Last item for navigation


Windsor-Essex has a rich history of African Canadians who made their way to our area via the Underground Railroad. Many of them, and their descendants, went on to make important contributions to the spiritual, cultural, social, educational, political, and economic landscape of our region and our country. 

Read some of their stories here, as well as some from other notable Canadians who have gone above and beyond to help advance the cause of greater equity:

Leslie McCurdy
Leslie McCurdy is a Windsor born actor, dancer, singer, writer, playwright and mentor whose work has captivated audiences across the world. McCurdy obtained an honours BFA in dance at the University of Michigan. She then served as a choreographer and teaching assistant at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. She has appeared in numerous film, television and theatre productions such as The Ides of March, Detroit 187, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, Two Trains Running, Tommy, and Cabaret. She is best known as a playwright and actress having written and performed three one woman plays: The Spirit of Harriet Tubman, Things My Fore-Sisters Saw, and Lady Ain’t Singing No Blues. Her most famous play, The Spirit of Harriet Tubman, is celebrating 25 years of touring and was a finalist for a Canadian Chalmers Award for Best New Play for Young Audiences. She has won numerous awards including 2017 Vigor International Award, 2014 Mayor’s Awards for "Artist of the Year" (Windsor, ON) and 2000 Mayor’s Award for"Outstanding Performing Artist” (Windsor, ON). Leslie McCurdy comes from several generations of civil rights activists, including her father, teacher and politician, Dr. Howard McCurdy. Both she and her family have made significant contributions to our local and national history.

To learn more about Leslie McCurdy visit her website: link

You can also view a documentary made hereExternal link

Leslie McCurdy is one of many local artists shaping the Windsor-Essex community. So many talented individuals are working and creating around us. Follow the links below to learn more!

Portia White (1911-1968)
Portia White was born in Truro, Nova Scotia, the third of 13 children. Portia White began singing in her father’s Halifax church choir under her mother’s direction at age six. By the age of eight, she was singing the soprano parts from the opera Lucia de Lammermoor. She was determined to become a professional singer and walked 10 miles a week for music lessons. White started her teacher training at Dalhousie UniversityExternal link in 1929. After graduating, she became a schoolteacher in Black Nova Scotian communities such as AfricvilleExternal link and Lucasville. She continued to support her musical career by teaching and eventually made her professional debut in Toronto. Soon afterwards, she performed in New York City to rave reviews. She was considered one of the best classical singers of the 20th century. Her voice was described by one critic as “a gift from heaven.” Portia White went on to international success, performing more than 100 concerts, including a command performance before Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Angela James
Angela James
Angela James is a Black female hockey player who became known as “The Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey” by leading Team Canada to four World Championships. Toronto-based rapper and poet Keysha Freshh tells her inspiring story in this videoExternal link

Wilfred "Boomer" Harding and the “Chatham Coloured All-Stars”
(August 6, 1915 - September 14, 1991)
The “Chatham Coloured All-Stars”, a baseball team from Chatham, Ontario became the first Black team to win a provincial Ontario Baseball Amateur Association championship in 1934.

Wilfred “Boomer” Harding joined the “Chatham Coloured All-Stars” while still a teenager, helping them to win the Ontario Baseball Amateur Association Intermediate B championship in 1934. ‘Boomer’, as he was known in the community, was an all-round athlete who not only excelled in baseball, but numerous other sports throughout his life. He was a talented athlete since his high school years at Chatham Vocational High School, where he won numerous Western Ontario Secondary School Association (WOSSA) titles for pole vaulting, hockey, basketball, and soccer. During World War II, Boomer joined the Canadian Armed Forces, and served overseas. During his time with the army, he competed in athletic events, such as pole vaulting, and he also participated in a travelling hockey team intended to entertain Canadian soldiers. After returning from the war, Boomer had a tryout with the International Amateur Hockey League, earning a spot in 1946 with the Windsor Staffords, a Detroit Red Wings farm team. He was the first black player in that league (and was the first black player to skate at the Red Wings’ arena, the Olympia) at a time when only a few black players were in advanced hockey.

Source: Breaking the Colour Barrier, a partnership between the Harding family, the University of Windsor's Department of History, the Leddy Library’s Centre for Digital Scholarship, and the Chatham Sports Hall of Fame.

Wilfred "Boomer" Harding
Wilfred "Boomer" Harding

Willie O’Ree (October 15, 1935- present)
Willie O’Ree, born in Fredericton, NS, broke the colour barrier for professional hockey by being the first Black player in the NHL. He played 45 games in the NHL and then 22 years of minor league hockey. Since 1994, Willie O’Ree has been the NHL’s diversity ambassador. One of the programs O’Ree is involved with is Hockey Is for Everyone, an initiative that seeks to use the game of hockey to drive positive social change and foster more inclusive communities. He was elected to the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1984, and in 2005, was named to the Order of New Brunswick. In 2006, O’Ree was added to the Black Ice Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame. In 2008, Willie O’Ree received the Order of Canada, the highest civilian award given to a Canadian Citizen. 

Willie O'Ree's No. 22 Boston jersey was retired on Feb.18 before a Bruins home game against New Jersey. As a way to honour him and celebrate Black History Month, some NHL players are wearing a custom skate designed by Bauer featuring his likeness and favourite phrase, “All I needed was the opportunity”.

