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Lincoln Alexander

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Lincoln Alexander
Alexander in 2005
24th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
In office
September 20, 1985 – December 10, 1991
MonarchElizabeth II
Governors GeneralJeanne Sauvé
Ray Hnatyshyn
PremierDavid Peterson
Bob Rae
Preceded byJohn Black Aird
Succeeded byHal Jackman
Minister of Labour
In office
June 4, 1979 – March 2, 1980
Prime MinisterJoe Clark
Preceded byMartin O'Connell
Succeeded byGerald Regan
Member of Parliament
for Hamilton West
In office
June 25, 1968 – May 28, 1980
Preceded byJoseph Macaluso
Succeeded byStanley Hudecki
Personal details
Lincoln MacCauley Alexander

(1922-01-21)January 21, 1922
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
DiedOctober 19, 2012(2012-10-19) (aged 90)
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Political partyProgressive Conservative
Yvonne Harrison
(m. 1948; died 1999)
Marni Beal
(m. 2011)
ChildrenKeith Lincoln Alexander
Alma materMcMaster University
York University, Osgoode Hall Law School
  • Barrister
  • solicitor
Military service
Branch/serviceRoyal Canadian Air Force
Years of service1942–45
Battles/warsWorld War II

Lincoln MacCauley Alexander PC CC OOnt CD QC (January 21, 1922 – October 19, 2012) was a Canadian lawyer and politician who became the first Black Canadian to be a member of Parliament in the House of Commons, a federal Cabinet Minister (as federal Minister of Labour), a Chair of the Worker's Compensation Board of Ontario, and the 24th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1985 to 1991. Alexander was also a governor of the Canadian Unity Council.

Alexander was born in Toronto to Caribbean immigrant parents. After service during World War II, he received a Bachelor of Arts from McMaster University in 1949 before earning his law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1953. A member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, he became the first black Member of Parliament in Canadian history after being elected to the House of Commons in the 1968 Canadian federal election. He was named Minister of Labour in 1979 under prime minister Joe Clark, holding the position until the PC party's defeat in the 1980 election. He resigned from the House of Commons later that year and became Chair of the Worker's Compensation Board of Ontario.

In 1985, he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, holding the position until 1991. From 1991 to 2007, he became Chancellor of the University of Guelph, becoming the first person to serve five terms in that capacity.[1] He died in 2012 and was accorded a state funeral. Ryerson University (now Toronto Metropolitan University)'s faculty of law was renamed in his honour in 2021.

Early life and education


Alexander was born on January 21, 1922, in a row house on Draper Street[2] near Front Street and Spadina Avenue in Toronto, Ontario.[3] He was the eldest son of Mae Rose (née Royale), who immigrated from Jamaica, and Lincoln McCauley Alexander Sr., a carpenter by trade[4] who worked as a porter on the Canadian Pacific Railway, who had come to Canada from St. Vincent and the Grenadines.[5] Lincoln had a younger brother Hughie, born in 1924, and an older half-brother Ridley "Bunny" Wright, born to his mother in 1920 prior to her marriage to his father.[3]

Alexander went to Earl Grey Public School where he was the only Black child in his kindergarten class. He noted in his memoir that he "never raced home from school and cried" but earned the respect of his classmates, sometimes by fighting. This taught him "to always walk tall, and with a certain bearing, so people knew I meant business".[3] In his 2006 memoir, Go to School, You're a Little Black Boy, Alexander recalled: "Blacks at that time made up a sliver-thin portion of the city's population, and racial prejudice abounded." When the family moved to the east end of Toronto, and he attended Riverdale Collegiate, Alexander knew only three Black families. "The scene in Toronto at that time wasn't violent, though you had to know your place and govern yourself accordingly."[3]

His family was religious and enjoyed a social life centred on regularly attending a Baptist church in downtown Toronto. His father was a stern disciplinarian who wanted his son to play the piano. Alexander preferred various sports, including track, soccer, hockey, softball, and boxing; he never learned to swim. His size made him uncoordinated so he was not a natural athlete.[3]

As a teen Alexander's mother moved to Harlem with his half-brother Ridley after his father beat her violently. Lincoln and his brother Hughie were cared for by Sadie and Rupert Downes until his mother could send for one of them. She chose Lincoln; Hughie remained with the Downes family and the brothers grew apart.[citation needed]

In New York he attended DeWitt Clinton High School, the only member of his family to do so. He recalled in his memoir, "[G]iven the message about education that had been pounded into my head since I was a young child, the fact those kids didn’t go to school was an eye-opener for me." As a black community, Harlem allowed him to find role models who worked at jobs that did not involve manual labour.[3]

