Sunday, August 16, 2015

A00516 - Lincoln Alexander, Canada's First African Canadian Member of Parliament

Lincoln MacCauley Alexander (January 21, 1922, Toronto, Ontario, Canada – October 19, 2012) was a Canadian politician and statesman who served as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, the federal Minister of Labour, and later as the 24th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, from 1985 to 1991. Alexander was also a governor of the Canadian Unity Council.

Alexander was born in a row house on Draper Street in Toronto, Ontario, to Mae Rose, who migrated from Jamaica, and Lincoln Alexander, Sr., a porter on the Canadian Pacific Railway who came to Canada from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Alexander went to Earl Grey Public and Riverdale Collegiate.  As a teen Alexander moved to Harlem with his older half-brother Ridley and his mother after she was the victim of a violent altercation with his father. In New York he went to DeWitt Clinton High School, but returned to Canada in 1939. He first distinguished himself in service to Canada in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. After the war, Alexander completed his studies at Hamilton Central Collegiate and then to McMaster University in 1946 to study economics and history. Alexander graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto in 1953. He then practiced law in Hamilton with the firms Okuloski & Okuloski; Duncan & Alexander; and Millar, Alexander, Tokiwa & Issacs.
In 1968, Alexander ran in the Canadian federal election as the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada candidate in the Hamilton West electoral district.  He won, becoming Canada's first Member of Parliament of African descent. He held the seat through four successive elections until stepping down in 1980.
While in office, he spoke to the press about then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's alleged profanity in the fuddle duddle incident and was an observer to the United Nations in 1976 and 1978. In the brief government headed by Joe Clark from 1979 to 1980, Alexander served as Minister of Labour. He resigned his seat in 1980 to serve as chairman of the Ontario Workers' Compensation Board. 
In 1985, on the advice of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Governor Jeanne Sauve appointed Alexander as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. He became the first person of African descent to serve in a viceregal position in Canada. (James Douglas, who was of mixed descent, was Governor of Vancouver Island and of British Columbia prior to Canadian Confederation when these were British colonies with no connection to the Canadas.) During his appointment, he focused attention on education, racism and youth issues.

In 1992, Alexander was appointed to the Order of Ontario. He also became a Companion of the Order of Canada.  From 1991 to 2007, he served as Chancellor of the University of Guelph.  His term exceeded that of any of his predecessors, and he assumed the office of Chancellor Emeritus.

In 2000, Alexander was named Chair of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, where he remained an active spokesman on race relations and veterans' issues. Until the time of his death, he was the Honorary Patron of the Hamilton, Ontario branch of St. John Ambulance, as well as Honorary Chief of the Hamilton Police Service. 
In November 2006, his autobiography Go to School, You're a Little Black Boy: The Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander: A Memoir was published.
Alexander died in his sleep on the morning of October 19, 2012, at the age of 90. The national and provincial flags outside the Ontario Legislative Building were flown at half-mast and tributes were given by various viceroys and politicians. His body lay in state, first inside the Ontario Legislative Building at Queen's Park, followed by Hamilton City Hall. He was survived by his second-wife Marni Beal and by his son Keith Lincoln Alexander (from his marriage to his first wife Yvonne Harrison (predeceased in 1999)) and by his daughter-in-law Joyce Alexander and grandchildren Erika and Marissa Alexander.

Alexander was accorded a state funeral with the co-operation of thousands of officials, both Provincial and Federal, and Police Services across Canada. The Province of Ontario proclaimed January 21. as Lincoln Alexander Day in Ontario. It became law in December 2013. As of December 3, 2014, Lincoln Alexander Day January 21, Lincoln's birthday, is now recognized officially as Lincoln Alexander Day across Canada, with Royal Assent by the Governor General December 9, 2014.

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