Canada was built on the backs of slaves. Segregation continued after slavery was abolished, and discriminatory practices continue today.
European colonists brought enslaved people to Turtle Island (what we call North America) in the early 1600s. As part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, people from Africa were uprooted from their homes and forcibly brought to Europe and European colonies in the Americas and the Caribbean.
These colonies also enslaved the Indigenous people who lived here and forced them to work on British and French settlements. People from these colonies would then trade and profit from the labour produced by enslaved people.
For 200 years, slavery in Canada continued until the slave revolts in colonies across the world finally led to the abolishment of slavery in Canada and throughout the British Empire by 1834. Slavery did not end in the United States until 1863, so as many as 30,000 fuigitives escaped to Canada between 1815 and 1860.
Long after the abolishment of slavery, anti-Black laws and practices were maintained in Canada for years to come. Communities were segregated to exclude and deny Black, Indigenous and people of colour equal access to public services throughout the 1900’s.
Examples of segregation include:
- Legally segregated public schools in Ontario until 1965 and in Nova Scotia until 1983
- Preventing home ownership or renting to people of African descent
- Restricted employment for Black people in low paying jobs
- Racial restrictions on public transportation
Today, a number of Black people in Canada are people whose families immigrated here from African and Caribbean countries over the past few decades. They often come here seeking opportunities that are not available in their home countries, usually because the countries they immigrate from are those whose economies were destroyed by European colonization.
Canada is able to provide many opportunities like free healthcare and education, but Black people, including immigrants, continue to face many barriers to success. For example, Canada does not recognize higher education from many non-Western countries. As a result of this practice, new and highly-educated immigrants are denied opportunities at their skill level and instead take on low-paying, physically demanding jobs when they come here.
Although many anti-Black laws have been repealed over the years, structural anti-Black racism still exists in Canada.
For further reading, please check out the following:
- Black History in Canada Education Guide : A guide for middle school students on Black History
- Canadian Black History: A list of readings and resources on Black history from Library and Archives Canada
- Racial Segregation of Black People in Canada: A breakdown of systemic anti-Black racism by The Canadian Encyclopedia
- Anti-Slavery Movement: The history of the anti-slavery movement in Canada
- Canada's slavery secret: The whitewashing of 200 years of enslavement: 2-part CBC series about erasure of Black history and impact of 200 years of slavery
- The Sir George Williams Riot: Black activism in Montreal in the 1960s and info about occupation of Sir George Williams University in Montreal by 200+ students