Second World War


In 1939, after Canada declared war on Germany, his mother sent him back to Toronto to live with his father. Lincoln met Yvonne (Tody) Harrison at a dance in Toronto. The youngest of four daughters of Robert, a railway porter, and his wife Edythe (née Lewis), Harrison lived in Hamilton, Ontario. Alexander was smitten by her and resolved to marry her. Because he was too young to enlist in the armed forces, he took a job as a machinist making anti-aircraft guns at a factory in Hamilton to be close to her.[3]

He first distinguished himself in service to Canada in 1942 as a corporal and wireless operator in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. He served in many parts of the country including Portage La Prairie. He was ineligible for combat duty because of poor eyesight.[3][6][7]

While stationed in Vancouver, he was refused service at a bar because of his race. He reported the incident to a superior officer who refused to take action. Alexander quit the Air Force in 1945 and was granted an honourable discharge. Of that incident, he said: "[A]t that time they didn't know how to deal with race relations of this sort of thing; they just turned a blind eye to it."[7]

Post-secondary schooling and legal career


After the war Alexander completed his studies at Hamilton's Central Collegiate and then entered McMaster University in 1946 to study economics and history, receiving a BA in 1949.[3][6]

At age 25, on September 10, 1948, he married Yvonne "Tody" Harrison, five years his senior. Upon graduating in 1949, he applied for a sales job at Stelco, a steel plant in Hamilton, Ontario. Although he had references, the support of McMaster and the mayor of Hamilton, Stelco was unwilling to have a black man on its sales force. He declined their offer of his old summer job working in the plant.[3]

In 1948, Alexander's mother died at age 49, suffering from dementia; his father committed suicide four years later.[4] He married his first wife, Yvonne Harrison, in 1948;[4] their only child, a son Keith, was born in 1949.[3] In 1986, Alexander said in a Chatelaine magazine interview: "My mother was the single biggest influence on me–before my wife, I’ve always regretted that she didn’t live to see me graduate from university."[3]

Alexander then attended Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. While there, he suggested to the Dean during a lecture that he was using inappropriate language: "looking for a nigger in a woodpile".[4] Challenging the Dean he said: "But you can't say that because you have to show leadership. You're in a position of authority, a leader in the community. A leader has to lead and not be using such disrespectful comments without even thinking about them."[3] Of the incident he recalled: "I don't know whatever made me stand up and ask him that in a class of 200 people. ... But I will tell you one thing, that day made me a man."[7] His actions did not end his career as he feared and Alexander graduated from Osgoode Hall in 1953.[4]

After articling for Sam Gottfried, the only job offer he received was from Helen and Ted Okuloski, a brother and sister who had started their own practice in Hamilton when they were unable to find jobs with existing firms. Here he practiced real estate and commercial law and established a political base in the German and Polish communities in Hamilton. Two years later Alexander partnered with Dave Duncan, forming the firm Duncan & Alexander, which he claimed was the first inter-racial law partnership in Canada.[3][4] Alexander bought his own home on Proctor Blvd in the east end of Hamilton in 1958 and was able to move his family out of his in-laws' house. He lived there for nearly four decades.[3]

In 1960, he and his wife visited twenty-three countries in Africa as volunteers with Operation Crossroads Africa, a trip he said that made him realize: "In Africa, I was a black man and I was somebody."[4] Alexander wrote in his memoir:

The experience was an eye-opener for me not only as a lawyer but also as a human being because I began to realize what black people could do. I saw that, unlike the Hollywood version, these Africans were men and women of significant talents. I became conscious of my blackness. I had come from a white world. Now we were in Africa, and I realized we are people of skill and creativity. I was a black man and I was a somebody. I started standing tall.[3]

In 1962, Alexander's partnership with Duncan was dissolved. He joined former McMaster classmate Jack Millar in the firm Millar, Alexander, Tokiwa and Isaacs, which eventually became known as "the United Nations law firm". In his memoir, Alexander recalls: "A Caucasian, a black, Japanese and a Native Canadian. We were white, black, yellow and red, we used to laugh." He has appointed Queen's Counsel in 1965.[6]



In 1965, Alexander ran in the Canadian federal election as the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada candidate in the Hamilton West electoral district but was defeated.[6] He ran again in the 1968 federal election and on June 25, 1968, he won the seat, becoming Canada's first black Member of Parliament.[6]

