Lincoln Alexander

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The Honourable
Lincoln Alexander
24th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
In office
September 20, 1985 – December 10, 1991
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor General Jeanne Sauvé
Ray Hnatyshyn
Premier David Peterson
Bob Rae
Preceded by John Black Aird
Succeeded by Hal Jackman
Minister of Labour
In office
June 4, 1979 – March 2, 1980
Prime Minister Joe Clark
Preceded by Martin O'Connell
Succeeded by Gerald Regan
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Hamilton West
In office
June 25, 1968 – May 28, 1980
Preceded by Joseph Macaluso
Succeeded by Stanley Hudecki
Constituency Hamilton West
Personal details
Born Lincoln MacCauley Alexander
(1922-01-21)January 21, 1922
Toronto, Ontario
Died October 19, 2012(2012-10-19) (aged 90)
Hamilton, Ontario
Political party Progressive Conservative
Spouse(s) Yvonne Harrison (1948–1999, her death)
Marni Beal (2011–2012)
Children Keith Alexander
Residence Hamilton, Ontario
Occupation Barrister and solicitor
Religion Baptist

Lincoln MacCauley Alexander, PC CC OOnt CD QC (January 21, 1922 – October 19, 2012) was a Canadian who became the first black Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, the first black federal Cabinet Minister serving as federal Minister of Labour, the first black Chair of the Worker’s Compensation Board, the first black, and the 24th, Lieutenant-Governor serving Ontario from 1985 to 1991, and the first person to serve five terms as Chancellor of the University of Guelph, from 1985 to 1991. Alexander was also a governor of the Canadian Unity Council.

Early life and education[edit]

Alexander was born in a row house on Draper Street[1] near Front Street and Spadina Avenue in Toronto, Ontario.[2] He was the eldest son of Mae Rose (nee Royale), who migrated from Jamaica, and Lincoln MacCauley Alexander, Sr., who was a carpenter by trade[3] but worked as a porter on the Canadian Pacific Railway, who had come to Canada from St. Vincent and the Grenadines.[4] He had a younger brother Hughie who was born in 1924, and a half-brother Ridley “Bunny” Wright, born to his mother in 1920 prior to her marriage to his father; Bunny was never accepted by Lincoln Sr. and was not allowed in the family’s house.[2]

Alexander went to Earl Grey Public School where he was the only Black in his kindergarten class. He noted in his memoir that he “never raced home from school and cried” but earned the respect of his classmates, sometimes by fighting. This taught him “… to always walk tall, and with a certain bearing, so people knew I meant business.”[2]In his 2006 memoir, Go to School, You’re a Little Black Boy, Alexander recalled: “Blacks at that time made up a sliver-thin portion of the city’s population, and racial prejudice abounded.” When the family moved to the east end of Toronto, and he attended Riverdale Collegiate, Alexander knew only three Black families. “The scene in Toronto at that time wasn’t violent, though you had to know your place and govern yourself accordingly.”[2]

His family was religious, and enjoyed a social life centred on regularly attending a Baptist church in downtown Toronto. His father was a stern disciplinarian who wanted his son to play the piano. However, Alexander preferred various sports including: track, soccer, hockey, softball and boxing, but never learned to swim. His size made him uncoordinated so he was not a natural athlete.[2]

As a teen Alexander’s mother moved to Harlem with his older, half-brother Ridley after she was the victim of a violent physical altercation with his father. He and his brother Hughie were cared for by Sadie and Rupert Downs until his mother could send for one of them. She chose Alexander; Hughie remained with the Downs family and the brothers grew apart. In New York he attended DeWitt Clinton High School, the only member of his gang to do so. He recalled in his memoir that: “...given the message about education that had been pounded into my head since I was a young child, the fact those kids didn’t go to school was an eye-opener for me.” As a black community, Harlem allowed him to find role models who worked at jobs that did not involve manual labour.[2]

In 1939, after Canada declared war on Germany, his mother sent him back to Toronto to live with his father. He met Yvonne (Tody) Harrison at a dance in Toronto. The youngest of four daughters of Robert, a railway porter, and his wife Edythe (nee Lewis) Harrison she lived in Hamilton, Ontario. Alexander was smitten by her and resolved to marry her. Because he was too young to enlist in the armed forces, he took a job as a machinist making anti-aircraft guns at a factory in Hamilton to be close to her.[2]

He first distinguished himself in service to Canada in 1942 as a corporal and wireless operator in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. He served in many parts of the country including Portage La Prairie. He was ineligible for combat duty because of poor eyesight.[5][6][2] While stationed in Vancouver, he was refused service at a bar because of his race. He reported the incident to a superior officer who refused to take action. Alexander quit the Air Force in 1945 and was granted an honourable discharge. Of that event he said: " that time they didn’t know how to deal with race relations of this sort of thing, they just turned a blind eye to it.”[6]

