1994 - Emery Barnes Becomes the First Black Speaker in Canada
Born in New Orleans and raised in Oregon, Emery Barnes had a short career in the National Football League before joining the B.C. Lions in 1957. He later attended the University of British Columbia and received a Bachelor of Social Work. It was in this new profession that Barnes befriended another social worker, future B.C.
Premier Dave Barrett, who would later urge Barnes to run for office. Barnes left his social work career to run a club in Harrison Hot Springs, but when the business proved unprofitable, he returned to Vancouver and, taking Barrett's advice, ran for provincial office in 1969, albeit unsuccessfully.
Barnes ran again and was elected in 1972 to the Legislative Assembly. Over the course of his tenure, Barnes gained wide recognition for his humility and compassion towards those in need. Once, Barnes accepted a challenge from an anti-poverty organization to live on welfare for two months and used this experience to effectively lobby for better social assistance. Barnes was elected
Speaker in 1994, becoming the first Black Speaker of any legislature in Canada. He held this position until he left politics in 1996.
Barnes experienced racism throughout his life, both in the U.S. and in Canada. This however didn't deter him from helping the disadvantaged and promoting human rights. In his last year in office, the government worked with the B.C. Black History Awareness Society to establish February as Black History Month.