On September 20, 1968, he made his maiden speech in the House of Commons saying:

"I am not the spokesman for the Negro; that honour has not been given to me. Do not let me ever give anyone that impression. However, I want the record to show that I accept the responsibility of speaking for him and all others in this great nation who feel that they are the subjects of discrimination because of race, creed or colour"[3]

In 1970, Alexander voted in favour of the War Measures Act invoked by then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau but later felt he had erred in this decision, saying: "[T]he issue of limiting rights has far more serious implications than I thought at the time. You become vulnerable, grasped by the tentacles of Government power."[8] In 1976, he voted to abolish capital punishment in a free vote introduced by the governing Liberal party.[3]

Alexander wrote in his memoir that he did not shy away from voting with the Liberal government if an issue warranted his support. As an example, he threatened to break ranks with his own party to vote in favour of anti-hate legislation, saying "screw you" to his party's argument that it would curtail freedom of speech. "Are you saying that you can call my son or daughter a nigger and that is free speech?" he asked during debate on the bill. Heath MacQuarrie, then a Tory MP from Prince Edward Island, stood up and said, "I'm not going to let Linc stand alone on this." Together they led 17 members of their caucus in support of the government's legislation.[8]

It was Alexander and Newfoundland MP John Lundrigan who provoked Trudeau into mouthing an obscenity in the House of Commons during a discussion of training programs for the unemployed in February 1971. This quickly became known as the "fuddle duddle" incident.[8]

Alexander was an observer to the United Nations in 1976 and 1978 and served briefly as Minister of Labour in the Progressive Conservative Party's minority government headed by Joe Clark from 1979 to 1980.[9]

He held the seat through four successive elections until resigning his seat on May 27, 1980, when he was asked by then Premier of Ontario Bill Davis to serve as chairman of the Ontario Worker's Compensation Board.[4][6] He misunderstood Davis's request and recalled: "I said [to the Premier], 'do you think this is going to give you the black vote around here, the vote of the visible minority ...?' I will never forget his look; he was extremely angry. I shouldn't have said that."[7]

Viceregal service

Alexander with Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother at the unveiling of the Flame of Hope at Banting House, July 1989.
Order Of Ontario given to Lincoln Alexander

In 1985, on the advice of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Governor General Jeanne Sauvé appointed Alexander Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. He became the first black person to serve in a viceregal position in Canada. (James Douglas, who was of mixed descent, was Governor of Vancouver Island and of British Columbia prior to Canadian Confederation when these were British colonies with no connection to the Canadas.)

During his appointment, he focused attention on multicultural issues and education, racism, and youth issues.[3][6] As viceroy he visited 672 communities, held 675 receptions, received roughly 75,000 guests, attended 4,000 engagements, and visited 230 schools.[4]

Later life


Alexander served as Chair of the Workers Compensation Board of Ontario from 1980 to 1985. The organization underwent its most extensive legislative overhaul since 1915 during his tenure. Also during his tenure, the WCBO sanctioned the use of chiropractors, over the objections of doctors, and created an independent appeals tribunal.[3]

In 1992, Alexander was appointed to the Order of Ontario and became a Companion of the Order of Canada. From 1991 to 2007, he served as Chancellor of the University of Guelph. His fifteen-year term as Chancellor exceeded that of any of his predecessors, and he assumed the office of Chancellor Emeritus in June 2007. He was succeeded as Chancellor by then broadcaster Pamela Wallin.[3][4]

In 2000, Alexander was named Chair of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, where he remained an active spokesman on race relations and veterans' issues.[7] Until the time of his death, he was the Honorary Patron of the Hamilton, Ontario, branch of St. John Ambulance,[10] as well as Honorary Chief of the Hamilton Police Service and Honorary Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police.[4]

Alexander with police horses at the 2005 Royal Winter Agriculture Fair

In November 2006, his autobiography Go to School, You're a Little Black Boy: The Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander: A Memoir was published.[8][11] The title reflects advice his mother had given him as a boy.


Hamilton Police Service guard of honour carrying Alexander's casket during his state funeral.

