In the lead up to July 1st, we’re profiling five Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area city builders, past and present, who have not only made significant positive impact in our communities, but have challenged us to be better civic-minded, inclusive, and collaborative individuals. Today we take a brief look at John Christie Holland, Hamilton, Ont., pastor and community leader—the first Black Canadian to be named “Citizen of the Year” in any community in Canada.
Imagine standing on a busy downtown corner as a child, selling newspapers to streaming throngs of business people. It’s hectic, chaotic even. Add to this a barrage of racist insults from other children who want your lucrative spot.
For 11-year-old John Christie Holland, this was reality in downtown Hamilton, Ont.
In the face of these challenges, Holland dedicated himself to achieving his dream of becoming a pastor, and later one of Hamilton’s best known community leaders.
Born to Thomas and Henrietta Holland in 1882, Holland learned the value of hard work and community from an early age. Holland held positions such as janitor, labourer, waiter, train porter and car attendant, some of the few occupations open to Black men at that time, and faced continued abusive and racist comments from his white counterparts. Simultaneously, he studied for the ministry via correspondence.
John Christie Holland was known for being kind and caring, willing to help those in and outside of his community who faced poverty and discrimination.
Holland soldiered on, becoming ordained in 1925 and appointed pastor of Stewart Memorial Church in 1937. As Pastor, Holland would cement his legacy in Hamilton history by completely devoting himself to his church and his community. From providing 25 cents to Black Hamilton residents to perform sit-ins at diners in the 1940s to finding jobs for Black men in Hamilton’s steel industry, and later working with McMaster University to find affordable housing for international students facing discrimination, John Christie Holland supported those dealing with poverty and discrimination, regardless if they were part of his congregation or not.
Holland’s efforts would be recognized in 1953 when he was named Hamilton’s Distinguished Citizen of the Year, the first Black Canadian to be given such an honour in any community in Canada. Sadly he would pass away only a year later, still working for his community. Holland would be posthumously inducted into Hamilton’s Gallery of Distinction in 2003.
Holland’s role in Hamilton could be seen as a key supporter and liaison between his community and larger institutional or government organizations. But he also displayed the knowledge of the value in reaching out across boundaries to unite citizens and create change. His dedication and resolve should be hallmarks of any future city building efforts in our region.
Follow us on Twitter to find see who we’ll profile next. Also, stay tuned with our Emerging Leaders Network on June 30th, as we ask our entire network to shout-out emerging leaders who’ll shape the future of our nation.
Biographic information sourced from the Canadian Encyclopedia, and
The Journey from Tollgate to Parkway: African Canadians in Hamilton by Adrienne Shadd. Picture from the Toronto Star courtesy of Jeff Holland.