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‘There was a mood of excitement’: How Canada pole vaulted to the forefront of the global Black movement

Black Life: Untold Stories is an epic eight-part documentary series that reframes the rich and complex histories of Black people in Canada over 400 years. Watch now on CBC Gem.

Civil rights and Canada’s little-known Black Power movement take centre stage in the “Revolution Remix” episode of CBC docuseries Black Life: Untold Stories.

“In 1964, Black people were invisible in Canada,” historian Robert Hill says in the documentary. 

“Even though the movement of Black struggle in Canada came late, by the close of the 1960s, Canada had pole vaulted to the very forefront of the global Black movement.”

“Revolution Remix” is an exploration of two era-defining Black empowerment events in 1960s Montreal: the Sir George Williams affair, Canada’s first major Black-led student protest, and the World Congress of Black Writers and Artists, which has been called the largest Black Power conference ever held outside the United States. 

Life in 1960s Montreal was fraught with unfair treatment, with Black Canadians — and their children — facing subtle and blatant racism in all facets of society. 

The episode explores the progression of a movement that started by addressing public indignities and advocating for human rights in Canada, and evolved into a celebration of the Black Power movement, which aimed to empower Black Canadians to have self-determination in all aspects of their lives.

The nurse who won the case establishing anti-discrimination employment law in Canada 

6 days ago

Duration 0:54

Featured VideoThe story of Gloria Baylis — a Black nurse who was denied a job at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel — in “Revolution Remix,” the second episode of CBC docuseries Black Life: Untold Stories.

The Congress of Black Writers

In October 1968, pan-African activists like Stokely Carmichael and Miriam Makeba came together at McGill University to talk about the future of Black liberation. 

“I didn’t consider it a writer’s congress. What it was was a festival of Black consciousness,” movement organizer Norman Cook says in the episode. “There was a mood of excitement.” 

“The most beautiful speech was Stokely’s ‘Black is beautiful,'” recalls fellow organizer Philippe Fils-Aimé. “That’s what I most remember, right? The real struggle was not just racism. It was about redefining us as people.”

WATCH: The Montreal Congress of Black Writers | Black Life: Untold Stories

‘Black is beautiful’: Remembering the Montreal Congress of Black Writers

6 days ago

Duration 1:27

Featured VideoThe Congress of Black Writers — explored in “Revolution Remix,” the second episode of CBC’s Black Life: Untold Stories — was a watershed event that represented dramatic shifts in Canadian Black consciousness.  

The Sir George Williams affair

Then, a year later, students at Sir George Williams University staged a protest in response to accusations of anti-Black racism against a science professor. The students occupied a campus building floor, and it eventually became the biggest Black-led student protest in Canadian history. 

The historic 1969 protest at the downtown Montreal campus culminated in nearly 100 arrests.

A sit-in at Sir George Williams University | Black Life: Untold Stories

6 days ago

Duration 4:46

Featured VideoA clip from “Revolution Remix,” the second episode of CBC docuseries Black Life: Untold Stories, which explores two era-defining Black empowerment events in 1960s Montreal, including the Sir George Williams affair.

Interviewees in “Revolution Remix” include: 

  • David Austin.
  • Adeline Magloire Chancy.
  • Norman Cook.
  • Brenda Dash.
  • Philippe Fils-Aimé.
  • Robert Hill.
  • Rodney John.
  • Isaac Saney. 
  • Dorothy Wills. 

Director: Michèle Stephenson

“Revolution Remix” is directed by Michèle Stephenson, a Canadian filmmaker, artist and author with roots in Haiti and Panama.

A woman sits on a stool with her leg folded.
‘Revolution Remix’ is directed by Michèle Stephenson, a Canadian filmmaker, artist and author with roots in Haiti and Panama. (Duane Cole Photography)

Stephenson tells emotionally driven personal stories of resistance and identity that centre on the lived experiences of communities of colour in the Americas and the Black diaspora. Her feature documentary Going to Mars won the 2023 U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary at Sundance, and her earlier feature, American Promise, was nominated for three Emmys and won a 2013 U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award at Sundance. Her 2020 feature documentary, Stateless, premiered at the Tribeca Festival and was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Best Feature Length Documentary.  

Stephenson also collaborated as co-director on the magical-realist, virtual-reality trilogy series on racial terror The Changing Same, which was nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Interactive Media: Innovation category and premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Episode 1 of the series also won the Best Immersive Narrative Competition Award at the Tribeca Festival.  

“Revolution Remix” is streaming now on CBC Gem. Watch it on CBC-TV on Nov. 1 at 9 p.m. (9:30 p.m. NT).

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.

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