Clifton Ruggles Shone Above the Shadows
July 9, 2009
Clifton Ruggles is described by QWF Literary Database of Quebec English-Lanuage as an “important fixture in Montreal black community, an artist, poet, photographer, and journalist who dedicated his time to ensuring that black youth had proper guidance and role models.”
Fernwood Review of Ruggles and Rovinescu’s (1996). Outsider Blues: a Voice from the Shadows:
”The articles that appear in this book originate in the shadows–those marginal spaces that black people have been forced to inhabit ever since the first slaves reached the shores of North America.” Ruggles tells us that “Black is more than just a racial category, it’s a way of viewing the world.” It is out of this set of eyes that Clifton Ruggles writes a column in the Montreal Gazette. This book is a collection of those columns and of Ruggles’ photographs, which visually illustrate the “Black” experience. He tells stories of Black people’s everyday lives, provides non-stereotypical role models, details their contributions to culture, politics and so on–stories which are often either ignored or underplayed. Among the photographs are two photo essays, one autobiographical and one entitled Shadowlands. The book also includes an article by Olivia Rovinescu entitled “Deconstructing Racism.”
History, Identity and the Politics of Exclusion; Racism and Everyday Life; Reducing Prejudice: The Role of Multicultural Education; Education, Access and Social Mobility; Crossing Cultural Boundaries; Race, Representation and the Arts;
Combatting Social Problems/Making A Difference; racism, marginality, Canada,
Thumbnail biography with CLIFTON RUGGLES (B.Ed., McGill University, Certificate Special Education, McGill University, M.A. candidate, Art Education, Concordia University) has been teaching for 11 years for the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal. Along with Olivia, he has co-authored “Expressions of Montreal’s Youth,” “Exploring the World of Work,” and “Words on Work.” Clifton teaches art and math at Options High School and is himself an exhibited artist and photographer. Clifton is also the co-editor of The Sentinel, a magazine published by the Provincial Association of Protestant Teachers.
This is an excerpt from Outsider Blues:
“I guess practice does make perfect. Every year it seems that Black History Month gets better.
This year is no exception. Performances celebrating black historical and cultural contributions ranged from lectures, art exhibits, music, theatre, dance, film, poetry and even a demonstration of caring for black hair.
Black History Month evolved out of African-American educator Carter G. Woodsen’s 1926 Negro History Week. It has a dual purpose: celebrate the experiences and achievements of blacks and educate blacks as well as non-blacks about that history.
The West End had its share of Black History Month events, “Free Your Mind Return to the Source” as the Loyola Concert Hall featured more than two dozen musicians. It showcased the evolution of black music from the chains and drumbeats from the heart of Africa, to the Americas, from slavery to hip hop.
In the middle of one of the worst winter storms this year, blacks and whites came together to hear the sounds and the stories of the African diaspora.
One of the most impressive performers was South African vocalist Lorraine Klaasen.
She sang songs that spoke of the black struggle for liberation in South Africa as well as a song based on a traditional cry of joy. And she reminded parents of the importance of teaching children about their ancestors and culture.
Maison de la Culture Notre Dame de Grâce and Maison de la Culture Côte des Neiges had a full array of activities to celebrate Black History month. I was particularly taken with Pat Dillon’s portrayal of a black domestic talking about life, politics and the condition of black women in “Clemmie is M’friend.”
The one-woman play gives historical significance to all the black women who have worked as domestics, my mother included, and who in some ways have been the backbone of the black community.
Reads letter aloud
During the play, she reads aloud a letter she sent to her mother and children in Jamaica. She tells of the police shootings of black men and recounts the bitter irony of how these black men were killed. She concludes her letter by telling her mother not to send her teenage son for fear he might become one of the police statistics.
Even the National Gallery of Canada got involved in Black History Month this year by having a series of talks on such topics as African art and aesthetics and the image of blacks in art.