“There’s a lot of work to be done yet. There’s still a lot of boys and girls out there that need the opportunity to play, and we’ve got to give them that opportunity. You never know, they may make history.” ~ Willie O’Ree 

Willie O’Ree
Willie O’Ree

Frieda (Parker) Steele (2nd from the left)
The daughter of Alton and Evelyn Parker, Freida Steele made numerous contributions to the community.  Shortly before she graduated from Hotel Dieu Hospital (Windsor Regional Hospital) in nursing, Black Canadian women were barred from attending nursing school.  As a result of this discrimination, the case was taken to the Ontario Human Rights Commission and in 1948 Colleen L. Campbell and Marian V. Overton became the first Black women to graduate from Hotel Dieu.  It was not long after, in 1950, that Freida Steele and her nursing colleague Cecile Wright would graduate.

Dr. Eugenia Duodu Addy
Dr. Eugenia Duodu Addy is the CEO of Visions of Science Network for Learning, a charitable organization that empowers youth from low-income communities through meaningful engagement in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Born in Canada to Ghanaian parents, she grew up in Toronto Community Housing in the west end of the city, a single child in a single-parent household. As a child she enjoyed watching and learning from science focused tv programs such as The Magic School Bus and Bill Nye The Science Guy. Addy was a curious youth and filled her desire for learning by doing science experiments at home when they were not available to her at school. In high school, even though she had excellent grades, Duodu was told that she should opt for the applied (non-academic) stream. Despite this, she was encouraged to keep pursuing her interests by her mother and her science teachers. She continued to develop her passion for science and eventually obtained a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Toronto. Currently, as the CEO of Visions of Science, she leads the organization’s $1-million annual budget, a small salaried staff and 120 volunteers offering support in STEM to 1,500 students from 29 communities across Ontario.

Desmond Cole
Desmond Cole
Desmond is a Canadian journalist, activist, author, and broadcaster who lives in Toronto, Ontario. Cole was born in Red Deer, Alberta and grew up in Oshawa, Ontario. Cole works as an activist and freelance journalist in Toronto. He has written extensively about the experiences of Black Canadians and continues to document social justice issues in Toronto. His work has appeared in The Toronto Star, Toronto Life, Walrus, VICE, NOW Magazine, Torontoist, and Ethnic Aisle. His first book, The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power, was released in January 2020 and became the bestselling Canadian book that year.

Did you know that there is a documentary by Charles Officer following Cole as he researches his book exploring what it means to be Black in 21st century Canada? 

Desmond Cole

Desmond Cole

Henry and Mary Bibb
Henry and Mary Bibb came to Sandwich following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and established the Voice of the Fugitive newspaper on January 1,1851, which was the first Black newspaper in Ontario. Both Mary and Henry were anti-slavery activists and were founding directors of the Refugee Home Society which assisted freedom seekers in establishing their new lives in freedom. It was in 2002 that the Bibbs were recognized as Persons of National Historic Significance in Canada. There is also a plaque in their honour at 3277 Sandwich Street, Windsor (Sandwich). 

Did you know that a park in Sandwich Town has been renamed to honour Mary E. Bibb, a slavery abolitionist and publisher who lived in Windsor?

Mary Bibb

CBC Windsor: City of Windsor names park after slavery abolitionist, pioneering Black publisher

George Elliott Clarke (1960-present)
Born in Windsor, Nova Scotia near a Black Loyalist settlement, George Elliott Clarke’s writing is known for documenting the history and experiences of Black communities in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, coining them “Africadia”. He has also been recognized as an advocate for the study of Black Canadian literature. He was appointed to the Order of Nova Scotia (2006) and Order of Canada (2008) and served as Poet Laureate of Toronto (2012-2015) and Canadian Parliamentary Poet (2016-2017). 

As Canadian Parliamentary Poet in 2017, he created the poem “Rollcall” celebrating the history and contributions of African/Black Canadian History on the occasion of Black History Month and Canada’s 150th.

"Roll Call underlines that the history and contribution of African/Black Canadian history to our country is one of individuals working heroically in the past, dynamically in the present, and, inspired, for the future. These names represent individuals whose stories compose our history and our current struggles for triumph and success.” 

Mary Ann Shadd
Mary Ann Shadd (1823-1893)
“Self reliance is the fine road to independence.”

Mary Ann Shadd was an American-Canadian abolitionist, journalist, lawyer, and publisher. She was the first black female publisher in North America and the first female publisher of any race in Canada. 

Mary Ann Shadd was born in Wilmington, Delaware and grew up in Pennsylvania. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 her family relocated to Canada, settling in Windsor, Ontario. Once in Windsor, Shadd opened a racially integrated school for black refugees.

 Also while in Windsor, Mary Ann established The Provincial Freeman (1853-1860). The weekly publication promoted integration and equality, and featured news stories about culture, education, and politics, publicizing the successes of black persons living in freedom in Canada. 

Later, Shadd moved to Chatham, Ontario to continue teaching but ultimately returned to the United States to work as a teacher in Washington, D.C. Years after, Shadd pursued law studies at Howard University and in 1883 became one of the first Black women to complete a law degree.

Website by SchoolMessenger Presence. © 2021 Intrado Corporation. All rights reserved.