Black activist inspired historian

Toronto historian Dr. Sheldon Taylor credits his passion for uncovering Ontario’s black heritage to the time he spent in East York.

As a young man, Taylor worked with Marjorie Lewsey, a late East York activist for the black community.

“(Lewsey) told me stories of what it was like growing up in Toronto,” Taylor said. “For me, not having been born here, (she) placed certain historical facts before me… points that I have been able to translate in terms of what I do professionally as a historian.”

Taylor is the curator of Northern Lights: African-Canadian Stories, an exhibit timed to coincide with February observances of Black History Month. It’s on display at the Ontario Science Centre until March 2.

The exhibit includes photos of the first African-Canadian doctor and first black Ontario justice of the peace. It also features black pioneers in the Canadian military, as well as pioneer black teachers, hockey players, musicians and members of the Black Cross Nurses squadron.

The exhibit, an “evolutionary process” according to Taylor, took decades to complete.

Like Lewsey, Taylor aims to build “sustainable relationships across generations” by continuing to foster his relationship with the African-Canadian community.

“I think it’s a great exhibit,” science centre staff-member Michael Barrington said. “It’s history going back to the 19th century and seeing black folks who were prominent here in Canada. That’s something I’ve just learned and it’s great.”