The Passing of Wade Pfaff

In honour and memory of Wade’s passing A Black People’s History of Canada pauses for the week of 12th to 19th June 2023.

It is with a grieving heart that A Black People’s History of Canada announces the passing of Mr. Wade Pfaff, one of the researchers on the project. Wade has been on board the project from its inception. He came to A Black People’s History of Canada with expertise in Black music history, Canadian music studies, especially that of Jazz and Blues, Black history, and music ethnography. Wade approached his work with gusto and commitment. He researched and wrote on these topics producing articles, podcasts, blogs, tiktok videos, and Instagram posts. He was a prolific researcher, writer, and scholar. He loved his work. And was a walking encyclopedia on anything Black music.

We are stunned at Wade’s sudden demise.

He was born in Toronto, Ontario to South African parents who had emigrated from Cape Town to St. Catharines, Ontario. Wade earned two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Community Studies and Anthropology from Cape Breton University. He then pursued his master’s degree in social Anthropology at Dalhousie University, graduating in 2020. His area of research was Black Canadian music. For this endeavour, Wade carried out ethnographic research in Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario. His thesis is titled “Transculturation in Black Jazz Scenes from Ontario to Nova Scotia During the Interwar Period, and Its After-Effects.” The concept of transculturation, as articulated by the Cuban ethnographer Fernando Ortiz, was instrumental in how Wade theorized his graduate work. After completing his master’s, he branched out to investigate different forms of Black music in the Atlantic world, all the while using transculturation as a theoretical guide. As a result, he paid research attention to the musics of Cape Town, the Caribbean, Black Canada, and African America.

Wade master’s thesis committee comprised Dr. Afua Cooper (supervisor) and Drs. Martha Radice and Jacqueline Warwick (advisors).

Mr. Pfaff also had a biographical approach to his scholarly work. He completed biographies on Cape Breton Black music legend, Cy McLean, and pioneering Jazz musician Mynie Sutton of the Niagara Region. Wade also did the last interview of Black community leader and historian Wilma Morrison. Two important scholarly articles were obtained from Wade’s research. “Cy McLean and the Trailblazers of Black Jazz in Prewar Central and Eastern Canada,” published in Acadiensis (2023); and “The Beginning of Black Jazz in Eastern Canada,” Journal of the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society (2021).

Wade was a committed and enthusiastic scholar, and he broke new grounds in the history and anthropology of Black Canadian music.

After completing his degree, Wade was a visiting scholar at the Centre for Sound Communities, Cape Breton University. Soon after, he joined the research team at the Black People’s History of Canada where his research activities centred on the Black social and cultural history of the Niagara Peninsula. Wade’s latest essay on the region explored the Black cemeteries of the St. Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake. He was also involved with colleagues at Brock University in a GIS project to map the 19th (and 20th) century Black district of St. Catharines. To continue to explore his scholarly passion for Black music and Black history, Wade commenced a joint Ph.D. in communications and music at York and Toronto Metropolitan universities.

Wade passed away on Friday, 9 June 2023 at his residence in Toronto. The police are still determining the cause of death.

Those of us who knew Wade also know that he was filled with boundless passion and enthusiasm for his areas of interest and research. Wade’s heritage is South African, so he also brought a vast knowledge of South African music, culture, and history to his work. Wade played Jazz and Blues, as a guitarist and singer, with several bands for over 30 years.

He has made significant contributions to Black Canadian cultural and social history, and because of the prolific nature of his work, has left an important legacy behind.

We at The Black People’s History of Canada send our deepest condolences to Wade’s family in Canada and South Africa, and to his many friends and colleagues. Wade, we miss you deeply. But our heart has been given some ease because we know that you are soaring with angels!