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Honouring Lincoln M. Alexander

On January 21, the government of Ontario celebrated the memory of Lincoln M. Alexander by unveiling his bust in the West Wing of Queen’s Park. The bust was sculpted by Award-winning Toronto artist, Quentin VerCetty.[1]

Lincoln Alexander was Canada’s first Black member of Parliament, the first Black person to hold a viceregal position in Canada and is now the first Black Canadian political figure to have a parliamentary bust in a legislature in Canada. In 2013, January 21st was officially declared ‘Lincoln Alexander Day’ in Ontario.[2]

In celebration of the life of Lincoln Alexander, we would like to highlight some of the obstacles he overcame as well as his many achievements.

The Early Life of “Linc”

Lincoln M. Alexander (colloquially known as “Linc”) was born on January 21, 1922, in Toronto. Linc was the eldest of two sons, born to Mae Rose and Lincoln MacCauley Alexander Sr.

Growing up as the only Black child in his classes at Earl Grey Public School, Linc admittedly earned the respect of his classmates by fighting. In his memoir, Linc said that standing up for himself taught him “to always walk tall, and with a certain bearing, so people knew [he] meant business.”[3]

Despite his tendency to mix it up on the playground, Linc valued his education and was consistently ranked in the top-ten in his classes at elementary school and at Riverdale Collegiate High School.

When he was fifteen, his mother left an abusive relationship with his father and moved to Harlem, New York. It was there that Linc enrolled in DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, which was notably the alma mater of famous writer, James Baldwin.

After he was sent back to live with his father, Lincoln enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force where he served as a wireless operator during World War II. After the War, Linc attended McMaster University, graduating in 1949.

Overcoming Adversity

After graduation, Linc applied for a sales position with a Hamilton steel plant that he worked at during the summers. Unfortunately, the company was unwilling to hire a Black person for their sales department and offered him his old job instead.

This early rejection convinced Linc that he wanted to work for himself and so, he enlisted at Osgoode Hall to become a lawyer. However, even as a war veteran with a law degree and exceptional academic credentials, Linc struggled to enter the legal field.

Eventually, another minority, a Jewish lawyer Sam Gotfried Q.C. hired him as an articling student. Linc practiced in commercial and real estate law and eventually, criminal law. He was appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 1965. That year, he also received a personal invitation to enter politics from Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.

In 1968, Lincoln Alexander won the federal seat for the Hamilton West riding. After a memorable career as a Member of Parliament, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney recommended that Lincoln Alexander be appointed as the 24th lieutenant-governor of Ontario. He was sworn in on September 20, 1985. The three goals in his mandate were advancing the cause of youth, fighting racism and advocating on behalf of seniors.

As a lieutenant-governor, Lincoln Alexander met 290 dignitaries, received 72,283 guests, visited 704 communities, held 715 receptions, visited 2,235 schools, signed 60,000 orders-in-council and cabinet documents, and gave royal asset to 551 bills. In 1991, he was appointed Chancellor of the University of Guelph. In his fifteen years as Chancellor, he conferred more than 20,000 degrees.[4]

In 1992, Lincoln Alexander was appointed as a Companion of the Order of Canada and to the Order of Ontario. Osgoode Hall Law School’s Alumni Association gave him an Award of Excellence in 1996 and in 1997, the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award.[5]

Lincoln Alexander’s Legacy Lives On

On October 19, 2012, Lincoln Alexander died at the age of 90. His legacy is noteworthy and in testament of it, he has many eponyms in his honour, including Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway (Highway) in Hamilton; Lincoln Alexander Public Schools in Ajax, Hamilton, and Markham; Lincoln M. Alexander Secondary School in Mississauga; Alexander Hall at the University of Guelph; and Lincoln Alexander School of Law at the Toronto Metropolitan University.

His public service honours also include the 876 Lincoln Alexander Royal Canadian Air Cadets Squadron and the Lincoln M. Alexander Building (the OPP headquarters building in Orillia).

Lincoln Alexander was a familiar face in my hometown of Hamilton, where he could often be found on downtown streets on his scooter, striking up friendly conversations with anyone who had time to chat. He was without a doubt, a great Canadian, and an inspiration to many.

[1] Much like me, Quentin met Lincoln in high school (at his namesake in Mississauga) where Lincoln told him, “Young man, I can see you doing great things.” I met Lincoln at St. Jean de Brebeuf in Hamilton where he told me, a young troublemaker, that “I could do anything I put my mind to.” It’s safe to say Lincoln Alexander inspired us both to reach for greater heights.

[2] Joanna Lavoie, “Bronze bust honouring Lincoln M. Alexander unveiled at Queen’s Park” (January 23, 2024), accessed online: http://cp24.com/news/bronze-bust-honouring-lincoln-m-alexander-unveieled-at-queens-s-park-1.6736110.

[3] Sandra Martin, “Obituary: Former lieutenant-governor took discrimination as personal challenge” (December 30, 2018), Globe and Mail, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/obituary-former-lieutenant-governor-took-discrimination-as-personal-challenge/article4623578/

[4] Sandra Martin, supra.

[5] Lincoln Alexander also received the government of Ontario Award for Outstanding Achievement in Human Rights in 1998. In 2002 he was a recipient of Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee Medal and in 2012 he received Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (Toronto Metropolitan University – Lincoln Alexander School of Law, “Our Namesake” (May 6, 2021), accessed online at: https://www.torontomu.ca/law/about/our-namesake/.


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