continually using the front doors until the hotel was forced to change its rule. O’Ree was later a lifetime member of Pride of Race, Unity and Dignity through Education (PRUDE), and relentlessly continued her work on racial equality in New Brunswick. She was honoured in 1998 by the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission for a lifetime of contributions. David Peters of PRUDE noted that “Mrs. O’Ree was just an ordinary person who decided she would no longer accept the indignity of segregation.” In 2003, the Telegraph Journal described her as Saint John’s “greatest pioneer for racial equality.”

Birthdate: 1926-1975
Location: Saint John, N.B.
Significance: Civil rights activist

Joseph Drummond was a civil rights activist in the 1960s and 1970s, known locally and nationally for his advocacy. In 1964, while leader of the New Brunswick Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NBAACP), Drummond and other activists staged a ‘sit-in’ at a barbershop in Haymarket Square in Saint John, N.B.. The white shop-owner proudly proclaimed that he had “never cut a coloured person’s hair in 55 years,” and refused to serve Drummond and other Black men. The protest made national headlines, leading the owner to revise his position. Throughout the 1960s, Drummond worked closely with other Black leaders in the Maritimes to address civil rights violations. He was an outspoken advocate for Saint John’s Black community and devoted to rights and fair treatment of Black people incarcerated at Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick. In 1970, Drummond presented to the Special Senate Committee on Poverty on racist hiring practices, representing the NBAACP. At the time of his death, Drummond was Vice-Chairman of the National Black Coalition of Canada. Buddy Daye, Board Member of the Black United Front of Nova Scotia, recalled that “Joe Drummond was a drum major of justice, equality and the affairs of Black people.”

Birthdate: 1930- (?)
Location: Saint John, N.B.
Significance: Television producer

Miss Betty Riley was a trailblazing television producer from New Brunswick. She later moved to Montreal, QC, and worked as an office supervisor for cable TV. Riley noted that, while there was increasing advocacy for recognizing ethnic diversity, “nothing was being done about Blacks. So I took it on myself to do something about it.” Riley became Canada’s first Black woman television producer when she created a television program titled “Black Is.” “Black Is,” airing in the 1970s, was Canada’s first all-Black television program and dealt with contemporary issues affecting the Black community, discussing topics such as police brutality and discriminatory immigration policies. Riley also engaged in community work and ran a television workshop to teach Black youth the basics of production, and give them the tools to craft their own narratives of the Black experience in Canada. Riley was an outspoken advocate for racial and gender equality in the workplace, as a Black woman working in a white- and male- dominated field. She stated, “women’s liberation is not my struggle. Black women never fought for the right to work. They had no choice. They had to work.”

Birthdate: June 28, 1977
Location: Fredericton, N.B.
Significance: Opera and concert singer

Measha Brueggergosman, descended from Black Loyalists, grew up in Fredericton, New Brunswick, singing at her local Baptist church. She studied voice and piano from the age of seven and spent summers on scholarships at the Boston Conservatory. She later went on to earn a Bachelor of Music from the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree at the Robert Schumann University of Music and Media in Dusseldorf, Germany. In 1998, Brueggergosman starred in the premiere of the opera, Beatrice Chancy, which was filmed for the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC). Brueggergosman has performed with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and at the famed Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. She has had numerous international appearances in various productions and concerts and performed the Olympic Hymn at the opening ceremonies at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. A recipient of the prestigious Canada Council of the Arts, Brueggergosman is also a member of the Canadian charity, “Artists against Racism,” and works alongside the African Medical and Research Foundation. In 2005, Brueggergosman was featured as a soloist in recording William Bolcom’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, which won three Grammy Awards, including Best Classical Album. Brueggergosman has been nominated for two Juno Awards, winning once for Classical Album of the Year in 2010. When granted an honorary doctorate from Concordia University in 2017, Brueggergosman was declared a critically acclaimed singer and philanthropist and “one of Canada’s greatest ambassadors.”

