Saint John mural honours Black heroes

Click to play video: 'Saint John mural honours city’s Black history' Saint John mural honours city’s Black history
The City of Saint John has a rich history and it can be hard to honour every story. A new mural in the north end is helping to ensure some of the city’s Black history isn’t lost in that shuffle. Travis Fortnum reports. – Mar 1, 2021

A pair of portraits honouring two of Saint John’s Black history heroes was unveiled this weekend in the city’s north end.

Depicted on the Main Street murals are Joseph Drummond and Lena O’Ree, both of whom were instrumental in the fight for equality in the Port City.

For the family of Drummond, it’s a special honour.

“Actually, this is my route to work,” said granddaughter Naomi Leslie Drummond.

“So every morning I get to see my granddad.”

Drummond died before his granddaughter was born, but she has spent her life hearing of his passionate fight against segregation and inequality — perhaps most famously at a 1964 sit-in at a Haymarket Square barbershop after he was refused service.

Story continues below advertisement

He went on to serve as a board member of the New Brunswick Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and even ran for federal office in 1972.

Read more: New Canada Post stamp honours Black settlers to Willow Grove, N.B.

O’Ree was one of the first Black members of the YWCA in Canada.

In the 1950s, she famously walked through the front door of the Admiral Beatty Hotel -– a forbidden move for Black people at the time.

She was also a radio host at CHFO, and was instructed by management not to let listeners know she was Black.

“Her and my dad were really good friends,” says Holly Drummond, Joseph’s daughter and Naomi’s mother.

“They were real good friends and I’m proud that they’re both together on the wall.”

Joseph Drummond’s family hopes the murals will inspire locals to look into the area’s Black history. Travis Fortnum / Global News

Painted by Ann Perry, this is the first mural in Saint John to tell a Black story, althere are many around town.

Story continues below advertisement

The man behind most of them, Barry Ogden, insists it won’t be the last.

He says the stories need to be told.

“Joe Drummond and Lena O’Ree are perfect examples. We need to know their stories,” he said.

“Those people are champions.”

The Drummonds hope this keeps the conversation going.

“I’m hopeful that kids and people in this area are going to start asking questions,” said Leslie Drummond.

“Say, ‘Well, we saw these signs, they were great people, what did they do?’”

Sponsored content