Vancouver school board approves new course called African Descent History in British Columbia 12

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      British Columbia has a vibrant Black history, but it's never before been the topic of an entire course in the Vancouver public school system.

      That could change as early as next September as a result of a vote by trustees at the November 30 meeting. 

      The Vancouver school board unanimously approved adding African Descent History in British Columbia 12 to the list of electives. 

      District staff worked with the African Descent Society in developing the course.

      “We are proud to say this positive move will contribute toward building a development and strength-based narrative and experience for the people of African descent in Vancouver, B.C. and Canada,” says Yasin Kiraga Misago, executive and artistic director of the African Descent Society British Columbia, said in a news release.

      The next steps involve registering students, identifying teachers, and ensuring that the course is in school timetables.

      B.C.'s Black community recorded many firsts

      The first governor of the Colony of British Columbia, Sir James Douglas, was the son of a Barbadian Creole woman, Martha Ann Ritchie. (Coincidentally, the first lieutenant-governor of British Columbia, Richard Clement Moody, was also from Barbados, but he traced his ancestry back to England and the Netherlands.)

      The first Black person elected to public office in B.C. was Mifflin Gibbs, a U.S. antislavery activist who settled on Vancouver Island with many other Blacks at the invitation of Douglas.

      Gibbs was a businessman and was elected to Victoria city council in 1866. He also played a role in helping develop the terms of B.C. joining Confederation, which occurred in 1871.

      Douglas's son, James W. Douglas, was the first politician of African ancestry to be elected to the B.C. legislature. This occurred in 1875 when he represented Victoria. 

      Rosemary Brown became the first Black female MLA in Canada when she was elected to the B.C. legislature from Vancouver-Burrard in 1972. She narrowly missed becoming the first Black person to lead a major federal political party when she lost the NDP leadership race to Ed Broadbent in 1975.

      The first Black speaker of the B.C. legislature was long-time MLA and former B.C. Lion player Emery Barnes. His daughter Constance later served two terms on the Vancouver park board—the first Black elected to this position.

      B.C.'s first Black superior court judge was Selwyn Romilly, who was born in Trinidad. Romilly became a Provincial Court judge in 1974 and was elected to the province's top trial court in 1995.

      Vancouver's first official lifeguard, Joe Fortes, was also of African heritage. Born in Trinidad, he patrolled English Bay and saved 29 lives by an official count, though the real number is believed to be higher.