I attended one of these by art educator Maureen Flynn-Burhoe called “The Positive Presence of Absence: a History of the African Canadians through Works in the Permanent Collection of the National Gallery of Canada.” Even though there weren’t many works in the Gallery’s collection, Flynn-Burhoe managed to use certain paintings in the permanent collection to discuss the social and historical significance of these images to the black experience.
What wasn’t there became as relevant as what was there. One fascinating story was about the portrait of a naval officer, painted for his bravery. However, what was not hanging there, Flynn-Burhoe noted, was a painting of an equally brave soldier who was on another ship at the same time, and who was awarded the Victoria Cross. His name was William Hall and he was black. The omissions speak volumes.
But the most fascinated thing about the art tour was coming face to face with a bronze bust of one of my relatives – Tommy Simmons, who worked as a railway porter and coached an all-black girls’ baseball team.
It is one of the few existing sculptures of a black Canadian person. The bust, by Orson Wheeler, was found in 1975 in a studio at Sir George Williams University.
Jones, also a relative of Simmons, was on hand to give some historical information about the bust.
The talk reminded me how the contributions of black Canadians have gone missing from the pages of Canadian history. Black History Month came to life for me when these untold stories began to surface.
Reactions to Black History Month vary with the black community. Most of the people I spoke to were very positive about its scope and impact.
One view was that besides giving blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves, Black History Month forces the involvement of societal institutions like governments, schools, art galleries, and various media.
Other people, however, were sceptical of the benefits of dedicating just one month to this agenda.
One person I spoke to expressed concern that there were not enough young people at the events; another that there weren’t enough people of other cultural groups.
One view was that Black History Month should work towards incorporating into the programs events that have a focus on the future.
Black History Month showed the diversity, richness, and talent can be found in the black communities. It was a testimony to the pain, joy and difficulties of the black experience (Ruggles 1995:02-23, reprinted Ruggles and Rovinescu 1996: 68-9).”
1971 Ruggles interviewed a Sleeping Car Porter: “Most porters did their work simply because they were afraid of getting fired. Most of these men had families and they wanted their kids to get a good education and they tried to do their work and stay out of trouble. They would have died if someone had taken their jobs away from them for no reason. I was there…I felt these men…you can feel things like that. I’ve seen men cry like babies and shake. I’ve had to hold them back from getting at an inspector or a conductor. Every time I think about it I get so full of rage. All the resentment just errupts in me all over again. I’ve had to control this anger…this hatred for thirty years.” “Unit 7: World War Two: Breaking Down The Barriers” in “Some Missing Pages: The Black Community in the History of Quebec and Canada.”
1974 Ruggles interviewed a Sleeping Car Porter: “In the old days the porters were hired if they were “good boys”. Yes Sir Mr. Charlie. It was just a mask that they wore. That has all changed, as far as the younger porters are concerned. The older one still do it. It becomes habit forming after a while, they’ve been doing it a long time. You don’t teach an old dog new tricks, anything that the management says, they’d accept. They’re not willing to fight for their right. There’s no fire in them anymore. There’s no zest. The younger porters have more spunk. They won’t take as much. They won’t hop when an inspector gets on the train. You should see the old timers kill themselves when an inspector gets on the train. They overwork themselves. We don’t care. We’re a new generation, we don’t say “yes Sir Mr. Charlie, No Sir Mr. Charlie”. That’s dead, and we want it to die, but the old guys are letting it live.” “Unit 7: World War Two: Breaking Down The Barriers” in “Some Missing Pages: The Black Community in the History of Quebec and Canada.”
