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John Christie Holland
Harriet Tubman
Carrie Best

John Christie Holland

John Christie Holland was the first African Canadian recognized for his humanitarian contributions. In 1953, John Holland received the Citizen of the Year award in the city of Hamilton, Ontario. His family history is especially intriguing. It reads like an adventure, romance novel and biography rolled into one.


John Christie Holland was one of nine surviving children born to Thomas Holland and Henrietta Shorts. John was the fifth of their children and came into the world on Christmas day, 1882. Each of John Holland's siblings was especially gifted. They received accolades for singing on Broadway, being world renowned as a pipe organist, and possessing exceptional acting and recitation skills. John Holland was also a magnificent orator, which contributed to his success as the pastor of St. Paul's Stewart Memorial Methodist church .

John Holland's father Thomas was born into slavery in Maryland to Leatha and August. Thomas was one of five children, and escaped through the Underground Railroad to freedom in Ontario in 1860. August was the youngest of several children born to William and Chloe. William was abducted in Africa and forced into slavery in 1792.
John Christie Holland was the great uncle of television personality, Nerene Virgin. The unprecedented success Nerene has achieved in television and film is a source of inspiration for millions of Canadian youth and adults. Nerene's eldest sister, Patricia Grizzle, who now resides in California, stands to be the first African-Canadian/American to receive her Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies. Following in the footsteps of greats like W.E.B. DuBois, who was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in Sociology, Patricia represents the new generation of exceptional scholars.

John Christie Holland's Career

John Holland joined the Brotherhood of the Railway, (the Canadian chapter of The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union based in the United States) and served as a porter for 35 years. This was not his first full-time occupation and definitely not his last.

As a boy, John was clearly no ordinary child. Even at a young age one could see glimmers of the humanitarian he would become. He volunteered to tutor fellow students in need. His diligence and tireless spirit were reflected in the hours he spent helping in his parent's hay and feed business and delivering newspapers before and after school. In his early teens John found work in "Little Africa" (the Hamilton Mountain) and had to climb up the escarpment then walk miles each day to work for a local farmer. John also sang in the church choir, all while still achieving excellence in school! The values his parents instilled in him encouraged his walk in an exemplary direction. They taught him integrity, compassion, belief in oneself, a respect for hard work and a high regard for learning.

In 1901, John married Josephine Idenia of Oakville whom he had met while working in a hospital. Together they had four children: Gilbert, Gladys, Alfreda and Oliver.

During the depression, the only work John Holland could procure was that of a janitor. The year was 1912. The depression was hard for everyone but especially difficult for oppressed peoples. Social and institutional racism left African Canadians particularly, with minimal employment opportunities.

John Holland's work for the railway began in 1916. He said people treated him like the invisible man.

August and Leatha - John C. Holland's paternal grandparents

August was the youngest son of William and Chloe and had several brothers and sisters. At the age of seventeen, he was sold to a rich planter who owned hundreds of slaves. August's parents' plantation and his were both in the state of Maryland.

Chloe was of mixed parentage and worked under the supervision of her mother in the plantation owner's house. Leatha was in fact a free woman and could read and write. August fell in love with her the moment he saw her. They would meet in secrecy and when they were caught the owner threatened to sell August "down south." Luckily the owner died before he could execute that threat. But when the plantation owner died Leatha was banished from the house. She willingly moved into the slave colony to be with August and they were married.

August and Leatha had three daughters and two sons, both of whom escaped through the Underground Railroad to freedom.

Thomas and Henrietta - John Christie Holland's parents

Thomas was the second son of August and Leatha. Their five children born in Maryland, were born into the American slave system, therefore enslaved at birth. August and Leatha's first son, William, fled the Maryland plantation he was trapped on in the mid 1800's. His brother Thomas began his escape a while later. For years Thomas feigned illness in an effort to detract attention from himself. Following his brother's escape, Thomas was carefully watched. Thomas was a very "valuable" slave, extremely tall and weighing over 200 lbs. Those overseeing the plantation were determined not to lose another one of August and Leatha's children. After what must have seemed like an eternity of pretending to be unhealthy and starving himself to decrease his strength, the slave overseers began to overlook Thomas. Thomas fled to freedom right away. Through the Underground Railroad and swimming across the Niagara River Thomas made it to Canada in 1860.

In Canada, Thomas settled with William in Bronte, the area now known as Burlington. He remained single until 30 then married Henrietta in 1873, and together had thirteen children, nine of which survived into adulthood. Henrietta was a beautiful bi-cultural (her father was white and her mother was black) woman that Thomas was lucky to join in partnership. She was an intelligent woman, a loving mother and ran her own business. She raised geese, making mattresses and pillows from their down, then selling the bird. Henrietta had been a motherless child, taken and sold away from her mother at birth. Her status as a child made her all the more passionate about building a strong family unit.

Nerene Virgin - John C. Holland's Great Niece

Nerene is the granddaughter of Grace Holland, John C. Holland's sister. Grace was an accomplished and respected elocutionist and actress. Grace's dignity, strength of character and high moral principles taught Nerene to be proud of her whole self. Nerene's Grandmother Grace instilled in her the obligation she has to use her God given talents. During Nerene's lifetime including over twenty years in the entertainment industry she has often been empowered by her Grandmother's words, "You must rise above [adversity and negativity]" John Holland was buoyed by his faith and ancestry. Nerene too draws courage and inspiration from those who traveled before her.