After the war Alexander completed his studies at Hamilton's Central Collegiate and then attended McMaster University beginning in 1946 to study economics and history, receiving a BA in 1949.[2][5] At age 25, on September 10, 1948, he married Yvonne "Tody" Harrison who was five years his senior. Upon graduating in 1949, he applied for a sales job at Stelco, a steel plant in Hamilton, Ontario. Although he had references, the support of McMaster and the mayor of Hamilton, Stelco was unwilling to have a black man on its sales force. He declined their offer of his old summer job working in the plant.[2]

His mother died at age 49 in 1948 having suffered from dementia; his father committed suicide four years later.[3] He married his first wife, Yvonne Harrison, in 1948;[3] their only child, a son Keith, was born in 1949.[2] In 1986, Alexander said in a Chatelaine magazine interview: “My mother was the single biggest influence on me–before my wife, I’ve always regretted that she didn’t live to see me graduate from university.”[2]

Alexander then attended Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. While there, he suggested to the Dean during a lecture that he was using inappropriate language, the 'N-word'.[3] Challenging the Dean he said: "But you can’t say that because you have to show leadership. You’re in a position of authority, a leader in the community. A leader has to lead and not be using such disrespectful comments without even thinking about them."[2] Of the incident he recalled: “I don’t know what ever made me stand up and ask him that in a class of 200 people. . . . But I will tell you one thing, that day made me a man.”[6] His actions did not end his career as he feared and Alexander graduated from Osgoode Hall in 1953.[3]


In 1965, Alexander ran in the Canadian federal election as the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada candidate in the Hamilton West electoral district but was defeated.[5] He ran again in the 1968 federal election and on June 25, 1968 won the seat becoming Canada's first black Member of Parliament.[5] On September 20, 1968 he made his maiden speech in the House of Commons saying:

I am not the spokesman for the Negro; that honour has not been given to me. Do not let me ever give anyone that impression. However, I want the record to show that I accept the responsibility of speaking for him and all others in this great nation who feel that they are the subjects of discrimination because of race, creed or colour.[2]

In 1970, Alexander voted in favour of the War Measures Act invoked by then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau but later felt he had erred in this saying:"...the issue of limiting rights has far more serious implications that I thought at the time. You become vulnerable, grasped by the tentacles of Government power.”[7] In 1976, he voted to abolish capital punishment in a free vote introduced by the governing Liberal party.[2]

Alexander writes in is Memoir that he did not shy away from voting with the Liberal government if an issue warranted his support. As an example, he threatened to break ranks with his own party to vote in favour of anti-hate legislation, saying “screw you” to his party's argument that it would curtail freedom of speech. “Are you saying that you can call my son or daughter a nigger and that is free speech?” he asked during debate on the bill. Heath MacQuarrie, then a Tory MP from Prince Edward Island, stood up and said, “I’m not going to let Linc stand alone on this.” Together they led 17 members of their caucus in support of the government’s legislation.[7]

It was Alexander and Newfoundland MP John Lundrigan who provoked Trudeau into mouthing an obscenity in the House of Commons during a discussion of training programs for the unemployed in February 1971. This quickly became known as the “fuddle duddle” incident.<re name="school"/>

Alexander was an observer to the United Nations in 1976 and 1978 and served briefly as Minister of Labour in the Progressive Conservative Party's minority government headed by Joe Clark from 1979 to 1980.

He held the seat through four successive elections until resigning his seat on May 27, 1980 when he was asked by then Premier of Ontario Bill Davis to serve as chairman of the Ontario Worker's Compensation Board.[3][5] He misunderstood Davis' request and recalled: “I said [to the Premier], ‘do you think this is going to give you the black vote around here, the vote of the visible minority. . . ?’ I will never forget his look; he was extremely angry. I shouldn’t have said that.”[6]

Viceregal service[edit]

In 1985, on the advice of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Governor General Jeanne Sauvé appointed Alexander Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. He became the first black person to serve in a viceregal position in Canada. (James Douglas, who was of mixed descent, was Governor of Vancouver Island and of British Columbia prior to Canadian Confederation when these were British colonies with no connection to the Canadas.) During his appointment, he focused attention on multicultural issues, education, racism and youth issues.[5][2] As vice-regal he visited 672 communities, held 675 receptions, received roughly 75,000 guests, attended 4,000 engagements, and visited 230 schools.[3]

Later life[edit]

The funeral procession for the state funeral of the Honorable Lincoln Alexander on October 26, 2012 in Hamilton

