Cal Best - PSAC Co-Founder

James Calbert (Cal) Best was born in New Glasgow NS July 12, 1926, the son of Dr. Carrie Best and Albert Best. When Cal was a 15 year old boy, his mother Carrie took him to the Roseland Theater in New Glasgow. After hearing the story of three black teenage girls who were forcefully removed from the whites only section of the theatre, Dr. Best and Cal went to the Roseland theatre and purchased tickets for a movie. In solidarity with the young girls, they sat in the white’s only section; both were forcefully removed by police and charged.

The Bests sued the theatre and fought the charges, challenging the legal justification of the theatre’s segregation policy, but unfortunately they lost the case.

This injustice helped inspire the founding of The Clarion, the first black owned and published paper in Nova Scotia. Launched in 1946 by Carrie and Cal Best, The Clarion became a very important voice for black Nova Scotians.

The paper also became the champion for another case of segregation at the same theatre. Again, a black woman entered the Roseland theatre, sat in the white’s only section, and was removed by police.

Because the seat she purchased was one penny cheaper than the seat she occupied, she was charged with tax evasion. The Clarion became a champion for her cause and attempted to fund raise for a legal challenge as she fought the charges, but they came up short.

In 2010, 45 years after her death, the Nova Scotia Superior Court granted a full posthumous pardon – the first ever in Canada. In 2016 the Bank of Canada announced that this woman would appear as the first woman, and the first person of colour, on the Canadian ten dollar bill; her name was Viola Desmond.

After receiving a degree in Political Science and diploma in Journalism from the university of Kings College, Cal Best moved to Ottawa in 1949 to begin a career as a federal public sector worker. While working with the Department of Labour in Ottawa,

Best found it bizarre that the federal government would allow collective bargaining for federally regulated sectors but did not allow for collective bargaining with its own employees in the federal government.

Best set out to change that. He co-founded the Civil Service Association of Canada and became the first President of the PSAC in 1957 and continued to pursue collective bargaining rights for federal government employees.


In 1966, then Prime Minister Pearson announced he would enact free collective bargaining for federal government employees. The Civil Service Association founded by president Cal Best joined forces with the Civil Service Federation to form one union as the bargaining agent for federal government employees.

That merger formed the largest federal public sector union in the country then and now, the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

Civil Service Federation President Claude Edwards became the first president of CSAC, while Cal Best went on to a very successful public service life, becoming the first black assistant deputy minister ever appointed. He also became the first black High Commissioner of Canada when he was appointed as Canada’s High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago.

Cal Best retired in 1990 and passed away in 2007 at the age of 81. As a human rights activist, union activist, public servant and a founder of PSAC, the work and impact of James Calbert Best should never be forgotten.

This is an excerpt from the address of PSAC National President Chris Aylward to the YG Bargaining Conference Aug. 11, 2021.


Originally published in the September 2021 issue of the Yukon Employees' Union

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