Alexander died in his sleep on the morning of October 19, 2012, aged 90.[12] The national and provincial flags outside the Ontario Legislative Building were flown at half-mast and tributes were given by various viceroys and politicians.[12][13][14]

His body lay in state, first inside the Ontario Legislative Building at Queen's Park, then at Hamilton City Hall.[12][15]

He was survived by his son Keith Lincoln Alexander from his marriage to his first wife Yvonne Harrison (died 1999). He was also survived by daughter-in-law Joyce Alexander and grandchildren Erika and Marissa Alexander, and his second wife Marni Beal whom he married in 2011.[16]

Alexander was accorded an Ontario state funeral conducted by the Reverend Allison Barrett. With the co-operation of thousands of officials, both Provincial and Federal, and Police Services across Canada, and featuring the Burlington Teen Tour Band and, Police Pipe and Drum band, it was conducted at Hamilton Place and attended by 1,500 people. Those in attendance included then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, then-Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Governor General David Johnston, former Governor General Michaëlle Jean, former Prime Minister Joe Clark, federal cabinet minister Julian Fantino, Dr. Alastair Summerlee, President of the University of Guelph, and Dr. Peter George, former President of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Also in attendance were the chairman of the Raptors Foundation and the publisher of the Hamilton newspaper, The Spectator.[17][18]



The Province of Ontario proclaimed January 21 "Lincoln Alexander Day" in Ontario. It became law in December 2013. As of December 3, 2014, with Royal Assent by the Governor General on December 9, 2014, January 21 is now recognized officially as "Lincoln Alexander Day"[19] and was celebrated across Canada for the first time in 2015.[6]

In 2018, Canada Post marked Black History Month with stamps featuring Alexander and Kay Livingstone.[20]

Several schools have been named in his honor.

The Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway municipal expressway in Hamilton, Ontario, was named in his honour.

On May 6, 2021, Ryerson University's faculty of law was renamed the Lincoln Alexander School of Law in his honour.[21]


Viceregal styles of
Lincoln MacCauley Alexander
Reference styleHis Honour the Honourable
Spoken styleYour Honour


The Lincoln Alexander Day (across Canada) act passed into law December 3, 2014.


Ribbon bars of Lincoln Alexander

Honorary military appointments


Halls of fame



Chancellor, visitor, governor, rector and fellowships
Location Date School Position
 Ontario 1991 – 2007 University of Guelph Chancellor
 Ontario 1989 – 19 October 2012 Renison University College at the University of Waterloo Honorary Senior Fellow [27]

Honorary degrees


Alexander received honorary degrees from numerous universities, including:

Honorary degrees
Location Date School Degree Gave Commencement Address
 Ontario 1986 University of Toronto Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [28]
 Ontario 1987 McMaster University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [29]
 Ontario 28 October 1988 University of Western Ontario Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [30]
 Ontario Fall 1990 York University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [31]
 Ontario 17 May 1991 Royal Military College of Canada Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [32] No
 Ontario 1992 Queen's University Doctor of Laws (LL.D) [33]

Other honours

Honorific eponyms



Roads, highways, and bridges



  • Ontario Ontario: 876 Lincoln Alexander Royal Canadian Air Cadets Squadron
  • Ontario Ontario: Lincoln M. Alexander Building, 777 Memorial Ave, Orillia, OPP headquarters


Coat of arms of Lincoln Alexander
The arms of Lincoln Alexander consist of:[36]
Above a helmet mantled Azure doubled Argent on a wreath Argent and Azure a demi-lion Azure wearing a coronet rimmed Or heightened with trillium flowers Argent seeded Or and charged on the shoulder with a mullet Argent holding in the dexter forepaw scales of justice Or.
Argent above two bars wavy Azure in base a lion rampant Sable armed and langued Azure charged on the shoulder with a trillium flower Argent seeded Or.
Dexter a lion Sable armed and langued Azure semé of trillium flowers Argent seeded Or winged Bleu Celeste gorged with a collar Argent charged with palm fronds Vert sinister a bear Sable armed and langued Azure winged Bleu Celeste, gorged with a collar Argent pendant therefrom a pomme bordered Argent displaying the badge of the House of Commons of Canada proper.
A grassy mound Vert strewn with palm fronds and breadfruit leaves Or rising above water Azure crested Argent.
Confidence Determination and Perseverance


