Remembering Lincoln AlexanderNovember 5, 2012
Along with all Canadians, I was saddened to learn of the passing of Lincoln Alexander last month, at 90 years of age. I also, however, took time to give thanks for his life. We all owe a great debt of gratitude to this great Canadian. My generation owes a great deal to Alexander. He blazed a trail, so that we could follow.
Alexander was a man of firsts, although he never sought recognition for any of his monumental accomplishments. As the son of a hotel maid and railway porter, Alexander broke though countless barriers throughout his life. In 1968, he became the first black elected to Canada’s national Parliament, as the Conservative MP for Hamilton West. In 1979, he became the first black appointed to the federal cabinet.
Born in Toronto, he was the first person in his family to attend university, and when he graduated from Osgoode Hall law school in 1953, he became one of only five practising black lawyers in Ontario. He was a Second World War veteran who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force, at a time when it was difficult for blacks to enlist in the Canadian Forces.
I first got to know him through party politics, and later, during his time as Chancellor of the University of Guelph, when we participated in several events, including the official opening of the building that now bears his name, Alexander Hall. He was the longest-serving Chancellor at the university, and at the end of his term in 2007, he was named “chancellor emeritus”.
As Chancellor, he conferred degrees on more than 20,000 graduates and continuously exemplified to the student body that no dreams were too far out of reach. His legacy will live on through his family, as well as the schools, building, awards and highway that bear his name, even though he never held a driver’s license of his own.
He made my party more open and inclusive, and his election to Parliament in 1968 ensured that our national Parliament better reflects the makeup and diversity of Canada. As the son of Chinese and Dutch immigrants, I sit in our House of Commons because I was able to stand on the shoulders of giants. Lincoln Alexander was one of those Canadian giants.
Canada is a better place because of Lincoln Alexander, who enriched our lives and our communities. May we live his ideals and his love for Canada. May he rest in peace.
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