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 children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Alisha Bryan holds a handful of poppy sticks at the poppy laying ceremony on Oct. 28. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
Remembrance Day will look a little different this year for Lacombe

The Lacombe Legion is taking COVID-19 precautions for people who want to pay their respects.

Chad Carlson (left) Jarita Carlson and their two children Milo Carlson (left) and Lennon Carlson are dressing up as Ghostbusters for Halloween. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
Lacombe family passionate about Halloween and giving back to their community

COVID-19 has changed how the Carlson’s will celebrate Halloween this year

The Lacombe Legion volunteers laid poppies beside the graves of veterans on Oct. 28. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
Lacombe Legion volunteers lay poppies for fallen veterans

Twenty volunteers showed up on Wednesday to pay their respects and help out

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo by The Associated Press)
Alberta records 410 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

Most Read