Inaugural Somali Heritage Week in Ontario and Manitoba

In late 2020, Ontario and Manitoba were the first jurisdictions in North America to pass bills to officially recognize June 25 to July 1 as Somali Heritage Week. 

Written by Julia Richards

Posted June 23, 2021

A historic celebration in Ontario and Manitoba commences in the last week of June. Last year, the two provinces were the first jurisdictions in North America to officially recognize Somali Heritage Week. Celebrated from June 25 to July 1, the week coincides with several important anniversaries and longstanding celebrations of independence within the Somali community.

“Somali-Canadians celebrated Somali independence with Somali Week, a week-long event at multiple venues which culminates in a multi-city soccer tournament. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the games have been cancelled. This year’s event would have marked the 30th anniversary of the Somali Week tournament,” explained Faisal Hassan, Member of Provincial Parliament for York South-Weston in Ontario.

Not only will the week recognize Somalia’s rich culture but also the country’s history, which dates as far back as antiquity. Historians recognize modern-day Somalia as having been part of the mysterious kingdom of Punt. Known in Ancient Egyptian history as a trading hub, Punt had connections to many ancient civilizations across the world, including Greece, India, China, and Babylon, yet not much is known about the kingdom. Somalia is also home to one of the oldest mosques in Africa, dating to the seventh century CE.

Like much of the African continent in the nineteenth century, Somalia was colonized by several European powers, primarily Italy and Great Britain. Up until the twentieth century, different areas of Somalia were under Italian and British rule. Somali Heritage Week celebrates the anniversaries of the country’s proclamation of Independence on June 26, 1960, and its official independence on July 1, 1960.

There are approximately 150,000 Somali-Canadians, making it one of the largest African diaspora communities in Canada. Somali Heritage Week is an opportunity to celebrate the vibrant culture and recognize the significant contributions that Somali-Canadians have made in the past and continue to make across Canada.

“The richness of Somali cultural heritage, storytelling, food, and other traditions have found their way into all aspects of Toronto. The addition of Somali Heritage Week will only serve to celebrate the often forgotten achievements and successes of this vibrant community, embedding us deep into the fabric of Ontario. A bill like this is momentous, and offers a moment we can all be proud to look back on as a key moment in history. I am proud to be Somali, today and all days, and to celebrate Somali Heritage Week,” 

The passing of the bills officially brings Canada into a world-wide celebration of Somali culture held during the last week of June. This year, a launch event will be held virtually with several speakers from the Somali-Canadian community, including Faisal Hassan, a Member of Provincial Parliament; Dr. Safia Aidid, a historian of modern Africa; Sarah Jama, a community organizer from Hamilton, ON; and Hawa Mire critical writer, comentator and columnist. The event will also feature addresses from the Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath and federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh..

The week will kick off with a virtual launch event on Thursday, June 24, 2021. Learn more and register to attend here.

For more information on the bills, check out Bill 180, Ontario Somali Heritage Week Act, 2020 and Bill 218, Manitoba Somali Heritage Week Act.

Julia Richards is 2021 Nobleman Scholar.

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