Birthdate: 1762 (alleged)
Location: Maryland and New Brunswick
Significance: Sued for her freedom

Nancy Morton was allegedly born to an African enslaved women in Maryland but was brought to New Brunswick in 1785 with Captain Caleb Jones, her owner. Nancy ran away from his estate in Nashwaaksis, New Brunswick sometime around 1786, along with her four-year-old son and five other enslaved people. After recapture, Nancy went to court to sue Jones for her freedom, represented by well-known lawyers Ward Chipman and Samuel Denny Street. Her suit was ultimately unsuccessful, and she was forced back into enslavement for fifteen years. Nancy’s case was brought before the Supreme Court of New Brunswick in 1800, where it reached an ineffective split-decision. At the time, there was no existing New Brunswick legislation on slavery, meaning the court could not prove the legal existence of slavery as an institution, nor could it prove Nancy’s freedom. The Trial of Nancy Morton vs. Capt. Caleb Jones played a significant role in the future of abolition in New Brunswick and marked an unofficial decline in the popularity of slavery in the province. The details of Nancy’s life following her trial, or the lives of the other enslaved people she escaped with, remain unknown.

Birthdate: 1863-1955
Location: St. George’s, Bermuda
Significance: First Black person to Attend UNB

Arthur St. George Richardson was born in St. George’s Bermuda, emigrating to Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1878. He enrolled at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, in 1883. Richardson graduated in 1886 with Honours in Classics, winning several scholarships and leading his class in Greek. He was the first Black student at the University of New Brunswick, as well as the first Black person to graduate from a post-secondary institution in the Maritimes. He went on to become an educator, first teaching at the Wilberforce Collegiate Institute in Chatham, Ontario, where he later served as principal. After emigrating to the United States, Richardson served as President of Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia, for ten years (1888-1898). He was also President of Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida, for five years (1898-1903). Both Morris Brown College and Edward Waters College are historically Black institutions and continue to operate today. Richardson was appointed to both positions by Bishop G.W. Gaines, an active advocate for African-American education initiatives in the late nineteenth century. Richardson also authored several publications on race and racism, arguing that education is vital in battling inequality and discrimination.

Birthdate: 1887-1987
Location: Saint John, N.B.
Significance: Trailblazing civil servant and poet

Anna Minerva Henderson was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, her father, an African American Civil War veteran and her mother, a school teacher. She later won a scholarship to attend Teacher’s College in Halifax, but upon obtaining her teaching certificate, was only allowed to teach in Black communities at the primary level. Frustrated with her employment opportunities, Henderson completed a business program and wrote the federal civil service exam, scoring one of the top marks. In 1912, She became the first Black woman appointed to the permanent Canadian civil service in Ottawa when she worked as a stenographer in the Dominion Land Branch of the Department of the Interior, and later the Immigration Board of the Department of Mines and Sources. During her thirty-year career working in Ottawa, Henderson wrote poetry, contributing to the Ottawa Citizen, the Canadian Poetry Magazine, and a handful of other published anthologies. Upon retiring from the Canadian civil service in 1945, she moved to Washington, DC, where she was employed at the American University. Anna Minerva Henderson returned to New Brunswick, and in 1967, self-published a small book of poems titled Citadel. Her publication of about twenty poems made her the first Canadian-born Black woman to publish a book of poetry. She continued her formal education in her later years by taking creative writing courses at the University of New Brunswick.

Birthdate: 1918-2011
Location: Fredericton, N.B.
Significance: Professional athlete

Vincent ‘Manny’ McIntyre was a skilled athlete in baseball and hockey, born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He served in the Second World War with the Lanark Renfrew Scottish Regiment. In 1946, he became the first Black Canadian to play professional baseball for the Sherbrooke Canadiens, a farm team for the St. Louis Cardinals. McIntyre also played hockey for the Sherbrooke Saints as part of the famed ‘Black Aces.’ The Black Aces, including McIntyre and brothers Herb and Ozzie Carnegie, made up the first all-Black line in professional hockey. Together, the Black Aces travelled and played hockey across North America, and went to France, making them the first Black hockey players to compete in Europe. While playing in Sherbrooke, the Black Aces dominated the league, and all three players were consistently among the top ten scorers. Officials, fellow players and fans widely agree that had it not been for the ‘Colour Line’ of racial prejudice in sports, the Black Aces would have been able to compete on any team, at any level, including the National Hockey League (NHL). McIntyre was elected into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1997, and inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2015, posthumously. Former teammate Herb Carnegie stated, “I always admired Manny because his presence on the team was one of great joy for all the players. If something was to go in a certain positive direction, it might have been Manny who caused it.”

