ISSUE: PREJUDICE AND RACISM
To understand the history of Black Canadians, you must understand prejudice and racism. Black people in Canada have always faced special difficulties because of their race and skin colour.
Prejudice means having an opinion about someone before you have met him or learned much about him. It can also mean having an opinion about a whole race of people, even though you know very little about that race.
Racism is the belief that people's abilities are determined by their race and that one race is better than another. This prejudice can make people treat other races badly. Racist acts — everything from verbal insults to physical violence — are very hurtful to the racial group that is the target.
Prejudice and racism rob all people of something valuable. Young people who experience racism in school or in the community may lose confidence in themselves and their future. They often become angry, which can lead to fighting and other violence.
Nobody can tell by looking at a stranger how that person will behave or what she may achieve. Racist attitudes make it impossible for people to appreciate everyone in their community and share their contributions.
Prejudice and Racism in Everyday Life
An example of a racial prejudice is "All Black people are good at sports." Of course, it's not a bad thing to be good at sports. But this belief can lead to stereotyping — a prejudiced attitude and oversimplified opinion. When the statement gets repeated often, it can make people forget that Black people are also excellent business people, lawyers, teachers and writers.
An example of a racist act is spray-painting hateful slogans on a Black Canadian church or beating up people of another race just because they're different from you. Extreme racist acts are also called hate crimes.
Racism Is Wrong
Why Are Black People Targeted?
Throughout history, Black people have arrived in Canada in waves — Black Loyalists, Jamaican Maroons, refugees from the War of 1812, passengers on the Underground Railroad. Each immigrant group arrived weary from fierce battles or treacherous journeys, but eager to start new lives.
However, Black immigrants often faced prejudice from other Canadian settlers. Darker skin made the newcomers look distinct and, for many of the settlers, was connected with slavery. Also, few former enslaved people could read or write because southern U.S. laws had forbidden their education.
A History of Prejudice
In the Maritimes, the Black Loyalists struggled to scratch out a living. Along with the Jamaican Maroons, many eventually left to look for a better life in Sierra Leone. Later, the refugees from the War of 1812 faced similar problems.
The fugitives who escaped to Upper Canada via the Underground Railroad were also poorly treated by the government and White people in their communities. As a solution, many Black people formed their own communities, with separate schools and churches.
On November 8, 1946, Viola Desmond went to a movie at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Despite being a successful businesswoman, she was sold a ticket to the second-rate balcony seats. That's where Black people were expected to sit in those days, not just in Nova Scotia but across Canada.
However, Desmond sat downstairs in the better seats, where only White people were supposed to sit. When she refused to move, the police were called and Desmond was arrested and jailed overnight.
At Desmond's trial, racism wasn't even mentioned. Instead, she was charged with failing to pay a 19-cent extra tax for her downstairs ticket. Desmond was fined $20 and sentenced to 30 days in prison. Fortunately, the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, and other friends, helped her win her appeal. Newspapers like the Clarion (see Carrie Best, page 49) reported on Desmond's story, and the publicity helped to put an end to this discrimination.
Desmond showed great courage in standing up for her rights. But she was just an ordinary person who represented how many other Black Canadians were feeling about the racism they experienced.
Learning from History
Black history shows that Black Canadians have faced problems just because of their race. More importantly, it reveals the valuable contributions Black people have made in Canada. As people learn more about these contributions, prejudice and racism may diminish. Perhaps then, Black Canadians may fully enjoy their right to live as equals with other Canadians.
Around the world, legal or formal systems that kept Black and White people apart were called segregation (U.S.A.) or apartheid (South Africa). In Canada, segregation wasn't an official policy. But when Black and White people lived in separate communities, prejudice had a greater chance to spread.
LIFE IN CANADA WEST
By 1850, there were as many as 60, 000 free Black people in Canada West (formerly Upper Canada, today Ontario). The recent arrivals needed places to live, as well as jobs to support their families. In the countryside, the Dawn and Elgin Settlements offered schools, work and safe communities.
