He left the union movement for a number of senior jobs in government. His crowning achievement was to be Canada’s first Black ambassador. After his retirement, he served on a number of commissions, notably on participation of visible minorities in the public service.
His career spans a period of almost no Black public employees, through having junior and insecure positions, to a more inclusive and representative situation today. Cal Best was a leader and is a great example for us all to the value of patient, persistent activism to leave the world a better place than we found it.
The Cal Best Project
“The Cal Best Project” celebrates the life and legacy of this extraordinary activist with a travelling exhibition that includes a documentary (Simply the Best), multi-panel bilingual educational display, and panel discussion. From his early days as a reporter covering the controversial Viola Desmond case to his tenure as Canada’s first Black High Commissioner, Best’s efforts are brought to life through interviews, archival footage, and contemporary news accounts. A special focus on Best’s commitment to a more inclusive public service examines his efforts as co-founder and president of the Civil Service Association of Canada (the precursor to today’s Public Service Alliance of Canada) and highlights the debt that thousands of Canadian public servants owe him even today.
The WHM’s explorations into Cal Best’s life started small, using parts of a panel discussion with PSAC Founders to look at the life and career of Cal Best. We soon discovered that what we knew was only the tip of the iceberg. As Arthur Carkner, coordinator of the project, recalls, “We learned about his early struggles with racism, his Nova Scotia achievements, about his mother, Carrie Best. Best’s role in immigration, amateur sport, senior positions in various government departments ending in being Canada’s first Black High Commissioner (ambassador) gradually came to light, and we continue to learn more.”
Cal Best’s story is one we should not forget. By bringing “The Cal Best Project” to audiences across the country, we can ensure that more Canadians learn about this remarkable figure in our shared history.
Simply the Best
See an interesting documentary on the life and times of Cal Best, a major figure in 20th century Canadian Black history. In interviews and images, we see his progress from early years in New Glasgow, N.S. to being a union founder and leader, senior government official and Canada’s first Black High Commissioner (ambassador). A man who changed the world for the better.
The Workers’ History Museum acknowledges the generous support we received for this exhibit from:
- Public Service Alliance of Canada, National Capital Region
- Public Service Alliance of Canada, Ontario Region
- Public Service Alliance of Canada, Atlantic Region
- Coalition of Black Trade Unionists