Birthdate: 1918-1999
Location: Saint John, N.B.
Significance: Labour leader and politician

Fred Hodges grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick, a descendant of Black Loyalists. During the Second World War, Hodges served as a radio-telephone operator for the Royal Canadian Air Force. After military service, Hodges was active in labour movements, being the first Black member of the freight handlers union in Saint John. In 1962, Hodges became the first Black person to serve as an officer of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour; he was later elected vice-president of the Federation in 1969. In 1964, Hodges was elected president of the Saint John District Labour Council, a position he held for over a decade. He later served as vice-president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour. Hodges was also active on initiatives for human rights and civil liberties and was an important member of the New Brunswick Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NBAACP). He was appointed the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission and director of the John Howard Society; a community organization focused on assisting those in conflict with the law. He became the first Black New Brunswicker to serve as a city councillor when he was elected in Saint John in 1974. Hodges was also awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 1978, the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest distinction, in 1982, and an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of New Brunswick in 1984. When asked about his philosophy, Hodges stated, “accomplish what you can accomplish, then get a good night’s sleep.”

Birthdate: 1937-2013
Location: Litchfield, N.S.
Significance: Royal Canadian Air Force pilot

Born in Nova Scotia, Walter Peters’ family relocated to Saint John, New Brunswick, where he attended Saint John High School. He later attended Mount Allison University on an athletic scholarship for football, earning a degree in engineering. At age 24, Peters enrolled in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), and completed the training course with top honours, becoming the first Canadian-born Black jet fight pilot in RCAF history. In addition to his distinguished RCAF career, Peters was the first Human Rights Officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, and an advisor to the United Nations Security Council at UN headquarters in New York, New York. Peters was also the first president of the New Brunswick Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NBAACP) and was outspoken about racism and discrimination in aviation and the armed forces. Following his retirement from the RCAF in 1984, Peters worked for the Canadian Aviation Safety Board and Transport Canada. Walter Peters Drive at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport is named in his memory. In an interview with Mount Allison University’s alumni magazine, Peters stated, “You don’t have to accept me, but you do have to respect me.”

Birthdate: 1930-2019
Location: Saint John, N.B.
Significance: Educator and civil rights activist

Descended from Black Loyalists, Dr. Constance Timberlake grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick. After working at a paintbrush manufacturer, Dr. Timberlake soon left her job and moved to the United States to become a teacher. On August 21st, 1963, Dr. Timberlake led a protest as head of the Kansas City Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a leading organization in the early civil rights movement; sixteen Black and white protestors demonstrated against an amusement park’s ban on Black patrons. Timberlake reflected that, “white patrons acted badly. They threw stones at us. The language was frightening and I’m being polite.” Though their demonstration only entailed lying on the ground in defiance, police arrested all of the protestors on charges of disturbing the peace; while in the back of police vans, the group sang freedom songs. Dr. Timberlake remained devoted to civil rights and education, being an active part of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASLAH) and acting on local school boards. Dr. Timberlake earned her Ph.D. at Syracuse University, where she was also a faculty member and the university’s Commissioner of Education. Dr. Timberlake later served on the National Advisory Council for Continuing Education in the United States, first appointed by President Jimmy Carter, and reappointed by President Ronald Reagan. She received many distinguished awards, including the international Who’s Who World Women recognition, and Post-Standard Award for Women of Achievement in Education.