In Toronto, two enterprising Black men, T.E. Cary and R.B. Richards, opened the city's first ice house. They cut ice from mill ponds in winter and stored it, then sold and delivered it in the summer. Other men found work in hotels or with the new steam railroads. Some women took in laundry or sewing, or became maids in large houses.
The Dawn Settlement
In 1842, Josiah Henson helped establish an all-Black settlement called Dawn near Dresden, Upper Canada. Created by anti-slavery groups, it provided a new beginning for Black American refugees.
The Dawn Settlement boasted a brickyard, a grist mill for grinding grain and a sawmill. Settlers worked at one of these or farmed. The most important building was an industrial training school, one of the first in Canada. Over the next 30 years, the population grew to 500.
Josiah Henson in Canada West
While adjusting to his new found freedom, Josiah Henson helped many other enslaved people to escape. In 1841, he moved with his family to Dresden, then bought land in the Dawn Settlement. Over the years, Henson became Dawn's best-known resident and spokesman.
Henson told stories about his life to writer Harriet Beecher Stowe. He became the inspiration for the Uncle Tom character in Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in 1852. This novel sold 300, 000 copies in just its first year and helped raise awareness about the brutality of slavery. Henson also wrote a book about his own life. He travelled across North America and to England, meeting people and giving speeches.
In 1983, Josiah Henson became the first person of African descent to he featured on a Canadian stamp.
"IN REGARD TO CANADA, I LIKE THE COUNTRY ... STILL THERE IS PREJUDICE HERE. THE COLORED PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO REMOVE THIS BY IMPROVING AND EDUCATING THEMSELVES, AND BY INDUSTRY, TO SHOW THAT THEY ARE A PEOPLE WHO HAVE MINDS, AND THAT ALL THEY WANT IS CULTIVATING."
— Thomas Hedgebeth, Black man who fled North Carolina around 1850
MARY ANN SHADD
Black teacher and journalist Mary Ann Shadd was born in 1823 in Delaware, a free state. Shadd strongly believed that Black and White people should live together, not in separate communities such as Dawn and Elgin.
When Shadd moved to Canada in 1851, she set up a school for escaped slaves in Windsor, Canada West. She encouraged White children to attend, but many of their parents refused. To change their minds, Shadd started a newspaper called the Provincial Freeman, which came out strongly against slavery. Many Americans — Black and White — read Shadd's paper and learned of the Black Canadians' successes.
Shadd closed her school and returned to the United States in 1864 to recruit Black soldiers during the Civil War. Later, she attended law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C. As a lawyer, Shadd fought for many causes, including women's right to vote.
Mary Ann Shadd was the first Black woman in North America to start and run a newspaper, and the first woman to study for a law degree at an American university.
The Buxton Mission School, opened in 1861, set very high standards for its students. Today it's part of the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum, which you can visit and find more about the Elgin Settlement.
The Elgin Settlement
The Elgin Settlement was the most successful early Black community in Canada West. It was the brainchild of Reverend William King, a White Presbyterian minister.
King opposed slavery, so he was troubled when his father-in-law left him 14 slaves in his will. He decided, to start a community near Chatham, Canada West, where he could offer his slaves freedom and a new life. Despite strong protests organized by nearby White people, King founded the Elgin Settlement in 1849.
How Elgin Worked
King felt that ex-slaves needed three things: land, schools and churches. He sold new Black farmers 20 ha (50 acres) of land at a very low price. In return, they had to clear the fields, build houses and dig irrigation ditches.
By 1854, there were 300 families with large livestock herds, grain and tobacco farms, two sawmills and a brick-making company in Elgin. As property owners, Elgin residents even had the right to vote.
Buxton Mission School
Buxton School helped make Elgin successful. With support from the Presbyterian Church, it brought Black and White students together. The curriculum included reading, writing, math, religion, Greek and Latin. Many Buxton graduates became community leaders, doctors, and teachers.
WEST COAST ADVENTURES
Before the American Civil War, a group of Black Californians were thinking about moving north. Until 1858, they'd been living freely in California. But the new state governor wanted to force African Americans to pay a fee to live in California — and to wear a badge showing they'd paid it. He also allowed a runaway slave to be captured on Californian soil.
