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Mandela Visits Canada

JUNE 1990

In June 1990, about four months after his release from 27 years of imprisonment, Nelson Mandela made his first visit to Canada. He received an overwhelming welcome from the people of Canada. Prime Minister Mulroney referred to him as an “authentic hero” while Premier of Ontario David Peterson called him “the conscience of South Africa and the world”. In three Canadian cities, adoring crowds gave Mandela tremendously emotional receptions as he addressed them.

Mandela’s mission on this tour was to raise funds to support the ANC. Prime Minister Mulroney pledged $5 million to help repatriate South African exiles and to reintegrate political prisoners into their communities. In Ottawa, Mandela addressed a joint session of Parliament where he acknowledged Canada’s role in supporting the struggle against apartheid by urging Commonwealth nations, and other countries such as the United States and Japan to enforce economic sanctions against the government of South Africa.

Mandela also spoke to gatherings in Montreal and Toronto. On June 19, 1990 in Toronto, he addressed an audience of over 1200 students from the Toronto area at Central Technical Collegiate where he appealed to the young people to raise funds to support the children and young people of South Africa who suffered under apartheid. Later he addressed a rally at Queen’s Park of some 25,000 people, and ended his visit in Toronto with a 1500-guest dinner hosted by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Toronto City Council led by Mayor Art Eggleton bestowed on Mandela the title of Honorary Citizen of Toronto.


As President of South Africa, Mandela paid his second visit to Canada in September 1998. On his arrival, he spoke at a welcoming ceremony and later answered questions from the media. On September 24, President Mandela participated in the unveiling of a plaque at Ottawa’s human rights monument in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He addressed a joint sitting of the Senate and the House of Commons and held a press conference alongside Prime Minister Jean Chretien. He was later named as an Honorary Companion of the Order of Canada by Governor General Romeo Leblanc.

Mandela’s visit concluded at an event at SkyDome in Toronto organized by the Canadian Friends of the Nelson Children’s Mandela Children’s Fund. This event known as Mandela and the Children was attended by over 45,000 school children and their teachers from the greater Toronto area. Mandela addressed the children in a speech describing the challenges faced by the people of South Africa as they began their journey towards a democracy. He also told the children “You have made me feel like a young man again with my batteries recharged. The greatest joy has been to discover that there are so many children in this country who care about other children around the world.”

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This event became known as the world’s largest classroom lesson.


In November 2001, Mandela paid his third visit to Canada. On this visit he was made an Honorary Citizen of Canada by the Government of Canada. On November 17, 2001, Mandela and his wife Graca Machel attended the formal ceremony renaming Park Public School, in Regent Park, Toronto, in his honour. The school was renamed Nelson Mandela Park Public School. Mandela addressed the gathering of children in the school’s auditorium.
Later that day, Mandela spoke at a ceremony at Ryerson University, Toronto where he and his wife Graca Machel received honorary doctorates from the University.

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Freedom Walk, June 20, 2015

ON SATURDAY JUNE 20, 2015, 10:00 AM

The Spirit of Mandela Freedom Walk on June 20, 2015 will mark the 25th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s first visit to Canada, and 25 years of inspiration to Canadians.

The Freedom Walk is inspired by Mandela’s statement to the court at his trial in 1964, which ended with the words, “I cherish the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.

The Freedom Walk will demonstrate our collective commitment to an inclusive society,
free from discrimination in which all persons enjoy full rights to dignity, fair treatment, and equal opportunities. The goal is to encourage individuals and groups in schools, communities and workplaces to continue to work hard to eliminate discrimination wherever it exists
in order to build an inclusive society for the benefit of all.

Participants will assemble at Armoury Street, on the north side of Toronto City Hall between Chestnut Street and University Avenue at 10:00 am. There will be African drumming and Salsa music. The Freedom Walk begins at 11:00 am, and proceeds north along Nelson Mandela Boulevard (University Avenue) to Queen’s Park, south lawn. Participants are encouraged to bring signs and banners with their own statements related to the purpose of the Freedom Walk. At Queen’s Park, there will be a few speeches on stage and a Freedom Concert. The event ends by 4:00 pm.

Anyone who believes in Mandela’s vision of a harmonious society and who is committed to inclusiveness, fair and equitable treatment and equal opportunities for all. Individuals and groups including families, schools, community organizations, faith communities, service agencies, business and labour groups are invited to participate.

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Nelson Mandela Boulevard, Toronto


On August 26, 2014, Toronto City Council approved a motion dedicate University Avenue Toronto after Nelson Mandela. This decision comes under the City’s ceremonial street naming policy. Under this policy, the street’s existing name (University Avenue) remains unchanged but the new ceremonial name (Nelson Mandela Boulevard) is superimposed on the existing street sign.

The decision of the City of Toronto is as follows:

  • City Council ceremonially dedicate University Avenue, from Front Street West to College Street, in honour of Nelson Mandela.
  • City Council authorize the General Manager, Transportation Services, to alter the street name signs on University Avenue, from Front Street West to College Street, to reflect both the official street name and the ceremonial name “Nelson Mandela Boulevard”.
  • City Council request that efforts be made to install this signage prior to the first anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s passing on December 5, 2014.
  • City Council request the Director, Toronto Office of Partnerships, in consultation with the General Manager, Transportation Services, the Executive Director, Engineering and Construction Services, and the Director, Protocol Services, to report to the Executive Committee in 2015 with recommendations to amend the “Honorific and Street Naming Policy” to include a specific policy to address ceremonial street dedications such as the one requested by City Council for Nelson Mandela.

The above motion was brought forward to Toronto Council by Councillors Pam McConnell, Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, and Kristyn Wong Tam. The proposal to best football odds and tips dedicate University Avenue in honour of Nelson Mandela was first brought to Toronto Council by the Mandela Legacy Committee in April. Councillor James Pasternak introduced the motion by requesting a staff report on the matter. Staff undertook consultation with the public on five different street options for consideration: sections of Bathurst Street, Gerrard Street, Shuter Street, Queen Street West and all of University Avenue from Front Street West to College Street.

On August 13, 2014, Lloyd McKell, Chair of the Mandela Legacy Committee addressed the City’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) in support of University Avenue as their preferred choice.

The new street signage bearing the name Nelson Mandela Boulevard was installed on University during November 2014.

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