It's hard to think of another person in Canadian politics who was as much of a trailblazer as Lincoln Alexander.
He was the first to do so many things:
- In 1968, he became the first black MP in Canadian history, having been elected in his adopted city of Hamilton, despite a wave of Trudeaumania that captured the country's imagination. Linc was a Tory.
- In 1979, he became the first black cabinet minister in Canadian history, albeit for eight months during the short-lived Joe Clark government. He had the labour portfolio.
- In 1985, he became the first black lieutenant-governor in Canadian history, having been appointed by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
This man, whose father was a railway car porter because, according to Linc, that's the highest job a black man of his generation could aspire to, eventually met the Queen three times, as her representative in Ontario.
There's been a steady stream of Canadians that's come to Queen's Park over the past few days to pay their respects to Alexander, whose body lay in state in the foyer by the grand staircase since last Sunday. (It's now been moved to Hamilton City Hall.)
And what's been wonderful to see, frankly, are so many black faces at the legislature. The corridors of power in Canada are still overwhelmingly white. So it's been refreshing to see Queen's Park filled with people who might not normally visit that place.
Two visitors I saw during my visit to pay my respects included the first black male and female cabinet ministers in Ontario history: Alvin Curling, who was a minister in the David Peterson government of 1985-90, and Zanana Akande, who was in Bob Rae's cabinet from 1990-94. Alexander was surely a role model and trailblazer for both of them.
And George Smitherman came by to pay his respects with his adopted son in his arms. The former Liberal deputy premier said he wanted his son, who is black, to know more about this great Canadian, who had to overcome a ton of racism to get to where he got in life, but did so with the right mix of grit and elegance.
A memorial service for Lincoln Alexander will be held at Hamilton Place on Friday. Hamilton Place seats more than 2,000 people and I have no doubt every seat will be filled by someone with a fond memory or two of one of Canada's greatest citizens.
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