Birthdate: Unknown
Location: Pictou, N.S.
Significance: Entrepreneur

Georgina Whetsel was a businesswoman who owned and operated an ice business, located on Lily Lake, New Brunswick. She took over the company from her husband, Robert, following his death in 1884. Whetsel’s ice business supplied to households across Saint John; in 1894, her company moved and housed approximately 8,000 tons of ice, employing more than 60 men, Black and white, as part of extraction and delivery crews. In addition to winter operations, Whetsel owned three ice storage houses, enabling her company to continue to sell ice throughout the warmer months of the year. During the 1880s-1890s, Whetsel frequently wrote to the Saint John Daily Telegraph in protest of racial discrimination and sexism in business and the Saint John community and was outspoken against local displays of blackface. In 1895, Whetsel was featured in Woman’s Era, a monthly newspaper based out of Boston, Massachusetts, which was the first national newspaper published by and for African-American women. At the time of selling her company in the early 1900s, Georgina Whetsel is believed to have been the wealthiest Black woman in North America.

Birthdate: 1915-2001
Location: Saint John, N.B.
Significance: Community activist and educator

Clifford ‘Nick’ Skinner was born and raised in Saint John, New Brunswick, where he attended Saint John Vocational School. Skinner was a track star in high school, known as ‘The Coloured Flash”; he won the 1935 provincial championship in sprinting and set several records in long jump and broad jump, records which went unbroken for decades. After graduating, Skinner owned and operated his own metal-works company in Saint John. He later taught welding and ironwork at the Saint John campus of the New Brunswick Community College for nearly twenty years. Skinner founded New Brunswick’s Provincial Resources of Black Energy (PROBE) and was involved in the creation of Pride of Race, Unity and Dignity through Education (PRUDE). He was also a local authority in New Brunswick Black history, serving as the chairman of the 1792-1992 Sierra Leone Nova Scotia and New Brunswick Celebration, commemorating the exodus of Black Loyalist Settlers to Freetown, Sierra Leone, led by Thomas Peters. In 1999, Skinner was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of New Brunswick, Saint John, as Dr. Clifford Skinner, Doctor of Letters. He had four sons and a daughter, including Canadian Football League player Chris Skinner, and Robert Skinner, a successful business owner in Saint John.

Birthdate: Dec. 18, 1961
Location: Saint John, N.B.
Significance: Professional athlete

Chris Skinner is a retired professional football player, born in Saint John, New Brunswick, the son of community activist and educator, Clifford ‘Nick’ Skinner. Skinner was a star running back and receiver, having played at Simonds High School in Saint John. He had a standout varsity career at Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Quebec, winning All-Star and MVP honours. The Edmonton Eskimos selected Skinner during the first round of the 1984 Canadian Football League (CFL) Draft. After an exceptional season in 1986, Skinner was nominated for the annual CFL Schenley Award, recognizing the most outstanding player in the league. He and the Eskimos went on to win the Grey Cup CFL Championship in 1987. He had a CFL career spanning eight seasons and three teams, also playing for the Ottawa Rough Riders and British Columbia Lions. Skinner was inducted into the Saint John Sports Hall of Fame in 1997, and the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. Known for his tenacity and hard work, in the words of one reporter, Skinner is “the best football player ever developed in New Brunswick.”

Birthdate: Unknown
Location: Saint John, N.B.
Significance: Military service

Known as the Carty Brothers, Adolphus, William, Clyde, Donald, and Gerald were the eldest five of seven brothers from Saint John, New Brunswick. They were the sons of Albert Carty, who served in the First World War as part of the No. 2 Construction Battalion. All five brothers served as airmen despite discrimination and racial policies which restricted Black men’s service in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Flight Sergeant Adolphus Carty, the eldest, was an airplane mechanic. Flight Sergeant William Carty was an aeronautical inspector while Leading Aircraftman Clyde Carty had initially been in the Army’s coastal artillery, though he later became an Air Force firefighter. Aircraftman (2nd Class) Donald Carty was an equipment assistant. Gerald Carty, the youngest, enlisted at age 18; he completed training at the top of his class, going on to become one of the youngest commissioned officers in the RCAF. In keeping with family tradition, the two youngest brothers who remained at home during the war, Robert and Malcolm, were members of the Army and Air cadets. All five brothers who served survived the war and returned home to their community.