  1. ^ "David Mirvish Named Eighth U of G Chancellor". Retrieved May 18, 2017.
  2. ^ White, Madeleine. "Home of the Week: Refurbished, repaired, renewed". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on October 23, 2015. Retrieved May 28, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Martin, Sandra (October 19, 2012). "Obituary: Former lieutenant-governor took discrimination as personal challenge". Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on October 23, 2015. Retrieved October 27, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Wells, Jon (October 20, 2012). "Lincoln Alexander dies at 90". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 23 October 2015. Retrieved October 21, 2012.
  5. ^ Wells, John (October 20, 2012). "A life well lived: Linc exits the stage at 90". The Hamilton Spectator. Archived from the original on October 23, 2015. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "Lincoln Alexander". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Retrieved September 1, 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e "The Honourable Lincoln Alexander". archives.gov.on.ca. Queen's Printer. Archived from the original on October 23, 2015. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  8. ^ a b c d Go to School, You're a Little Black Boy. Dundurn. 4 November 2006. p. 118. ISBN 9781550026634. Retrieved October 25, 2015 – via Internet Archive.[dead link]
  9. ^ Branch, Legislative Services (2014-12-09). "Consolidated federal laws of canada, Lincoln Alexander Day Act". laws-lois.justice.gc.ca. Retrieved 2022-01-19.
  10. ^ "News for Members of SJA". myemail.constancontact.com. St. John Ambulance. Archived from the original on October 23, 2015. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  11. ^ Alexander, Lincoln; Shoveller, Herb (2006). Go to School, You're a Little Black Boy. Toronto: Dundurn. Archived from the original on October 23, 2015.
  12. ^ a b c CBC News. "Lincoln Alexander, Canada's 1st black MP, dies". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on October 23, 2015. Retrieved October 19, 2012.
  13. ^ Babbage, Maria. "Lincoln Alexander dies at 90". Toronto Star. Canadian Press. Archived from the original on October 23, 2015. Retrieved October 19, 2012.
  14. ^ "Canada's first black MP, Lincoln Alexander, dies at 90". CTV News. Canadian Press. Archived from the original on October 23, 2015. Retrieved October 19, 2012.
  15. ^ Associated Press, WP. "State funeral planned for Lincoln Alexander, Canada's first black member of Parliament". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on October 21, 2012. Retrieved October 22, 2012.
  16. ^ "Erika Alexander remembers her grandfather Lincoln". CBC.ca. Archived from the original on October 23, 2015. Retrieved October 26, 2012.
  17. ^ Humphrys, Adrian (October 27, 2012). "State funeral honours former Ontario lieutenant governor Lincoln Alexander's 'life of firsts'". National Post. Retrieved October 26, 2012.
  18. ^ Coyle, Jim (October 27, 2012). "Lincoln Alexander: Hundreds line streets for state funeral". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on October 23, 2015. Retrieved May 18, 2017.
  19. ^ "Lincoln Alexander Day". blackhistoryottawa.weebly.com. Black History Ottawa. Archived from the original on October 23, 2015. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  20. ^ "2018 Black History Month stamps celebrate trailblazers Lincoln M. Alexander and Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone". Canada Post. January 26, 2018.
  21. ^ "Ryerson University renaming its law school after Lincoln Alexander". CBC News. 7 April 2021.
  22. ^ a b "The Lincoln Alexander Award | Law Society of Ontario". Retrieved 28 April 2024.
  23. ^ Office of the Governor General of Canada. Order of Canada citation. Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved May 24, 2010
  24. ^ "Tribute to Cpl Lincoln MacCauley Alexander". honourthem.ca. Honour Them. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  25. ^ Defence, National (September 16, 2020). "The Maple Leaf". aem.
  26. ^ "Previous Hall of Fame Inductees". The Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  27. ^ "Honorary Senior Fellows of Renison University College | Renison University College | University of Waterloo". uwaterloo.ca. Archived from the original on 30 April 2019. Retrieved 11 January 2022.
  28. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients 1850–2016, Sorted by Date of Degree Conferral" (PDF). University of Toronto. 2016. Retrieved 2017-05-19.
  29. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients (Chronological), 1892–Present" (PDF). McMaster University. March 31, 2017. Retrieved 2017-05-19.
  30. ^ "Honorary Degrees Awarded, 1881–present" (PDF). The University of Western Ontario. Retrieved 2017-05-19.
  31. ^ "Honorary Degree Recipients | University Secretariat". secretariat.info.yorku.ca.
  32. ^ Bennett, Pete (July 19, 2016). "Royal Military College of Canada Honorary Degree Recipients". www.rmc-cmr.ca.
  33. ^ "The History of Queen's Graduation | Registrar & Financial Aid Services". www.queensu.ca. Retrieved 28 April 2024.
  34. ^ "List of All Law Society Medal Recipients | Law Society of Ontario". Retrieved 28 April 2024.
  35. ^ "Lincoln M. Alexander Award". Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
  36. ^ Canadian Heraldic Authority (Volume II), 1992
Government offices
Preceded by Lieutenant Governor of Ontario
Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by Chancellor of the University of Guelph
1991 – June 2007
Succeeded by