Black History and Black Futures: The Honourable Lincoln Alexander
Women’s College Hospital (WCH) was excited to learn of January 2024 public unveiling of a bronze bust of The Honourable Lincoln Alexander in the west wing of the Ontario Legislature Building. This Black History and Black Futures Month, we are celebrating the legacy of Canada’s first Black member of Parliament, Ontario’s first Black lieutenant governor and a great friend and supporter of Women’s College Hospital.
Lincoln Alexander was born in Toronto in 1922. His mother immigrated to Canada from Jamaica and worked as a hotel maid. His father, born in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, worked as a railway porter. While he grew up in a working-class family, his mother always instilled the importance of higher education to her son. After serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a wireless operator during the Second World War, Alexander graduated from McMaster University and then from Osgoode Hall Law School. He began a small law practice in Hamilton, however, after volunteering abroad for Operation Crossroads Africa, Alexander returned to Canada and turned his attention to politics.
In 1968, he was elected as the member of Parliament for the riding of Hamilton West – making him the first Black member of Parliament in the House of Commons. Ten years later, Alexander made history again by becoming Canada’s first Black cabinet minister when he was appointed Minister of Labour. In 1985, he was sworn in as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and became the first Black person to hold this honour.
As lieutenant governor, Alexander showed great support and kindness towards WCH. On April 23, 1987, he helped publicly launch the newly formed Women’s College Hospital Foundation’s first capital campaign. Affectionately named “Special Delivery,” this $18 million fundraising campaign successfully raised money for much needed renovations and improvements to the aging hospital building at 76 Grenville Street. For the public launch, Alexander was joined by former lieutenant governor of Ontario and former WCH board chair, Pauline McGibbon, at a special public ceremony held in front of WCH.
Three years later, on October 30, 1990, Alexander delighted volunteers at WCH by hosting a special reception in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the WCH Association of Volunteers. He welcomed and personally greeted 244 guests including volunteers and hospital staff to the event held in the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite at Queen’s Park. Volunteers were touched when he recalled his visit to WCH where he saw a premature baby for the first time – a memory that stayed with him to that day.
Lincoln Alexander served as lieutenant governor until 1991 and then went on to act as Chancellor of the University of Guelph until 2007. On October 19, 2012, he died at the age of 90.
One year later, Ontario proclaimed that January 21st each year would be recognized as Lincoln Alexander Day. As explained in the Act,
“His life was an example of service, determination, and humility. Always fighting for equal rights for all races in our society, and doing so without malice, he changed attitudes and contributed greatly to the inclusiveness and tolerance of Canada today.”
As Ontarians celebrate the inspiring legacy of the Honourable Lincoln Alexander at Queen’s Park, this Black History and Futures Month at Women’s College Hospital Foundation, we are proud to share our special connection to this great Black Canadian trailblazer.