Birthdate: ~1753-1801
Location: Unknown
Significance: Black loyalist leader

Richard Corankapoon Wheeler was a Black Loyalist leader of the late eighteenth century. Before the American Revolution, Corankapoon was enslaved to Caleb Wheeler of New Jersey. In 1776, one year into the war, Corankapoon purchased his own freedom, going on to serve the British Loyalist side, though his role during the revolution remains unknown. Though he did not technically escape enslavement, Corankapoon registered in the Book of Negroes in 1783 along with ~3,000 other Black Loyalists, many of whom did escape slavery. Regardless, he was entitled to freedom and land grants upon emigrating to New Brunswick (then Nova Scotia) in 1783. Corankapoon was allocated a plot of land in the Westfield-Grand Bay Area along Richards Lake (then Negro Lake), with 35 other Black Loyalist settlers. Able to read and write, he authored petitions on behalf of his community in protest of the disproportionate acreage and land quality between Black and white loyalists (Black loyalists received ~1/3 the size of land received by white loyalists, in poorer quality areas). Corankapoon continued to petition for greater rights and assistance for his community throughout the 1780s. He then left for Halifax in 1791 and departed for Sierra Leone, amongst 1,190 other Black Loyalists of the Maritimes, led by Thomas Peters. He helped build the community of Freetown, Sierra Leone, serving as the town’s Marshal and inspector of farms. He also funded and oversaw the building of Freetown’s largest cargo-ship at the time.

Birthdate: 1880-1960
Location: Saint John, N.B.
Significance: World champion sprinter

Eldridge ‘Gus’ Eatman is considered to be one of the greatest sprinters of the early twentieth century, hailing from Saint John, New Brunswick. His first well-known victory came when he defeated world champion and later US Olympic coach, Tom Keen of the United States in 1903 at Moosepath, Saint John, N.B.. In 1905, Eatman was listed as the fastest Canadian over 120-yards, and in 1906, won the Powderhall Trophy, a contemporary equivalent to the world championship, in Edinburgh Scotland. He won various events across North America and Europe, defeating other athletes from around the world. Following his career athletics, Eatman served the First World War as an infantryman. He is also known for working to recruit volunteers and raise funds in the Saint John area to combat Fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Eatman was inducted into the Saint John Sports Hall of Fame in 2002, the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 2016, and the Maritime Sports Hall of Fame in 2019, all posthumously. Maurice Eatman, Eldridge’s cousin who is working hard to revive his legacy, remembers Eatman as “the greatest [athlete] ever produced out of New Brunswick for his era.”

Birthdate: 1920-1943
Location: Fredericton, N.B.
Significance: WWII military leader

Arthur Wallace ‘Duke’ Eatman was a non-commissioned officer in the Second World War and son of First World War veteran, James Eatman. Duke attended Charlotte Street School in Fredericton, New Brunswick, believed to have been amongst the school’s first Black students following its integration. In September of 1939, Duke, aged nineteen, enlisted in the Canadian Army almost immediately after the British declaration of war against Germany. He joined the Carleton and York Regiment, a permanent unit formed in New Brunswick’s Saint John River Valley. The unit was then sent overseas to Europe with the 1st Canadian Division, in December of 1939. While serving in the United Kingdom, Duke was promoted to a non-commissioned officer, leading approximately 30 men, most of whom were white. Duke and the Carleton and York Regiment were then deployed during Operation Husky, a planned Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943 with a combined force of 160,000 Commonwealth and American troops. Duke was killed in action while leading a patrol, at age 23; he is buried in the Agira Canadian War Cemetery in Enna, Sicily. Despite the Canadian Army’s lack of any formalized policy restricting Black leadership, Duke remains amongst the only visible examples of a Black non-commissioned officer serving in a non-segregated unit.

Birthdate: Dec. 24, 1955
Location: Woodstock, N.B.
Significance: Community activist and scholar

Mary Louise McCarthy is a local scholar who works tirelessly to restore and uncover New Brunswick’s Black histories and honour the community’s ancestors. Her research is focused primarily on forgotten and segregated graveyards across New Brunswick. In addition to her scholarship, McCarthy also served as the president of the New Brunswick Black History Society for six years. In 2015, McCarthy won a human rights case against Shoppers Drug Mart for an incident of racial profiling that occurred in 2011. McCarthy’s work is featured in the 2019 collection, Black Writers Matter, edited by Whitney French with a foreword by Afua Cooper. McCarthy holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from York University, two Master’s degrees from the University of New Brunswick, and is currently completing her Ph.D. in the department of Social Justice at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. When asked why she is so dedicated to preserving the histories of Black New Brunswickers, McCarthy stated, “I want my ancestors to be revered and respected. I have to tell their stories.”

