Ontario Legislature recognizes Black History Month
(Queen’s Park) – On February 27th, the Ontario Legislature recognized and celebrated Black History Month. Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott spoke on behalf of the Ontario PC Caucus.
“Once again this year, we assert with passion and conviction that Black History Month serves as a powerful reminder of the compelling life stories that inspire us to be worthy of the province we’ve inherited, through the extraordinary accomplishments, courage and sacrifices from the generations that came before us.” Mr. Arnott said in the House. “These memories compel us to take action and speak out against racism, injustice and intolerance, not just this month, but in our daily lives, whenever and wherever we encounter it.”
Mr. Arnott told the story of Richard Pierpoint, who eventually settled in Wellington County, and served in Butler’s Rangers, a Loyalist unit which fought in the American Revolution.
“We remember Richard Pierpoint, who risked his life for the crown as part of Butler’s Rangers, a Loyalist unit during the American Revolution,” Mr. Arnott went on. “When the War of 1812 began, when he was 68 years of age, nevertheless he petitioned to create an all-black militia to fight for the British. Fighting at the Battle of Queenston Heights, he was distinguished by his courage and valour. In appreciation for his service, he was granted 100 acres of land along the Grand River in Garafraxa Township, very close to where my family and I live today.”
It is believed that in the early 1830s, Richard Pierpoint lived in the Fergus area. He would have likely welcomed the first Scottish settlers to the area, and helped them survive their first Canadian winter.
(Attached are remarks from the Ontario Legislature’s recognition of Black History Month, February 27th, 2018).
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Ted Arnott, MPP
Text of remarks in the Ontario Legislature on Black History Month – February 27th, 2018
Mr. Ted Arnott: I’m pleased to rise in the House this afternoon to speak on behalf of the official opposition to recognize February as Black History Month as it draws to a close this week.
But we shouldn’t just remember black history in the month of February. We should acknowledge it all year long, every year, because, as I’ve said many times, black history is Ontario’s history. Once again, this year, we assert with passion and conviction that Black History Month serves as a powerful reminder of the compelling life stories that inspire us to be worthy of the province we’ve inherited through the extraordinary accomplishments, courage and sacrifices from the generations that came before us. These memories compel us to take action and speak out against racism, injustice and intolerance, not just this month but in our daily lives whenever and wherever we encounter it.
Most of us arrived on these shores in Canada because we wanted to come here or our ancestors chose to make a new life in Canada. But the ancestors of many black Canadians came to the Americas enchained in the holds of slave ships. This unspeakably cruel practice has been dated back as far as the 15th century and continued into the 19th century. Enslaved, so many came here against their will, but freed, they converted the violence of their capture and passage into an extraordinary will to live and a desire to help build the Canada we know today. In this sense, black history is Ontario’s history.
Black Canadians fought valiantly alongside English, French and aboriginal Canadians in the War of 1812, the Battle of Queenston Heights and the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, just to name a few.
We remember Richard Pierpoint, who risked his life for the crown as part of Butler’s Rangers, a Loyalist unit during the American Revolution. When the War of 1812 began, when he was 68 years of age, nevertheless he petitioned to create an all-black militia to fight for the British. Fighting at the Battle of Queenston Heights, he was distinguished by his courage and valour. In appreciation for his service, he was granted 100 acres of land along the Grand River in Garafraxa township, very close to where my family and I live today.
I close with a quote from one of the greatest statesmen of our time, Nelson Mandela, who left us too early almost five years ago. He once said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Let us embrace that vision. Let us come together and finish the work we’ve started so that when Ontario is spoken of around the world, it is known as a beacon of tolerance and freedom.
Hon. Michael Coteau: I rise today in the Legislature because February is Black History Month. It’s a time when we recognize and celebrate the contributions of black Ontarians and black Canadians here, across the province and across the country.
Mr. Speaker, I want to talk a little bit about Canadian music. If we look back in the past, we have people like Robert Nathaniel Dett, Portia White and Oscar Peterson, Canadians from the African diaspora who have contributed so much to music. But as a minister in this government, and as a lifelong hip hop fan, I’m going to talk about a piece of Canadian history that usually doesn’t get spoken of in a House like this. The story is the story of my youth and what influenced me and what helped define who I am today. It’s a story about the evolution of a city. It’s a story about a culture that was emerging here in the city and, of course, a sound.
I often feel proud to be part of and to be able to witness black history in the making and musical history right here in our very own city. I didn’t know it then, but I was part of a transformation that was taking place here in the city of Toronto. It was about a transformation and a rebirth of our city. My story is part of a much larger story, one that has placed Ontario on the urban music map.
My story starts about 30 years ago. It was the late 1980s, and I can remember on Saturday mornings getting up and first watching a little bit of cartoons, and then I would watch my kung fu movies, and then the most important part of the day came. It was 1 o’clock, and on CKLN 88.1, which was a Ryerson college station, I’d get my cassette player ready and put my finger on pause and I’d start to record the Fantastic Voyage.
