'A new face entirely': northern Ontario's growing Black community looks to the future during history month

CBC News

Erik White · CBC News · Posted: Feb 21, 2023

February is Black history month, but with the Black population of northern Ontario growing rapidly in recent years, the present and the future deserve just as much attention. 

More than 5,000 people in the region describe themselves as Black in the 2021 census, double what it was 10 years earlier.

"I think Sudbury is experiencing a new face entirely," said Adebola Adefioye, who came to the city two years ago.

"And I feel that people in Sudbury are not totally ready for it."

The Afro Women and Youth Foundation in Sudbury wants to make sure that black girls growing up in the city can speak up for themselves, so it started a new wellness program just for them. We heard from some of the girls in the program.

She is the founder of the Afro Women and Youth Foundation, which recently launched a wellness program for Black girls in Sudbury.

Adefioye says the program, which runs until the summer, was inspired by stories of girls facing "anti-Black racism" at school and in the community. 

"As much as we cannot totally change the system, we want to start to support our own people to become empowered, so they can speak up for themselves," she said. 

Kimberly Williams, 15, is one of the 20 participants, who will be meeting regularly for the next few months. 

She remembers being the "target" of racism when she first came to Sudbury eight years ago.

"As the population grows, I notice it's happening less. I feel people are more getting used to having Black people around," Williams said. 

Nifemi Boamah and Olamide Fadahunsi are both 17-year-old students at St. Benedict's high school, who came to Sudbury in recent years from Nigeria. They share their thoughts on Black History Month and the growing black community in northern Ontario

Olamide Fadahunsi, 17, has also noticed that in the few years since she came to Sudbury from Nigeria with her family.

"I felt sort of out of place when there weren't a lot of people that looked like me," she said. 

"My school has become a bit more diverse. I do see the change happening."

We spoke with a couple of black teenagers in Sudbury about what they think about black history month and the future of the growing black community in northern Ontario.

Bayode Gegeoju, also originally from Nigeria, has noticed a lot more Black faces since he first came to Sudbury to study at Cambrian College

"The community is growing and I can tell you for sure it's a good feeling to see that," said the 35-year-old mechanical engineer and father of two, who is one of the founders of the annual Afrofest celebration. 

"It brings me to say that winter is not so bad. If you see Africans, then it can't be that bad. It's a warm feeling for sure."

He never heard of black history month growing up in Nigeria, and now in northern Ontario, he's thinking more about the history he's making, helping to grow the African community. Bayode Gegeoju of Nigeria talks about coming to Canada and his life here.

Ian Grant, who grew up in Jamaica and the Greater Toronto Area, moved to Sault Ste. Marie to purchase an information technology business two years ago. 

"It's definitely growing. I think folks are starting to see there's a rich community here," said the 51-year-old. 

"More and more I'm seeing people coming into the Sault that look like me."