Birthdate: 1932
Location: Truro, Nova Scotia
Significance: Trailblazer in telecommunications and electronics

Though born in Nova Scotia, Skip Talbot was raised in New Brunswick. He attended Saint John Vocational School, where he established a certified proficiency in radio in 1953. Skip went on to begin a nearly 30-year career in telecommunications and electronics, working for Transport Canada in Quebec, Labrador and New Brunswick. His employment made him the first Black person in Canada to hold the position of Radio Operator / Flight Service Specialist for Transport Canada. Skip was also the first Black Canadian to hold a bilingual position as a Maintenance Supervisor in Communications. Committed to anti-racism, equality and cross-cultural understanding, Skip has served in an executive role for the Multicultural Association of Greater Moncton and the New Brunswick Multicultural Council. Skip has also been a part of Pride of Race, Unity and Dignity through Education (PRUDE), and has served several initiatives briefing governments and the Canadian Bar Association on anti-racism and social justice causes.

Birthdate: 1870-1897
Location: Dorchester, New Brunswick
Significance: First Black Maritime-born person to graduate from a Maritime post-secondary institution

Raised in Dorchester, New Brunswick, Lalia Halfkenny was the first Black person born in the Maritimes to graduate from a post-secondary institution in the region. She attended Acadia Ladies’ College (Wolfville, Nova Scotia), an affiliate of Acadia University, graduating in 1889. Halfkenny predates other Black Maritimers who attended universities in the region, including Acadia University’s Edwin Howard Borden (1892) and Dalhousie’s James Robinson Johnston (1896). Only Arthur St. George Richardson, who graduated from the University of New Brunswick in 1886, attended a Maritime institution before her, though he was born in Bermuda. When leaving Acadia Ladies’ College, Halfkenny was one of the top students in her year, noted as a gifted orator and elocutionist. She then moved to Richmond, Virginia, where she began her career as an educator, teaching English and elocution at Hartshorn Memorial College, a historically Black college focused on women’s education. Hartshorn was amongst the most prestigious institutions in its day, producing some of the highest-ranked students in the country, Black or white. At the time of being hired, Halfkenny was one of only two Black teaching faculty at Hartshorn. She later fell ill and passed away at age 27; her students in Virginia held a large service in her memory, though her formal funeral took place in Wolfville, NS.

Birthdate: 1911-2004
Location: Gagetown, N.B.
Significance: The Whistling Banjoman

George Hector was a musician and entertainer and one of New Brunswick’s most well-known and respected artists. Organizations such as New Brunswick Music have credited Hector with developing the country music scene of the Canadian East Coast, boasting a long career beginning in the 1930s. Self-taught, he began playing at local dance barns and small shows, eventually featured on popular radio stations such as the CFBO and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). In 1935, Don Messer, an iconic folk artist and radio host, hired Hector, and he made his first concert appearance as a professional musician. Hector then joined the Maritime Farmers in 1946; the band was regularly featured on local radio stations and appeared live across the region. Later in his career, Hector toured as a solo artist, performing original songs with jokes, singing, and whistling, becoming known as The Whistling Banjoman. Hector was one of the first artists inducted into the New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame in 1983. In addition to his contributions to New Brunswick’s country music scene, Hector’s family home, known as the Hector House, is preserved as a Local Historic Place under the Heritage Conservation Act. The home was built by George’s grandfather, Andrew Hector, in 1880, updated in 1922, and is protected for “expressing cultural and intellectual life,” and “peopling the land.” A close friend and bandmate stated that Hector was “someone you felt would live forever.”

For more information

Marie Maltais, Director
(506) 453-4623
Join our mailing list

Back to Past Exhibitions full listings