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.”
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.