Image: Nelson Mandela (1990), Toronto Star Archives via Toronto Public Library
After a trip to the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, Mandela or “Madiba” as he was affectionately called, visited our city from June 18-19, 1990. The visit was part of a six week, thirteen country tour where Mandela sought to bring awareness to apartheid and encourage world leaders and their Governments to place/uphold sanctions against South Africa, in a bid to pressure the Government to put an end to apartheid.
Mandela was scheduled to address a crowd at Nathan Phillips Square upon arrival, however, due to being tired from a busy schedule, opted to rest at his hotel before an appearance later that evening at Queen’s Park. Anti-apartheid activist Winnie Mandela, who was his wife at the time, greeted the crowd, which was an estimated 8,000 people.
After addressing the jubilant crowd and taking part in several ceremonies, which included receiving honorary citizenship and a ceremonial Ojibwe walking stick, Winnie led the crowd up University Avenue to Queen’s Park, where an estimated thirty thousand people awaited their beloved Madiba to address them.
Photo Credit: Rick McGinnis, 1990.
“We are confident that victory is in sight,” Mandela told the enthusiastic crowd “But as in a steeplechase race, the last hurdles are the most difficult to overcome. As we enter the last lap, we call on the people of Canada to gather and redouble their efforts and endeavors in support of our struggle.” Throughout the thirty minute speech people cheered and raised fists in solidarity. Following the event the Mandela’s ended their day among dignitaries with a dinner at the Westin Harbour Castle.
Mandela, whose on-going mission was to engage with and educate young minds, spent his last day in Toronto with 1,500 students at Central Technical High School. He used this as an opportunity to explain to them the dire situation for Black youth in South Africa, the overall dangers of division and the importance of empathy.
Nelson Mandela’s Toronto visit in June 1990 had a lasting impact on Torontonians.