N.B. anti-racism activist among those receiving Canada Day honours from GG

N.B. anti-racism activist among those receiving Canada Day honours from GG

OTTAWA — Ralph Thomas can’t recall any specific incidents of racism against him while growing up as a Black person in New Brunswick in the 1940s and ’50s, but says that was more about the rural community where he lived and not because it didn’t exist.

“We protected each other, and I grew up in a white community,” says Thomas, of his upbringing in Willow Grove, about 25 kilometres east of Saint John, N.B.

“But my brother and my sister grew up in the city, which was 16 miles from where I grew up, and it was a big difference because they were not allowed to go into certain restaurants or the Admiral Beatty Hotel.”

Decades later, Thomas says racism still exists in New Brunswick and the rest of Canada. But the 82-year-old also sees change coming with the recent Black Lives Matter movement and societal focus on system racism — a development he finds unsurprising.

Thomas has been president since 1997 of an advocacy and service group called Pride and Race, Unity and Dignity through Education, or PRUDE Inc., which works with the Black community as well as other visible minorities and newcomers in Saint John.

It’s one of many roles — along with having co-founded the New Brunswick Black History Society and serving as an ambassador for the province’s Sports Hall of Fame — for which Thomas is being awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers.

It’s also one of many in which he has sought to eliminate racism and foster diversity and inclusion in the community — a mission that appears to have gotten a boost when hundreds of Saint John residents of backgrounds turned out for a Black Lives Matter rally on June 14.

“I had expected us to see great change,” says Thomas, who spent his early years in amateur and professional boxing, where he earned the nickname Tiger.

“It was outstanding,” he says of the rally. “It was wonderful to see. It was a great example of people standing up and they’re just not going to settle for any of this racial discrimination. … And yes, it is going to change.”

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette announced Thomas as one of 123 Canadians who are being recognized for their skills, courage or dedication to service by receiving a decoration for bravery, a meritorious service decoration or the volunteer medal.

The list of “remarkable Canadians” released Wednesday was in lieu of the traditional Canada Day announcement of new Order of Canada members. A spokesperson for Payette said the COVID-19 pandemic prevented members of the Order of Canada advisory panel from meeting.

Among those honoured for their bravery are five people who tried to stop a gunman who opened fire inside a Quebec City mosque on Jan. 29, 2017. Six people were killed in the attack, including Azzedine Soufiane, who was killed after trying to stop the attacker.

Soufiane is being awarded the Star of Courage, the second-highest award for bravery in Canada after the Cross of Valour. Four survivors of the attack — Said Akjour, Hakim Chambaz, Aymen Derbali and Mohamed Khabar — are among 13 people receiving the Medal of Bravery.

Another 21 people are receiving the Meritorious Service Cross, including Jonathan Pitre, the 17-year-old known as the “Butterfly Boy,” for raising awareness about his life with a rare debilitating skin disorder called epidermolysis bullosa before he died in April 2018.

Pitre’s mother Tina Boileau is among 40 being awarded the Meritorious Service Medal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Canada Day

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta premier Jason Kenney declared a public health state of emergency Tuesday and sweeping new measures as COVID-19 cases in the province continue to rise. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Kenney declares state of public health emergency as COVID-19 cases rise

High schools shift to online learning, businesses face new restrictions

Pipestone Community committee members and core rink volunteers each put in 600 hours of volunteer work to renovate the Pipestone Community Rink this year. From left to right: Andy Dansereau, Colton Huber, James Huber, and Dave Pockrant. Shaela Dansereau/Pipestone Flyer.
New renovations complete on Pipestone Community Outdoor Skating Rink

New boards and chain-link fence on sides of rink to reduce puck loss.

Silver or grey four-door sedan believed to be the suspects’ vehicle. Photo supplied/Leduc RCMP
Leduc RCMP investigate break and enter to Calmar Post Office

Over 50 packages stolen from the Calmar Post Office Monday morning.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced the province surpasses one million COVID-19 tests Friday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up by 100 in last 24 hours

Most central Alberta communities under province’s enhanced measures list

Millet Fire Department 2019. Photo/ Pipestone Flyer.
Millet Fire Department hosts “Light it Up for Liam” event

The Millet Fire Department is lighting up the fire hall this season with holiday spirit.

Kyle Charles poses for a photo in Edmonton on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Marvel Entertainment, the biggest comic book publisher in the world, hired the 34-year-old First Nations illustrator as one of the artists involved in Marvel Voice: Indigenous Voices #1 in August. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
VIDEO: Indigenous illustrator of new Marvel comic hopes Aboriginal women feel inspired

Kyle Charles says Indigenous women around the world have reached out

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
VIDEO: How do the leading COVID vaccines differ? And what does that mean for Canada?

All three of the drug companies are incorporating novel techniques in developing their vaccines

Ilaria Rubino is shown in this undated handout image at University of Alberta. Alberta researcher Rubino has developed technology allowing mostly salt to kill pathogens in COVID-19 droplets as they land on a mask. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-University of Alberta
Alberta researcher gets award for COVID-19 mask innovation

The salt-coated mask is expected to be available commercially next year after regulatory approval.

Russ and Luanne Carl are sharing about their experiences of fighting COVID-19 this past summer. (Photo submitted)
Stettler couple opens up about COVID-19 battle

Luanne and Russ Carl urge others to bolster personal safety measures amidst ongoing pandemic

This 2019 photo provided by The ALS Association shows Pat Quinn. Quinn, a co-founder of the viral ice bucket challenge, died Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, at the age of 37. (Scott Kauffman/The ALS Association via AP)
Co-founder of viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge dies at 37

Pat Quinn was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2013

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti speaks with the media following party caucus in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Exclusion of mental health as grounds for assisted death is likely temporary: Lametti

Senators also suggested the exclusion renders the bill unconstitutional

Claudio Mastronardi, Toronto branch manager at Carmichael Engineering, is photographed at the company’s offices in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. As indoor air quality becomes a major concern in places of business, HVAC companies are struggling to keep up with demand for high quality filtration systems. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Business is booming for HVAC companies as commercial buildings see pandemic upgrades

‘The demand right now is very high. People are putting their health and safety ahead of cost’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Long-awaited federal rent subsidy program for businesses hurt by COVID-19 opens today

The new program will cover up to 65 per cent of rent or commercial mortgage interest

Most Read