Bust of Hamilton’s Lincoln Alexander, Canada’s first Black MP, unveiled at Queen’s Park
Published January 21, 2024 at 6:13 pm
Finding a politician liked and respected by all sides of the political spectrum is a rare treasure indeed, but if there ever was one who drew near universal admiration, it was the late Lincoln Alexander, Hamilton’s own.
Alexander, a Central Collegiate and McMaster University grad and veteran of the Second World War, broke many glass ceilings throughout his storied career, including becoming the first Black Canadian Member of Parliament (1968) and first cabinet minister (1979) and the first Black Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario when he was sworn in as the province’s representative to the Crown in 1985.
Today (January 21) is Lincoln Alexander Day (Alexander’s birthday) in Canada and a commemorative bust of the man, who died October 19, 2012 in Hamilton, will be officially unveiled at an afternoon ceremony at Queen’s Park to honour one of the true power players of the 20th century.
Alexander, who had a commemorative stamp produced in his honour (2018) six schools named for him (including one in Hamilton) plus a law school (Metropolitan University) re-named after him and even an expressway – the Lincoln Alexander Parkway in Hamilton (known as the ‘Linc’ to locals) – has certainly cemented his status in Canadian political history.
On January 21 – which has been officially Lincoln Alexander Day since 2015 – it will be time to ‘bronze’ him with the unveiling of a bronze bust at the Ontario Legislature’s West Wing.
Award-winning ‘Afrofuturist’ artist Quentin VerCetty, who was commissioned to create the bust, drew inspiration from his personal connection to the late Ontario Lieutenant Governor. The artist attended Lincoln Alexander Secondary School in Mississauga and met Alexander while a student there.
VerCetty said the bust “organically aligns” with other work focused on celebrating the legacies of Canadians of African descent as monuments. “This project was particularly urgent and personal and has now come full circle ever since Mr. Alexander told me in our exchange that he can see me doing great things; I am deeply grateful and sincerely honoured for this great opportunity.”
The bust, in finished bronze, is a 3-Dimensional head and shoulders cast of Alexander’s likeness, crafted with rich organic compounds, and depicts a dignified figure, decorated in medals which Alexander received, and wore regularly during the course of his official duties.
The ornate interpretation of Alexander’s likeness is also the first instance of a commemorative bust honouring a Black Canadian political figure to be displayed in any parliamentary setting in Canada.
“The Alexander family is humbled to stamp the 2024 observance of Lincoln Alexander Day with such a powerful and permanent acknowledgement of my late grandfather’s legacy, and to share this inspired representation of him in this space,” said Alexander’s granddaughter, Erika Alexander. “This bust calls upon the aspirations and determination of an important Canadian and shares his focus on equity and social justice for racialized youth and for all Canadians to experience.”
The bust, which was funded from individual donors and made possible through a partnership between the Black Opportunity Fund, the LINC Bust Committee and Licensed to Learn (L2L) and the RBC Foundation, will be available for viewing at the Legislature for school groups and public tours.
Craig Wellington, the Executive Director of Black Opportunity Fund, weighed in with praise for the project and of Alexander. “Visibility is Possibility. This project will help to enshrine the extraordinary legacy of this great Canadian, and will inspire generations of Canadians to come. Quentin’s vision aptly captures how Lincoln Alexander’s legacy deserves prominent and permanent public acknowledgement.”
Zeib Jeeva, who chairs the Licensed to Learn Board of Directors, spoke of the decade of fundraising and advocacy it took to make Sunday’s presentation happen.
“Today sees yet another milestone for Lincoln Alexander,” he said. “His lifetime of hard work, integrity, and commitment to human rights was instrumental in breaking down barriers and changing attitudes, which helped shape the Canada we know and enjoy today.”
The completion of the project will also “memorialize” Alexander’s legacy for visitors at the Ontario legislature to “discover and reflect upon for generations to come,” he added.
“As the first Black Canadian to have a bust in their likeness at the Ontario Legislature, today is a great day in the history of Lincoln Alexander Day, and a great day for Canadian history generally,” enthused Rosemary Sadlier, a national Black history champion and Chair of the LINC Bust. “Quentin VerCetty has produced an exceptional piece of art, which speaks volumes to the legacy of Lincoln Alexander as a great Canadian whose excellence transcended many facets of national life across political service, the military and law, spanning a massive legacy of equity and advocacy.”
Alexander was born in Toronto in 1922 to parents from the Caribbean and grew up there and in Harlem in New York City before moving to Hamilton at 17 to be near his future wife Yvonne. After serving in World War II he returned to Hamilton to complete his high school education before enrolling at McMaster, where he studied history and economics and got his BA in 1949.
After being turned down for a sales job at Stelco because of the colour of his skin he went to Osgoode Law School in Toronto, earning his law degree in 1953.
Alexander married Yvonne in 1948 – their marriage lasted until her death in 1999 – and bought a house in east end Hamilton in 1962, where he lived for nearly four decades. He also practiced law in the city – including a stint as one-half of the only interracial law partnership in Canada – until he won the Hamilton West seat under the Progressive Conservative banner in 1968: the first Black Member of Parliament in Canadian history.
In his maiden speech in the House of Commons on September 20, 1968 he made it clear he made his maiden speech in the House of Commons saying he was “not the spokesman for the Negro; that honour has not been given to me.”
“However, I want the record to show that I accept the responsibility of speaking for him and all others in this great nation who feel that they are the subjects of discrimination because of race, creed or colour.”
Alexander served the riding through four elections and served as Labour Minister under Prime Minister Joe Clark until the party’s defeat in the1980 election.
He chaired the Worker’s Compensation Board from 1980 until 1985, when he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Governor-General Jeanne Sauve in 1985. He served in that role until 1991.
Alexander then served as Chancellor of the University of Guelph for more than fifteen years, from 1991 to 2007. He died in his sleep on the morning of October 19, 2012, at the age of 90.
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