Charles Daniels

Unearth Uncover #BlackedOutHistory: Charles Daniels

On February 3, 1914, Charles Daniels bought two tickets for the main floor of the Sherman Grand Theater in Calgary Alberta to watch King Lear. Upon arrival, Daniels was denied entry to the theatre's main floor and was offered tickets for the "coloured" section in the balcony. Daniels refused to sit in the balcony and, soon after, began a court case against the theater, arguing that he was entitled to sit anywhere in the theatre and requesting $1000 in damages. This was likely the first civil rights lawsuit launched in Canada and occurred 50 years before the peak of the Civil Rights movement.

At the time, Black Canadians had to overcome many unwritten policies of racial segregation at places like restaurants, parks, pools, and local cinemas. Theatres would often reserve the best seating on the floor level for white patrons, while Black patrons were relegated to the less desirable balcony seating. The Sherman Grand Theatre told newspapers at the time that it had a policy of putting Black people in the balcony seats to keep them away from white customers, who would complain if the theatre was not segregated.

Daniels risked his safety and drew attention to himself by launching a public battle against Sherman Grand Theatre's manager and owner. Many news outlets printed racist headlines which included derogatory language against him. Despite this public racism, Charles was able to win the court case and obtain $1000 in damages because the lawyers for the theatre did not show up. Charles Daniels was a true civil rights pioneer in Canada and he deserves to be remembered and celebrated for his bravery.

“Since much of the Black past has been deliberately buried, covered over, and demolished, it is our task to unearth, uncover, and piece it together again.” – Dr. Afua Cooper