Connecting the dots between Haiti’s revolutionary past and Toronto’s Simcoe Day

Connecting the dots between Haiti’s revolutionary past and Toronto’s Simcoe Day

In Ontario, the first Monday in August is Simcoe Day, a civic holiday named after John Graves Simcoe — Upper Canada’s first lieutenant governor. Simcoe is well-known for passing an anti-slavery law that set the stage for the abolition of slavery in Canada.

He also shares a historical connection with Haiti.

John Graves Simcoe found himself in Haiti (called Saint-Domingue back then) in January 1797, when the British stationed him there in a bid to take over the island. His escapade didn’t last very long. After six months, he returned to Canada defeated by the revolutionary forces — and the “climate” (so he said).

The Brisith surrendered not too long after Simcoe’s return. They gave up the fight in 1798 and negotiated a peace treaty with Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian revolution.

Photo: Wikipedia

 

Head shot of Michaëlle Jean. Image source: Carleton University

 

Michaëlle Jean reinvented the image of  a Canadian Governor-General. During her tenure, she represented a contemporary image of  Haitians and Canadians alike – poised, rooted , accomplished and deeply personable.

A trailblazing figure in many respects, Michaëlle Jean is a philanthropist, activist and award-winning journalist.

As she so aptly put it in her installation speech, “The time of the “two solitudes” that for too long described the character of this country is past. The narrow notion of “every person for himself” does not belong in today’s world, which demands that we learn to see beyond our wounds, beyond our differences for the good of all.”

Tirelessly devoted to community-building and empowerment, she founded the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, an organization that invests in young, creative people so they can be catalysts for change and revitalization in their communities.

Read more

Photo: Michaëlle Jean.
Source: Carleton University

monestime

Dr. Saint-Firmin Monestime was a Haitian medical doctor who became the first elected black mayor of a Canadian municipality. Not bad for a man who arrived in Canada with only a dollar in his pocket.

Contributions to Haitian society

Born in 1909 in Cap-Haïtien, Saint-Firmin Monestime was a doctor by trade who specialized in rural medicine. He wrote several books on the subject, and advocated for better access to health care, publicly speaking out against government policies and the conditions faced by Haitian people – a move that eventually drew discontent from government officials and led Monestime to leave his beloved island. 

Courage in the face of tragedy

In 1937, he was working in a Haitian town bordering the Dominican Republic when Dominican President Raphael Trujillo ordered the genocide of Haitians living on the outskirts of the Dominican Republic. Dr. Monestime worked tirelessly to tend to the infured during what is now known as the Parsley Massacre. His efforts were formally recognized by the Haitian Government. Monestime received the Chevalier de l’Ordre Nationale, Honneur et Mérite, a national honour recoginizing exceptional public service.

A new life in Canada

Dr. Monestime eventually immigrated to Canada in the 1940s, where he initially settled in Québec City. Like many new Canadians today, he went back to school to be recertified to practice medicine in Canada even though he was an accomplished doctor. After years of studies he became a licensed physician.

In 1951, while en route to Timmins, Ontario, to set his own pracice, he made a pit stop at a restaurant called “Chez Francis” located in Mattawa. It turns out that the owner of the restaurant, was a former patient of his, who recommended that Dr. Monestime stay in Mattawa to replace the doctor who had recently left his job.Dr. Monestime agreed, and took up residence in Mattawa.

Making Canadian history

At a time where independence movements worldwide bore fruit, and at the height of the civil rights movement in the U.S., Dr. Monestime made Canadian history.

In 1962 he was elected to Mattawa’s municipal council and in 1963 he was elected mayor. With the exception of one year taken off for medical reasons he remained in office until his death in 1977. He met his wife, Zena Petsche in Mattawa, and together they had 3 children. One of whom died tragically.

Together, Dr. Monestime and his wife established the Algonquin Nursing Home in 1975. It was owned and operated by family members for over 35 years before it was sold in 2013.

Saint-Firmin Monestime embodied the courageous and entreprising spirit of the Haitian people who, by their industrious nature, leave their mark on the communities they call home.

The legacy of Saint-Firmin Monestime

Dr. Monestime’s contributions are chronicled online and in a plethora of news articles. A quick Google search will bring up informative details about this historical figure. Those who prefer an analog experience should check out Doug Mackey’s book, Where Rivers Meet.

 

 

Haiti’s ties to U.S. history goes back a long way. For example, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a black man born in Haiti (known back then as Saint-Domingue) is the earliest settler of what is now the city of Chicago – the original occupants being the Indigenous peoples who lived in the area before the arrival of Europeans.

Various Chicago sites have been named in Point du Sable’s honour to recognize his role in the city’s history. See Wikipedia for more details.

li-sculp-pc-001b1

Sculpture of Jean-Baptiste Point du Sable in Pioneer Court, Chicago. Image source