At present Nerene is the weekend anchor for CBC's National news program, "Saturday Report." She is well known to Canadians and fans around the world as Jodie from the award winning TV series "Today's Special." Her face became familiar throughout Ontario as the hosts of Baton's daily magazine show "Eye on Toronto" and across Canada as co-host of "Showbuz."

Patricia Grizzle - John C. Holland's Great Niece

Patricia Grizzle is completing her Ph. D., in Cultural Studies from Claremont Graduate University. She has an MA in Behavioural and Social Sciences from Humboldt State University, my areas of study were Ethnic Studies and Sociology, along with a minor in Health Education. She was recruited by Dr. Maulana Karenga (the creator of KWANZAA) and did work with him at CSU, Long Beach. Currently, she is the interim Director of the PACE program (Program for Adult College Education) at California State University, Northridge, where I also teach in the Pan African Studies Department. She returns to Toronto regularly, and in the near future hopes to return to her research project involving Black history in Southern Ontario. Her personal email address is and her email address at the university is <>

John C. Holland - For More Information

1.There is a book by Jessie L. Beattie entitled John Christie Holland that is unfortunately no longer in print but is available at the library.

2.Every year during Black History Month, in February, the Hamilton Black History Month Committee holds a "John C. Holland Awards Ceremony." The two Co-Chairs of the committee are Evelyn Myrie and Vince Morgan, who can be reached at:

867 Main Street East
Hamilton, Ontario L8M 1M2
Phone: (905) 544-7109

Materials prepared by Nerene Virgin


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Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was born a slave in 1820 in Bucktown, Maryland. With her great strength, endurance and will she escaped to Canada. Harriet Tubman lived in St.Catharines, Ontario, where she was active and dedicated in supporting the Underground Railroad to free blacks from slavery. Harriet was such a remarkable women that her name was well-known throughout Canada, and many called her "Moses" because she freed her people. She made the trip across the border nineteen times in these attempts to free the slaves. Harriet had become America's most wanted person because she was successful at freeing slaves. She would carry those who were not able to help themselves, by the help of her faith in God. She did anything to maintain her interdependence and supported twenty people at one time. Harriet Tubman died on March 10, 1913 in Auburn, New York.

Accomplishments and Contributions
  • Being involved in the Underground Railroad and saving more than 300 slaves
  • She was a member of the inter-racial Refuge Slaves Friends Society (RSFS)
  • She was an executive of the Fugitive Aid Society (FAS), and is credited for the success of the FAS
  • In her old age she met Queen Elizabeth were she received a medal and a silk shawl
  • She was involved in the Women's Rights movement
  • On July 1993, the province of Ontario placed a plaque dedicated to her at the St.Catharine's branch of the British Methodist Episcopal Church of Canada
  • When she returned to the U.S. her accomplishments included being a "spy" for the Union Forces at the beginning of the Civil War
  • In Auburn, New York the Harriet Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Colored People was erected

Materials prepared by Paola Mollo and Patricia Bellofiore


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Carrie Best

Carrie Best was born in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia on March 4, 1903. She graduated from high school in the 1920's. Carrie married Albert Best in 1925. He worked on the Canadian National Railway as a railway porter, and therefore was often away. They had three children, a son named Calbert and two girls named Sharyn and Berma (both girls were adopted). She was extremely involved in the community, raising awareness about human rights issues. Carrie became the first Black publisher in Nova Scotia when she and her son created the Clarion, the first Black newspaper in the province. She researched all her own articles. Many were about discrimination in public places such as restaurants, hotels, theatres, and others. However, she also brought environmental and labour issues into light. The paper stopped running in 1956, but this did not stop her writing. She continued to submit articles to the Nova Scotia Gleaner, the Halifax Herald, and the Pictou Advocate where she had a regular column. Carrie also had a successful radio show called "The Quiet Corner", that ran for twelve years on five radio stations across the province. She produced and narrated the show, in which she read from novels and poems. Eventually she wrote her autobiography, That Lonesome Road, which was published by her own publishing company. Carrie became the promoter of the "Kay Livingstone Visible Minority Women's Society of Nova Scotia" shortly after the untimely death of its original founder, Kay Livingstone. Carrie was also the provincial coordinator for this organization. She then decided to revive the Clarion and it was republished in 1992. Carrie Best's list of accomplishments and contributions to the betterment of society are endless. Her determination began when she was a child and was encouraged by great role models like her mother. Carrie has now become a role model herself: the voice for those who could not speak for themselves.

Accomplishments and Contributions
  • Received the first Lloyd McInnes Memorial Award in 1970
  • Received the first annual award from the National Coalition of Canada
  • Received an award from the African United Baptist Association
  • After her husband's death, she donated five hectares of her land to create a park named after him. The Albert T. Best Park was carefully planned to be safe for children and seniors. It was opened on August 21, 1972
  • Appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada on December 18, 1974
  • Received an honourary degree of Doctor of Laws on May 11, 1975 from the St. Francis Xavier University of Antigonish, Nova Scotia at the age of 72
  • Dr. Carrie Best was promoted to Officer of the Order of Canada on December 17, 1979

Materials prepared by Paola Mollo and Patricia Bellofiore


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