1975 Ruggles interviewed a Sleeping Car Porter “When I first started, all porters where Black…and every white person on the train had the authority to act as your boss. Any passenger could get us fired. The conductors, our immediate bosses were told to ‘ride the porters’…make them tow the line, make them submissive. The tourist cars were just like cattle cars…soldier, low-life types…poor people who had no business on the train, got on with all their prejudices. They would insult us…humiliate us, and no matter what insult was hurled at us, the conductors were always reprimanding us…apologizing to them, promising them we would be disciplined accordingly. Consequently, a lot of porters were fired for hitting people in the mouth. But how much can a man take? Anybody…any bum could come up to you and tell you that he’s going to get your job just because he didn’t like your face. It gave them pleasure to act superior to Black people.” “Unit 7: World War Two: Breaking Down The Barriers” in “Some Missing Pages: The Black Community in the History of Quebec and Canada.”
1976 Ruggles interviewed a Sleeping Car Porter: “Porters used to have to shine shoes. One inspector used to actually smell them to see if they were freshly shined. I remember one porter got some really smelly cheese and put it in a shoe..this inspector took a whiff…I think that cured him…for a while. Another disgusting thing were the cuspidors or spitoons in the smoke room. These were cups in which people would spit. There was nothing more degrading than emptying these things out. Can anything be more disgusting than cleaning out somebody’s spit?” “Unit 7: World War Two: Breaking Down The Barriers” in “Some Missing Pages: The Black Community in the History of Quebec and Canada.”
1976 Ruggles interviewed a Sleeping Car Porter: “We were treated like five year olds. we couldn’t even talk back. If you did, they’d punish you…they’d put you out in the streets and make your wife come down and beg for your job. This is the reason I never got married. I never wanted my children to be ashamed of me. The porters that survived the best were the Uncle Toms…but I’ve seen these so called Uncle-Toms ashamed of the things they had to do…knowing that their children were ashamed of them. When they’d get home they’d break mirrors and break windows. The company never know about this, or cared about it for that matter. The story of my life is that I have closed this job out of my life. I go through the motions of doing my work to keep these people off my back. If have no respect for this job. As a matter of fact. I do not allow my friends to refer to this “nigger” job when I’m off it.” “Unit 7: World War Two: Breaking Down The Barriers” in “Some Missing Pages: The Black Community in the History of Quebec and Canada.”
1989 Clifton Ruggles published em>Visions of Colour which included “poems were inspired by events and situations which have had a profound influence upon [his] life. Reprinted in “Unit 7: World War Two: Breaking Down The Barriers” in “Some Missing Pages: The Black Community in the History of Quebec and Canada.”
“To me poetry is an inner experience which requires a certain understanding of yourself, of the situation and the conditions which give birth to creative expression. My father worked as a porter for many years. After his accidental death, I became interested in learning about the kind of work he did and how it had affected him. So I decided to take employment as a porter for the C.P.R. Soon after I became acquainted with many of the people with whom he had worked as well as some of his closest friends. It was them who shared their deepest and most cherished memories with me. I was deeply touched by the stories of the men who had worked the trains for many years and one day I decided to write about them. These poems are a result of that experience (Ruggles 1989).”
Ruggles Poetry from 1989
To be nothing more than a figure head a shadow
Of something concrete…
But the shadow is concrete too
Existing in the background
Its hopes, fears, aspirations
Emotionally swallowed up in the foreground
Opaque but striving to be noticed
By whom for what?
The moon grows smaller
But the shadow grows taller
Reaching for the moon
Slowly the moon disintegrates
The shadow is no more
until the Sun rises
If it rises?
The shadow’s plight remains the same
bent and twisted on the walls of shame
A shadow will always be a shadow
From: Ruggles. 1989. Visions of Colour, 1989, Montreal.
Ruggles, Clifton. 1989. Visions of Colour.Montreal.
Ruggles, Clifton, 1995, “Black History Month is better than ever,” The Gazette,” Montreal, Thursday, February 23, 1995.
Ruggles, Clifton; Rovinescu. 1996. Outsider Blues: a Voice from the Shadows. Fernwood Publications: Halifax.
Goddard, Horace I.; Ruggles, Clifton. reprinted 2008. "The nature of black writing in Canada: an interview with Cecil Foster." Kola. 2008: Spring.
