Discover some of the notable Black Montrealers whose contributions to the city made it an international jazz and tourist destination. And learn about the 1950s tragedy that continues to have a lasting impact on Montreal’s Black community.
Awarded the 1997 Loyola Medal at a reception in the concert hall that now bears his name, jazz pianist and composer Oscar Peterson was an unofficial ambassador of Canada. His long international career and charitable involvement spanned an astonishing number of countries and causes.
At the corner of Rue Saint-Jacques and Rue des Seigneurs you’ll find this mural, added in 2012 to embellish the neighborhood where Peterson was born. Painted by Faculty of Fine Arts alum, Gene Pendon, BFA 94, the mural is a tribute to the Concordia honorary doctorate recipient.
Located at the corner of Rue Saint-Jacques and Rue Saint-Martin, this mural is dedicated to Daisy Peterson Sweeney, Oscar Peterson's sister and his first piano teacher. She also taught Oliver Jones and jazz great Norman Villeneuve. Sweeney's daughter Sylvia says the mural is "a gaze that I often woke up to, it reminds me of that look, 'Have you practiced?' It reminds me of that look, 'Are you having fun?' It just reminds me of so much that was in her."
Find this mural at the intersection of Lionel-Groulx and Georges-Vanier in the heart of Montreal’s historic jazz sector near the Parc des Jazzmen. Oliver Jones was a great Montrealer, pianist and teacher. It was on a piano in the Negro Community Centre (NCC) that Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones spent many hours crafting their skills to become award-winning musicians. In 2014 the NCC was demolished and left the Black community of the city’s Southwest borough without an important part of their neighbourhood. That loss continues to be felt today and efforts to revive the NCC continue.
Inaugurated in 2017 on the Coco Rico building at the corner of Blvd. St. Laurent and Rue Napoleon you’ll find this tribute to Montreal sports hero, Jackie Robinson. An icon on and off the field, Robinson’s contributions can’t be ignored. Concordia alum, Julian McKenzie (BA 16) received a Jackie Robinson Undergraduate Scholarship from the Black Academic Scholarship Fund (BASF) in 2016. “Jackie Robinson helped people like me chase their dreams” he wrote in his reflection of the sports icon and his 2016 BASF scholarship win.
This Montreal entrepreneur was the first Black to own a nightclub when he opened Rockhead’s Paradise in 1928. Jazz legends Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nina Simone performed at the popular club located on the southeast corner of Rue Saint-Antoine and Rue De La Montagne. Rockhead created a thriving business and nurtured the talent of many young Black musicians, including Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones. You’ll find this tribute to Rufus Rockhead as part of the Hydro-Québec commissioned mural at the corner of Rue Guy and Rue St-Jacques.
On July 13, 1954, 62 children left the NCC in Little Burgundy for a picnic at Cap St-Jacques. Only 50 of them returned. This tragedy is not well known in spite of the fact that it has had long-lasting effects on Montreal’s Black community. Found in the courtyard of Union United Church, this mural was commissioned by Peter Fonseca whose sisters Margo and Marilyn were among the victims of the boating accident that caused the deaths of 12 children. Artist Samantha Gold says she wanted to depict the children moving on to a special place and not suffering anymore.