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Black History Month: 125 Years of Empowerment

Feb. 01 2024

Since 1899, United for Literacy (formerly Frontier College) has been delivering literacy programs to people across Canada. Throughout the year, we will be highlighting our history and the people devoted to literacy and learning.

Join us as we celebrate 125 years of empowerment through literacy!

Empowerment Through Literacy
United for Literacy founder Alfred Fitzpatrick believed that education could liberate people from poor working conditions. In the beginning, Reading Tents were set up in remote and rural areas, including logging camps mines, and railway lines. Being able to read and write was—and still is—one of the best ways to improve life. It opens opportunities to work safely; explore new ideas; gain skills that lead to good jobs; and make informed decisions.

From its earliest days, United for Literacy has welcomed diversity. Men and women from a variety of backgrounds have worked and taught with the organization all over Canada. Historically, Labourer-Teachers and volunteer tutors have often been university students who performed the same duties as the workers during the day and taught (usually English and Math) at night. These lessons occurred in any available space. Often, this was a tent, a boxcar on a train, or a shed.

In essence, these Labourer-Teachers followed Fitzpatrick's philosophy that "Wherever and whenever two or more are gathered together that will be the time and place of their education."

In recognition of Black History Month, three early Labourer-Teachers are featured below.

During the Great Depression in the early 1930s, millions of Canadians were unemployed, with hunger and homelessness at critical levels. During these years, Charles Jones spent two summers with Frontier College as a Labourer-Teacher. Both years, Jones worked with and taught workers on a construction site with the Canadian National Railroad. In 1936, he worked in Ontario between Newtonville and Scarborough. The following year, he was with the CNR in New Brunswick.

Granville Miller and Paultre Ligondé also worked with the CNR in their first year with Frontier College, 1956. Miller worked in Three Hills, Alberta and Ligondé was situated in Moncton, New Brunswick. Two years later, Miller worked and taught at Pit Siding, Manitoba and Ligondé was at Shelter Bay, Saguenay, Quebec.

While we don’t have biographical information about every Labourer-Teacher, we do know that  Ligondé was a 29-year-old man who immigrated to Canada from Haiti in the 1950s. He studied at the Université de Montreal where he received his PhD in psychology. He later worked at the Institute of Psychological Research in Montreal. He passed away in 2006.

Source: Camps and Classrooms: A Pictorial History of Frontier College by James H. Morrison (1989)
Photo from the 1950s of men in a classroom
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