Horace I. Goddard "The nature of black writing in Canada: an interview with Cecil Foster". Kola.
Learn Quebec. "Work and Identity: The Art of Clifton Ruggles" in "Unit 7: World War Two: Breaking Down The Barriers" in "Some Missing Pages: The Black Community in the History of Quebec and Canada." Unit 7. Features. Social Sciences. Learn Quebec curriculum.
List of Works on Black Canadian History Recommended by Learn Quebec Curriculum Unit on Black Canadian History
1: Print Sources
Africville Genealogical Society, ed. The Spirit of Africville. Halifax: Formac Press, 1992.
Bearden, Jim, and Linda Jean Butler. The Life and Times of Mary Shadd Cary. Toronto: NC Press, 1977.
Bertley, Leo W. Canada and Its People of African DescentPierrefonds: Bilongo Publishers, 1971.
---. Montreal's Oldest Black Congregation: Union Church 3007 Deslisle Street. Pierrefonds: Bilongo Publishers, 1976.
Best, Carrie M. That Lonesome Road: The Autobiography of Carrie Best. Nova Scotia: The Clarion Publishing Company Ltd., 1979.
Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia. Traditional Lifetime Stories: A Collection of Black Memories. Black Cultural Centre, 1987 (Vol. 1), 1990 (Vol. 2).
Braithwaite, Rella, and Tessa Benn-Ireland. Some Black Women: Profiles of Black Women in Canada. Toronto: Sister Vision, 1993.
Bramble, Linda. Black Fugitive Slaves in Early Canada. Vanwell History Project Series. St. Catharines: Vanwell, 1988.
Brand, Dionne. No Burden to Carry: Narratives of Black Working Women in Ontario 1920s to 1950s. Toronto: Women's Press, 1991.
Brown, Rosemary. Being Brown: A Very Public Life. Mississauga: Random House, 1989.
Bymmer, D. The Jamaican Maroons: How They Came to Nova Scotia: How They Left It. 1898. Reprint. Toronto: Canadian House, 1968.
Carter, Velma, and Wilma Leffler Akili. The Window of Our Memories. St. Albert, Alberta: B.C.R. Society of Alberta, 1981.
Carter, Velma and Levero Carter. The Black Canadians: Their History and Contributions. Edmonton: Reidmore, 1988.
Clairmont, Donald H. and Denis William Magill. Africville: The Life and Death of a Canadian Black Community. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1974.
Clairmont, Donald H. Nova Scotia Blacks: An Historical and Structural Overview. Halifax: Dalhousie University Institute of Public Affairs, 1970.
Clarke, Austin. Nine Men Who Laughed. Markham: Penguin Books, 1986.
---. When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks. Toronto: House of Anansi Press Ltd., 1971.
DeJean, Paul. Les Haïtiens au Québec. Montréal: Presses de l'Université du Québec, 1978.
---. Haitians in Quebec. (Translated and with a foreward by Max Dorsinville.) Ottawa: Tecumseh Press, 1980.
Denby, Charles. Indignant Heart: A Black Worker's Journal. Montréal: Black Rose, 1979.
D'Oyley, Vincent. Black Presence in a Multi-Ethnic Canada. Vancouver: Centre for the Study of Curriculum and Instruction, University of British Columbia, 1978.
Drew, Benjamin. The Refugee: or the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada. Related by Themselves, with an Account of the History and Condition of the Colored Population of Upper Canada. Boston: John P. Jewett and Company, 1856. Rpt. as The Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada. Toronto: Coles Publishing Company, 1981.
Eber, Dorothy. The Computer Centre Party: Canada Meets Black Power. Montréal: Tundra Books, 1969.
Elliot, Lorris, ed. Other Voices: Writings by Blacks in Canada. Toronto: William- Wallace, 1985.
Forsythe, Dennis, ed. Let the Niggers Burn: Racism in Canada. Montréal: Black Rose, 1971.
Gay, Daniel. Des empreintes noires sur la neige blanche: les noires au Québec (1750-1900): Rapport final. Québec: Conseil Québécois de la Recherche Sociale, 1988.
Gilmore, John. Swinging in Paradise: The Story of Jazz in Montreal. Montréal: Véhicule Press, 1988.
Govia, Francine, and Helen Lewis. Blacks in Canada: In Search of the Promise. A Bibliographical Guide to the History of Blacks in Canada. Edmonton: Harambee Centres Canada, 1988.
Grow, Stewart. "The Blacks of Amber Valley: Negro Pioneering in Northern Alberta." Canadian Ethnic Studies 6, nos. 1-2 (1974): 17-38.
Hill, Daniel. The Freedom Seekers: Blacks in Early Canada. Agincourt,: The Book Society of Canada, 1981.
---. Human Rights in Canada: A Focus on Racism. Ottawa: Canadian Labour Congress, 1977.
Hill, Donna, ed. A Black Man's Toronto 1914-1980: The Reminiscences of Harry Gairey. Toronto: The Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1981.
Hill, Lawrence. Trials and Triumphs: The Story of African Canadians. Toronto: Umbrella Press, 1993.
Hornby, Jim. Black Islanders: Prince Edward Island's Historical Black Community. Charlottetown, PEI: Institute of Island Studies, 1991.
Jean Baptiste, Jacqueline. Haitians in Canada = Aylsyin Nan Kanada. Ottawa: Minister of State Multiculturalism, 1979.
Kilian, Crawford. Go Do Some Great Thing: The Black Pioneers of British Columbia. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1978.
Krauter, Joseph F., and Morris Davis. Minority Canadians: Ethnic Groups. Ontario: Methuen, 1978.
Lind, Jane. The Underground Railroad: Ann Maria Weems. Toronto: Grolier Limited, 1990.
MacEwan, Grant. John Ware's Cow Country. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1972.
Pachai, Bridglal. Beneath the Clouds of the Promised Land: Volume 1 1660-1800: The Survival of Nova Scotia's Blacks. Halifax: The Black Educators Association of Nova Scotia, 1987.
---. Beneath the Clouds of the Promised Land: Volume 2 1800-1989: The Survival of Nova Scotia's Blacks. Halifax: The Black Educators Association of Nova Scotia, 1990.
Porter, Kenneth. "Negroes in the Fur Trade." Minnesota History 15 (1934): 421-433.
Riendeau, Rodger. An Enduring Heritage: Black Contributions to Early Ontario. Toronto: Dundurn, 1984.
Ruck, Calvin. Canada's Black Battalion. Rev. ed. Nimbus, 1987.
Silvera, Makeda, ed. Silenced: Talks with Working Class West Indian Women About Their Lives and Struggles as Domestic Workers in Canada. Rev. ed. Toronto: Sister Vision, 1989.
Spray, W. A. The Blacks in New Brunswick. Fredericton: Brunswick Press, 1972.
Sterling, Dorothy. Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman. Garden City: Doubleday, 1954.
Still, William. The Underground Railroad. New York: The Arno Press and the New York Times, 1968.
Talbot, Carol. Growing Up Black in Canada. Toronto: Williams-Wallace, 1984.
Thomson, Colin A. Blacks in Deep Snow: Black Pioneers in Canada. Don Mills: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1979.
Tounkara, Foday M. Un Africain à Montréal. Paris: Pensée Universale, 1980.
Troper, Harold Martin. "The Creek-Negroes and Canadian Immigration 1909-1911." The Canadian Historical Review 53, no. 3 (September, 1972): 272-288.
Tulloch, Headley. Black Canadians: A Long Line of Fighters. Toronto: New Canada Press, 1975.
Walker, James W. St. G. The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone 1783-1870. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.
---. A History of Blacks in Canada: A Study Guide for Teachers and Students. Hull: Canadian Government Publishing Centre, 1980.