After articling for Sam Gotfrid, Q.C., the only job offer he was received was from Helen and Edward Okuloski, a brother and sister of Polish descent, who had started their own practice in Hamilton when they were unable to find jobs with existing firms. Here he practiced real estate and commercial law and established a political base in the German and Polish communities in Hamilton. Two years later Alexander partnered with Dave Duncan, forming the firm Duncan & Alexander which he claimed was the first inter-racial law partnership in Canada.[2][3] Alexander bought his own home on Proctor Avenue in the east end of Hamilton in 1958 and was able to move his family out of his in-laws' house. He lived there for nearly four decades.[2]

In 1962, the partnership with Duncan was dissolved Alexander joined a former McMaster classmate Jack Millar, in the firm Millar, Alexander, Tokiwa and Isaacs, a partnership hat eventually became known as “the United Nations law firm.” In his memoir, Alexander recalls: “A Caucasian, a black, Japanese and a Native Canadian. We were white, black, yellow and red, we used to laugh.” He was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1965.[5]

In 1960, he and his wife visited twenty-three countries in Africa as volunteers with Operation Crossroads Africa, a trip he said that made him realize: "In Africa I was a black man and I was somebody.”[3] Alexander wrote in his memoir:

The experience was an eye-opener for me not only as a lawyer, but also as a human being, because I began to realize what black people could do. I saw that, unlike the Hollywood version, these Africans were men and women of significant talents. I became conscious of my blackness. I had come from a white world. New we were in Africa, and I realized we are people of skill and creativity. I was a black man and I was a somebody. I started standing tall."[2]

During his five years at Workers Compensation Board of Ontario, the organization underwent its most extensive legislative overhaul since 1915. Also during his tenure, the WCBO sanctioned the use of chiropractors, over the objections of doctors, and created an independent appeals tribunal.[2]

In 1992, Alexander was appointed to the Order of Ontario and became a Companion of the Order of Canada. From 1991 to 2007, he served as Chancellor of the University of Guelph. His fifteen-year term as Chancellor exceeded that of any of his predecessors, and he assumed the office of Chancellor Emeritus in June 2007. He was succeeded as Chancellor by then broadcaster Pamela Wallin.[2][3]

In 2000, Alexander was named Chair of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, where he remained an active spokesman on race relations and veterans' issues.[6] Until the time of his death, he was the Honorary Patron of the Hamilton, Ontario branch of St. John Ambulance,[8] as well as Honorary Chief of the Hamilton Police Service.[3]

In November 2006, his autobiography Go to School, You're a Little Black Boy: The Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander: A Memoir was published.[9][7] The title reflects advice his mother had given him as a boy.


Alexander died in his sleep on the morning of October 19, 2012, at the age of 90.[10] The national and provincial flags outside the Ontario Legislative Building were flown at half-mast and tributes were given by various viceroys and politicians.[10][11][12] His body lay in state, first inside the Ontario Legislative Building at Queen's Park, then at Hamilton City Hall.[10][13] He is survived by his son Keith Lincoln Alexander from his marriage to his first wife Yvonne Harrison (predeceased in 1999).He is also survived by daughter-in-law Joyce Alexander and grandchildren Erika and Marissa Alexander, and second-wife Marni Beal. [14]

Alexander was accorded a state funeral. With the co-operation of thousands of officials, both Provincial and Federal, and Police Services across Canada, and featuring the Burlington Teen Tour Band and, Police Pipe and Drum band, it was conducted at Hamilton Place and attended by 1,500 people. Those in attendance included: the Mayor of Hamilton Bob Bratina, former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, current Premier Kathleen Wynne, former Premier David Peterson, Governor General David Johnston, former Governor General Michaëlle Jean, former lieutenant governor Hillary Weston, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, former Prime Minister Joe Clark, federal cabinet minister Julian Fantino, David Onley former lieutenant governor of Ontario, Dr. Alastair Summerlee, President of the University of Guelph, and Dr. Peter George, former President of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Also attending were the Chairman of the Raptors Foundation and publisher of the Hamilton daily newspaper, The Spectator. [15][16]The Province of Ontario proclaimed January 21 "Lincoln Alexander Day" in Ontario. It became law in December 2013. As of December 3, 2014, with Royal Assent by the Governor General on December 9, 2014, January 21st is now recognized officially as "Lincoln Alexander Day"[17] and was celebrated across Canada for the first time in 2015.[5]

Titles, styles, honours, and arms[edit]


Viceregal styles of
Lincoln MacCauley Alexander
Badge of the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario.svg
Reference style His Honour the Honourable
Spoken style Your Honour
Alternative style Sir
  • January 21, 1922 – June 4, 1979: Mister Lincoln MacCauley Alexander
  • June 4, 1979 – September 20, 1985: The Honourable Lincoln MacCauley Alexander
  • September 20, 1985 – December 10, 1991: His Honour the Honourable Lincoln MacCauley Alexander
  • December 10, 1991 – October 19, 2012: The Honourable Lincoln MacCauley Alexander



Lincoln Alexander Day (across Canada) act passed into law December 3, 2014.