A little bit later in my years, in the 1990s, I remember running home at 4:30. In fact, it sounds kind of strange, but my watch would be set for 4:30 for an alarm. I’d run home to watch RapCity, which was hosted at the beginning by Michael Williams and then Master T.
The Fantastic Voyage was a community radio station run by DJ Ron Nelson. I believe Ron is here today. He said he was going to be here. I hope he’s here. He spun a variety of music genres, and the show was credited with influencing the growth of Toronto’s hip hop scene, introducing Canadians, Torontonians, to American artists and giving local artists like Melody MC aka Wes Williams aka Maestro Fresh Wes—who evolved into Canada’s first commercially successful rapper.
For me and for many others too, the Fantastic Voyage was the only way we could hear that amazing sound called rap music that was emerging all around the world. Getting hold of records back then was difficult, and getting any radio play was even more difficult, but DJ Ron Nelson helped change that. He set up the jam line, a 24-hour recording line that provided listeners with information about dances, events and concerts. He connected us to the sound. He plugged us into the scene. He travelled to America to secure acts. Largely thanks to him, I can remember how that music changed my neighbourhood and how it made me feel. It made me feel proud because I was part of something.
I can remember listening to artists like Boogie Down Productions, NWA, KRS-One and Public Enemy. It made me feel like I was part of something special that advocated for justice, for self-awareness, for resiliency and, really, for survival. It was the most powerful sound in my generation, and often it was discounted by many as a gimmick or a fad. In fact, rap music automatically gained some powerful adversaries. It was a time when mainstream radio, television and the entertainment industry snubbed the sound. Internationally, politicians looked at ways to dismantle it. Criticism came from all different directions.
Despite being the unwanted child of the music industry, artists were selling millions of copies without any mainstream radio play. Even more importantly, they were capturing the hearts and minds of millions internationally.
Canada was no stranger to the sound. Mr. Speaker, I can remember being in London, England, when I was a young man and turning on the radio station and seeing the Dream Warriors perform in England. I remember that band because they were from the Jane and Finch—I believe Willowdale—community, and they hit the top 20 in England. I’ll tell you, being from Toronto, being a young black man from Canada, being in London at the time and knowing that the Dream Warriors were representing my city made me feel special. Their first two singles sold close to, I think, roughly about one million copies. I was so proud to be in England and to feel a bit at home.
I can remember how it made me feel to listen to Canadian hip hop and urban music pioneers like Maestro Fresh Wes, Main Source, Michie Mee, who is joining us here today, and so many others.
Mr. Speaker, Canadian hip hop culture kept moving forward, evolving, and many stepped up to carry the banner—artists like Kardinal Offishall, who is joining us here today, who was the first rapper in Canadian history to top the Billboard Hot 100 in America. We had artists like k-os. We had the Rascalz. From my very own neighbourhood, we had Adrian “JB” Homer, who’s joining me here today. These were folks who picked up the banner and moved forward. It was because of their success that we saw other things develop. We saw Flow 93.5 become a reality here in the city of Toronto because of the momentum they were building.
Here we are, 30 years later, and rap music is still dominating all the charts internationally, with no sign of slowing down. Early this year, Nielsen music reported that for the first time in US history, hip hop is the most commercially dominant genre in the music industry—not bad for a sound that was made up by a bunch of poor black kids with some old records, a couple of record players and some microphones.
Mr. Speaker, two years ago, when I was in LA meeting with film, television and music executives, seven of the top 10 Billboard artists were Canadian. Their sound was urban, and they were all from Ontario, including Drake, who was the most streamed artist in the world that year. I was proud to be connected to a city that was dominating the American and international music charts. Toronto now benefits from that reputation as an emerging powerhouse of a city.
Toronto is a world-class city like New York, London, Tokyo, and one of the reasons for this success is because of our thriving culture sector, with our urban sound leading the way. Rap industry pioneers in the 1980s like Ron Nelson, Master T and a host of others never received the respect they deserved for their talent from outside their peer groups. We should celebrate their contribution to making this city what it is today. As we celebrate our latest cultural success through artists like The Weeknd, Drake, Jazz Cartier, Jessie Reyez and Daniel Caesar, respect is due for those who laid the foundation and broke the ground here in Toronto and those who transferred us into this new era of music. Toronto is the city that it is because of them—those who paved the way for artists from all across our province to raise their voice not only to be heard, but respected and revered from communities across Ontario.
You can go anywhere across this province, you can go anywhere across this country, in the smallest town, and there will be a kid who is making music and rapping, and it’s because of our pioneers here today.
I just want to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has joined us here today in the east members’ gallery. Thank you for everything you’ve done to make Ontario a better place and to make Canada a better place for all of us by working so hard—30-plus years ago—to bring us to where we are today, to making Ontario the best place in the world to live. On behalf of the government of Ontario, thank you very much.
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Ted Arnott, MPP