Then Black Californians received a message from Vancouver Island, Britain's first colony on the west coast. Governor James Douglas wanted people to come and set up sawmills, mines and salmon fishing operations. He was especially eager to attract educated, hard-working settlers, such as the Black Californians, who would be loyal to Britain.
So Governor Douglas, a fur trader whose mother's ancestors were Black slaves, invited the Black Californians to come and see the new colony.
Governor Douglas Makes a Promise
Governor Douglas made these promises to the Black Califomians:
* They could buy land for $5 per 0.4 ha (1 acre).
* They would pay no land taxes for two years.
* After they had owned land for nine months, they could vote and serve as jury members.
* After seven years, they could receive full citizenship rights as British subjects.
The ship the Commodore brought Black immigrants to Victoria in 1858.
In return for Governor Douglas's guarantees, the Black Californians were to promise to defend the young colony.
Pleased with these arrangements, the Californians encouraged the rest of their community to join them. In April 1858, 400 Black Californian families sailed from San Francisco to Victoria, the colony's most important town. Vancouver Island remained a welcoming place for Black people until Governor Douglas retired in 1864.
In 1858, gold was discovered in the Fraser River on the British Columbia mainland. By year's end, 20,000 prospectors had passed through Victoria in search of gold. Governor Douglas was worried that these gold seekers, most of them Americans, might try to claim the territory for the United States. Just in case, he enforced stern justice in the wild new mining towns. He knew that, if necessary, he could count on the loyal support of the Black Californians.
"I was one of the successful gold prospectors in British Columbia, although there were 10 years of doubt when I never made a single strike! ... I was not one to give up and I'm glad I kept trying ... In 1884 we found several gold-bearing streams around LorneCreek. I understand that one
of the streams was later called McDame."
— Henry McDame, Black prospector
Life on Vancouver Island
The Black Californians were determined to succeed on Vancouver Island. Most stayed in Victoria and opened new businesses. The finest restaurant in Victoria, Ringo's, and the best barbershop were both owned by Black businessmen.
John Sullivan Deas was another successful Black entrepreneur. Trained as a tinsmith, he took over a salmon canning factory on the Fraser River and shipped thousands of cases of salmon to Britain every year. Other Black people couldn't resist adventure in the gold rush.
Sylvia Stark was one of British Columbia's first pioneers. Born a slave in Missouri in 1839, she learned to read by watching White children do their lessons. When she was ten, her father bought freedom for the family and in 1851 they moved to California.
Sylvia married Louis Stark and had two children. When California introduced restrictions against Black people, the family fled north, arriving on Saltspring Island (near Vancouver Island) in 1860. Their 15 dairy cows were lowered into the water by ropes so they could swim ashore.
While Louis ran the farm, Sylvia had two more children and became a volunteer midwife and nurse. Years later, the Starks survived a smallpox epidemic, then moved to the Nanaimo area. But Sylvia missed Saltspring. She returned to the island, where she died at age 106.
The first Black politician in Canada, Mifflin Gibbs, was elected to Victoria City Council in 1867. A good businessman, Gibbs ran a general store that competed with the Hudson's Bay Company and also built a coal mine and a railway in the Queen Charlotte Islands. In 1868, Gibbs was a delegate at the convention that decided that British Columbia would become part of Canada.
In 1860, the Black Californians formed the Victoria Pioneer Rifle Company to guard Vancouver Island against any American attack.
WOW HOW MUCH OF THIS BLACK HISTORY DO CANADIAN CHILDREN KNOW? HOW MUCH OF IT IS TAUGHT IN THE CANADIAN SCHOOLS? I'M THINKING VERY LITTLE IF ANY. IT SHOULD BE TAUGHT; IT IS INSPIRING, AND GOES A LONG WAY TO SMASH PREJUDICE, AND THAT ONE RACE IS BETTER THAN ANOTHER.
I HOPE MANY FIND THIS SECTION OF MY WEBSITE, AND WILL TELL OTHERS ABOUT IT.