Ribbon bars of Lincoln Alexander

Honorary Degrees

Lincoln Alexander Received Honorary Degrees from Numerous Universities Including

Honorific eponyms[edit]

Roads, highways, and bridges
  • Ontario Ontario: 876 Lincoln Alexander Royal Canadian Air Cadets Squadron
  • Ontario Ontario: Lincoln M. Alexander Building, 777 Memorial Ave, Orillia, OPP headquarters


Arms of Lincoln Alexander
Lincoln Alexander Arms.svg
The arms of Lincoln Alexander consist of:[26]
Above a helmet mantled Azure doubled Argent on a wreath Argent and Azure a demi-lion Azure wearing a coronet rimmed Or heightened with trillium flowers Argent seeded Or and charged on the shoulder with a mullet Argent holding in the dexter forepaw scales of justice Or.
Argent above two bars wavy Azure in base a lion rampant Sable armed and langued Azure charged on the shoulder with a trillium flower Argent seeded Or.
Dexter a lion Sable armed and langued Azure semé of trillium flowers Argent seeded Or winged Bleu Celeste gorged with a collar Argent charged with palm fronds Vert sinister a bear Sable armed and langued Azure winged Bleu Celeste, gorged with a collar Argent pendant therefrom a pomme bordered Argent displaying the badge of the House of Commons of Canada proper.
A grassy mound Vert strewn with palm fronds and breadfruit leaves Or rising above water Azure crested Argent.
Confidence Determination and Perseverance


  1. ^ White, Madeleine. "Home of the Week: Refurbished, repaired, renewed". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Martin, Sandra (October 19, 2012). "Obituary: Former lieutenant-governor took discrimination as personal challenge". Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015. Retrieved October 27, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Wells, Jon (October 20, 2012). "Lincoln Alexander dies at 90". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015. Retrieved October 21, 2012. 
  4. ^ Wells, John (October 20, 2012). "A life well lived: Linc exits the stage at 90". The Hamilton Spectator. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015. Retrieved October 20, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "Lincoln Alexander". Historica. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015. Retrieved 22 October 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d e "The Honourable Lincoln Alexander". Queen's Printer. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015. Retrieved 22 October 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c "Go to School, You're a Little Black Boy". Google. Archived from the original on 25 October 2015. Retrieved 25 October 2015. 
  8. ^ "News for Members of SJA". St. John Ambulance. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015. Retrieved 22 October 2015. 
  9. ^ Alexander, Lincoln; Shoveller, Herb (2006). Go to School, You're a Little Black Boy. Toronto: Dundurn. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015. 
  10. ^ a b c CBC News (October 19, 2012). "Lincoln Alexander, Canada's 1st black MP, dies". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015. Retrieved October 19, 2012. 
  11. ^ Babbage, Maria (October 19, 2012). "Lincoln Alexander dies at 90". Toronto Star. Canadian Press. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015. Retrieved October 19, 2012. 
  12. ^ "Canada's first black MP, Lincoln Alexander, dies at 90". CTV News. Canadian Press. October 19, 2012. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015. Retrieved October 19, 2012. 
  13. ^ Associated Press, WP (October 20, 2012). "State funeral planned for Lincoln Alexander, Canada’s first black member of <Parliament". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  14. ^ "Erika Alexander remembers her grandfather Lincoln". Archived from the original on 23 October 2015. Retrieved 2012-10-26. 
  15. ^ Humphrys, Adrian (October 27, 2012). "State funeral honours former Ontario lieutenant governor Lincoln Alexander’s ‘life of firsts’". National Post. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015. Retrieved October 26, 2012. 
  16. ^ Coyle, Jim (October 27, 2012). "Lincoln Alexander: Hundreds line streets for state funeral". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015. Retrieved October 27, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Lincoln Alexander Day". Black History Ottawa. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015. Retrieved 22 October 2015. 
  18. ^ Office of the Governor General of Canada. Order of Canada citation. Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 24 May 2010
  19. ^ "Tribute to Cpl Lincoln MacCauley Alexander". Honour Them. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Lincoln M. Alexander Award". Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration. Retrieved October 20, 2012. 
  26. ^ Canadian Heraldic Authority (Volume II), Ottawa, 1992 

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Edmund Bovey
Chancellor of the University of Guelph
1991-June 2007
Succeeded by
Pamela Wallin