Our History & Heritage – African Nova Scotian Leaders

CCRCE News: 
Monday, February 27, 2017

The Honourable Calvin Ruck

February is African Heritage Month. Each week this month we are celebrating the life and contributions of an impactful African Nova Scotian. This week we are focusing on the Honourable Calvin Ruck!

Calvin Ruck (1925-2004), born in Sydney, N.S., faced the issue of racism for much of his life. His devotion and efforts to improve race relations has left a significant mark in African Nova Scotian history.

Mr. Ruck began his working career after he completed Grade 10 and left school to work in Sydney. In 1945, he started working for the Canadian National Railways as a sleeping-car porter – the only position that was offered to those of African descent. Although he continued to work this position, it was this experience of racism that began Mr. Ruck’s fight for equality.

After he moved to Halifax, Mr. Ruck and his wife purchased land in a typically white suburb. In response, local residents developed a petition to keep the Ruck family out of the community. While the petition didn’t pass, Mr. Ruck knew he could no longer be silent when dealing with racial discrimination.

A local barbershop was just one of several businesses where Mr. Ruck had to openly fight racism and protest for his rights. The barbershop refused to cut the hair of African Canadians, so Mr. Ruck and his family would sit in the shop and refused to leave unless they were treated as any other customer. This tactic of sitting in the barbershop would drive regular business away, so the barber ended up cutting the Ruck family’s hair like all of the other customers. 

Mr. Ruck graduated from Dalhousie University, which lead him to a job with the Department of Social Services through which he worked to improve the lives of residents in small communities outside of Halifax. Over his many years at Dalhousie, and through his working life, Mr. Ruck became an extremely active member in his community. He undertook leading roles with the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, as well as the Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers, and the Black Cultural Society of Nova Scotia.

In 1981, Mr. Ruck had his first experience with politics when he was appointed to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. He held this position for five years. Then in 1986, he published a book about the history of Black veterans of the First World War: Canada’s Black Battalion: No. 2 Construction, 1916-1920. Following a lifetime of public service, Mr. Ruck became the third African Canadian appointed to the Senate in 1998.

Mr. Ruck was the recipient of several honours for his work in anti-racist activism. He received honorary degrees from Dalhousie and the University of King’s College and was named to the Order of Canada. 

Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia