The accomplishments of 50 Black Atlantic Canadians are being celebrated in a new book by a local writer.
Dartmouth-born Lindsay Ruck wrote the recently-released Amazing Black Atlantic Canadians: Inspiring Stories of Courage and Achievement just in time for African Heritage Month.
It’s a book that she was driven to write for her two children.
“The fact that they will now have this book, which is something I didn’t have growing up,” Ruck told NEWS 95.7’s The Rick Howe Show. “I had the stories through my family and individuals such as my grandfather. So, now that they have something tangible that they can read and be inspired by was really the goal when putting this book together.”
It was her grandfather, Calvin Woodrow Ruck, who inspired her to write the book. Calvin wrote The Black Battalion 1916-1920: Canada’s Best Kept Military Secret about the No. 2 Construction Battalion, the first and only all-Black battalion in the First World War.
“He certainly inspired individuals far beyond my own family,” Lindsay said. “He was born in Sydney … and he dealt with racism and discrimination his entire life. In spite of all that, he was so determined to fight for basic human rights.”
That includes things people may view as simple such as a Black man being able to walk into a barbershop and get a haircut. It also includes fighting to allow Black people to build homes while others petitioned against him.
“He did all of these things and he was one man, but he was so determined to see that the status quo would be changed,” she said. “It was inspiring for me. Obviously, when I was younger I didn’t quite understand the scope of all of these things he was doing at a young age.
“As I grew older, I started to realize, ‘Some of the things that I’m blessed to say that I can do in my life is because of the work that he’s done.’”
In 2014, Ruck released Winds of Change, a book about her grandfather. The original pitch for her new book was also meant to focus on the all-Black battalion.
“It’s inspiring to me to see the power of one person and the power of the written word as he wrote that book,” she said. “My entire family, we were really taken upon ourselves to continue that legacy and to do what we can to not only honour him but honour all of the amazing Black individuals who’ve done some really incredible things.”
Instead, Nimbus Publishing had published a previous book, Amazing Atlantic Canadian Kids. Lindsay said Nimbus offered her to continue the series.
“So, it really began as me remembering as a young child that none of my friends knew about the Black battalion,” she said. “This wasn’t something our textbooks, part of our curriculum (covered), and I wanted other kids to have a chance to learn about these incredible Canadian heroes.”
Amazing Black Atlantic Canadians
While it was impossible to fill the book with every single Black Atlantic Canadian, Ruck said it was interesting to learn about new people and fun anecdotes.
One story she learned was about Nova Scotian jazz musician Charles R. “Bucky” Adams.
One time, Adams was performing at the Gerrish Street Hall in Halifax where he was playing the trumpet so hard it blew apart. During the break in the show, he ran back home to grab his father’s saxophone, ran back to the club and ended up falling in love with the saxophone — it became his instrument of choice.
Other stories in the book include those of 18th-century slave Mary Marguerite Rose who opened a tavern in Louisbourg, New Brunswick radio host Lena O’Ree, local activist Quentrel Provo, professional boxer Delmore William “Buddy” Daye and Viola Desmond.
With Desmond, Ruck chose to focus on the business side of her story.
“She was a very successful entrepreneur and businesswoman which I don’t think everyone is aware of,” Ruck said. “She had her own line of beauty and hair products for Black women, and she also had a school — which was the first Black school in Canada — which would help other Black women know how to take care of Black hair and become beauty culturists of their own.
“So, it’s a whole other side to Viola Desmond that I don’t think everyone was aware of.”
Ruck said finding the information for some individuals in the book was tough. Especially for the older people, there isn’t a lot of recorded information.
“When I think of The Black Battalion, I don’t know if I would’ve known that story had it not been for my grandfather who wrote his book in 1986,” she said. “And now we know far more about these individuals.”
She said for some of the people she wrote about, it took a lot of “back-and-forth” with archives, libraries and people.
“But that’s what’s unfortunate,” she said. “If we’re not talking about it and writing about it, no one will know about these people. So, I wanted to make sure that I got the facts right and I was able to present something that people had later on when they’re doing their own research.”