---. Identity: The Black Experience in Canada. Ed. Patricia Thorvaldson. Toronto: Ontario Educational Communications Authority, in association with Gage Educational Publishing Ltd., 1979.
---. Racial Discrimination in Canada: The Black Experience. Ottawa: The Canadian Historical Association, 1985.
---. The West Indians in Canada. Toronto: The Canadian Historical Association, 1984.
Williams, Dorothy W. Blacks in Montreal, 1628-1986: An Urban Demography. Cowansville: Editions Yvon Blais, 1989.
Winks, Robin W. The Blacks in Canada: A History. Montréal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1971.
---. "The Canadian Negro, A Historical Assessment." Journal of Negro History 53, no. 4 (October 1968): 283-300.
---. "The Canadian Negro, A Historical Assessment Part II: The Problem of Identity." Journal of Negro History 54, no 1 (January 1969): 1-18.
---. "Negro School Segregation in Ontario and Nova Scotia." Canadian Historical Review 50, no. 2 (June 1969): 164-191.
Winks, Robin W. et al., intro. Four Fugitive Slave Narratives. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1969.
Print Sources Audio Visual Sources Archival Sources
Table of Contents
II: Audio-Visual Sources
Black Mother Black Daughter. Dir. Sylvia Hamilton and Claire Prieto. National Film Board, 1989. 28 min. 59 sec. This film pays tribute to the Black Women of Nova Scotia, who have struggled for over 200 years.
Fields of Endless Day. Dir. Terence Macartney-Filgate. National Film Board, 1978. 58 min. 14 sec. Outlines the presence of Black people in Canada from the seventeenth to the mid-twentieth century.
In the Key of Oscar. Dir. William R. Cunningham and Sylvia Sweeney. National Film Board, 1992. 94 min. A film biography of Montreal jazz pianist Oscar Peterson.
Older Stronger Wiser. Dir. Claire Prieto. National Film Board, 1989. 27 min. 59 sec. A unique history told by five Black women who discuss their lives between the 1920s and the 1950s.
Remember Africville. Dir. Shelagh Mackenzie. National Film Board, 1991. 35 min. Former residents of this historical Black community in Halifax discuss Africville's demolition and their relocation in the 1960s.
The Right Candidate for Rosedale. Dir. Bonnie Sherr Klein and Ann Henderson. National Film Board, 1979. 32 min. 52 sec. The story of Anne Cools, a Black woman, and her bid for the Liberal Party nomination in the Toronto riding of Rosedale.
Seven Shades of Pale. Dir. Les Rose. National Film Board, 1975. 28 min. 37 sec. A Black community meeting in Nova Scotia highlights the different perspectives of the older and younger generations towards the ways of obtaining positive change.
Speak It! From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia. Dir. Sylvia Hamilton. National Film Board, 1993. 29 min. A group of Black teenagers discover the richness of their heritage and learn some of the ways they can begin to effect a change in the exclusionary and racist attitudes in their predominantly white high school.
Voice of the Fugitive. Dir. René Bonnière. National Film Board, 1978. 29 min. 55 sec. This drama follows a group of fugitive slaves travelling North to Canada on the Underground Railroad in the 1850s.
Print Sources Audio Visual Sources Archival Sources
Table of Contents
III: Archival Sources
Black Studies Centre, 1968 de Maisonneuve Street West, Montréal, Québec H3H 1K5, Dr. Clarence Bayne, President.
The Roy States Black History Collection and the Lawrence M. Lande Collection of Canadiana, Rare Books Department, McLennan Library, McGill University.
Filed in African Canadian history, forgetting, History, hospitality, My personal product recommendations, My Reviews, My Reviews of Books, social cohesion, Visual Arts, Writers and theorists
Tags: African Canadian, Black History Month, Carter G. Woodsen, Clifton Ruggles, Montreal black community, National Gallery of Canada, Orson Wheeler, Tommy Simmons, William Hall VC