Canada is often called a country of immigrants. But Canada hasn't always welcomed everybody who wants to be an immigrant.

During the first half of the 20th century Canada encouraged White people from Europe and the United States to come. 

They were known as the "preferred nationalities." Very few Black people were able to immigrate.

But after World War II, Canadian immigration policy began to change, thanks in large part to Black activists such as Harry Gairey and Donald Moore. They helped open the door for Black immigrants from the Caribbean, Guyana (South America) and Africa.

Black Canadian Activists

In 1954, a group of 35 Black Canadian activists met with federal Cabinet ministers (government leaders) in Ottawa. The group wanted to change the Immigration Act of 1952 because it discriminated against people of colour. One of the group's leaders, Donald Moore, reminded the Cabinet ministers of Black Canadians' heroic service in the world wars.

After years of pressure, the government passed a new Immigration Act in 1962. Would-be immigrants could no longer be discriminated against because of their race or religion.

The West Indian Domestic Scheme

In 1955, the government took a first step in opening up Black immigration. The Domestic Scheme encouraged Caribbean women to come to Canada, but only if they promised to work as domestic servants for one year. Many

Blue Skies, Tropical Seas

The Caribbean, also called the West Indies, is a chain of island countries including Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Trinidad. The tropical climate brings hot sunshine, rainy seasons and hurricanes.

Most Caribbean people are of African descent. For centuries, European countries operated sugar plantations in the Caribbean using slave labour. By the 1960s, most of these countries had gained their independence. But many people remained poor or had trouble finding jobs.

women took the opportunity — 2700 over the next 10 years. Often they left behind husbands and children.

After their year of domestic service, many women enrolled in university or worked as teachers, nurses and office workers. Later, they brought their families to Canada.



Under the points system, many Caribbean people were well qualified to immigrate. During the 1970s and 1980s, 315, 000 immigrated to Canada, mostly from Jamaica, Trinidad and Haiti.

Black people from the Caribbean, unlike earlier Black immigrants, settled mainly in the cities. English-speaking people found jobs in Toronto or other cities across the country where English was the main language. French-speaking Haitians moved to Montreal. Canada has been enriched by the skills and the culture that Caribbean immigrants brought with them.

The Points System

Canada still needed a better way than the Immigration Act of 1962 and the Domestic Scheme to decide who would be allowed to immigrate. In 1967, a method called the points system was introduced. People who wished to immigrate were awarded points for such things as education, job skills and ability to speak English or French. Anyone who obtained at least 70 points out of 100 was allowed to immigrate. Now hopeful immigrants from all countries had a fair chance.

Adjusting to Canada

Some Caribbean immigrants had problems adjusting to Canada. The winters felt bitterly cold. Fathers or mothers who came on their own were lonely until they could bring their families. They had to get used to new customs and different ways of

Quick Facts

Waves of Black Immigration

to Canada


Black Loyalists


Jamaican Maroons


Refugees of the

War of 1812




Black Californians


Oklahoma Exodusters


Caribbean Domestic

Service Workers


Caribbean Immigrants,

from the Caribbean and

from England


African Immigrants

speaking. Even the many people from the Caribbean who had immigrated first to Britain and then to Canada found the adjustment difficult.

Black people were the majority in the Caribbean, but in Canada they stood out in the sea of White faces. Their children had to adjust to a different school system. And the new immigrants didn't always feel welcomed by their White Canadian neighbours.

Community Support

Black Canadians already settled here were eager to help the Caribbean newcomers. They worked together to offer young people dance, drama and music programs, as well as, academic scholarships, especially in Ontario. Carnivals, concerts and picnics were some of the traditions they continued.

Like other Black Canadians, Caribbean immigrants entered politics, started businesses and wrote books. They became involved in already-established magazines and community. Today, most of Canada's Black population is of Caribbean background.

Black African Immigrants

Since 1980, immigrants have come to Canada directly from Africa. They hail from many different countries, including Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia and South Africa. Some are refugees from famine and war and include doctors, musicians, business owners, and writers.


In December 1995, February was declared Black History Month across Canada, thanks to the work of the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS). During this time, the OBHS focuses media attention on Black Canadian history and helps schools, libraries and community groups promote Black Canadian heritage.

There are many other associations that keep Black Canadian heritage alive, including the PRUDE Community Access Centre, with its motto of "Pride, Race, Unity Dignity, Education." The Black Cultural Centre in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, the first of its kind in Canada, educates people about Black people's roots, heritage and identity.

Black Canadian History Tours

In southwestern Ontario, the African Canadian Heritage Tour brings Black history to life. Visitors can tour museums and churches and see special exhibitions from the days of the Underground Railroad. A trail through the woods — complete with scary sound effects — gives a sense of the dangers the slaves faced when escaping to freedom in Canada.

Special bus tours in Niagara Falls and Toronto also tell about Black history in these cities.

Heritage Festivals

Emancipation Day: Slavery officially ended in all British territories, including Canada, on July 31, 1833. Since 1834, many Black people around the world have celebrated August 1 as Emancipation Day.

Kwanzaa: This week-long celebration began in 1966. It was inspired by African harvest festivals — Kwanzaa means "first fruits" in the Swahili language. The festivities run from December 26 to New Year's Day. Many Black Canadians gather with friends and family to remember their history and enjoy special feasts. They light seven candles, each one representing a high ideal to guide people in their lives: unity, self-determination, responsibility, co-operation, purpose, creativity and faith.

Caribana: In the Caribbean islands, people celebrate Carnival in February just before the Christian season of Lent. In 1967, when Canada turned 100 years old, Black Canadians in Toronto decided to organize their own Centennial event. They called it Caribana and shifted it to August to help celebrate Emancipation Day and a long weekend in summer.

Caribana (now called the Toronto International Carnival) has become a huge annual summer party. Groups prepare all year for the parade, with its steel-drum music, fantastic costumes and non-stop dancing. More than 1 million people attend Caribana from all over North America. Similar celebrations take place in Halifax, Montreal, Windsor and other cities across Canada.



Africville was a Black community on the north side of Halifax. Although its story is sad, many Black Canadians feel it should be remembered.

Starting in 1848, Africville attracted Black people from across Nova Scotia who were looking for jobs in Halifax. The town grew to 400 residents by 1951. It was a tight-knit community with the Baptist church at its centre. Some Africville residents worked on trading ships, while others helped to construct Halifax buildings. Some people started their own businesses and owned houses and land.

But problems began almost immediately. In the 1850s, a railway cut through the community. Although the residents paid taxes to Halifax, the city never provided water, sewage or police services. Instead, it located factories, a prison and a garbage dump beside the community. To any outsider, Africville looked like a slum.

In the 1960s, without consulting the residents, Halifax's city council decided to get rid of Africville. Black community leaders protested loudly, saying the residents didn't want to leave. Instead, they needed and deserved the services they'd been denied. However, Africville's houses were destroyed and the people were moved. They were promised better homes, but their new houses were often worse.

The spirit of Africville lives on in the memory of Black Nova Scotians. Every year people gather in the parkland where the town once stood to remember a special community. In 2002, Africville was declared a National Historic Site in recognition of its importance to Black Canadian culture.

Religious Heritage

Religion is another way of preserving one's heritage. Black Canadians today practise a variety of religions. Some are Roman Catholics, others attend Protestant churches, including the British Methodist Episcopal Church of Canada and the African United Baptist Association. Martin Luther King Jr., a leader of the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s, was a Baptist minister.

Other Black Canadians are Muslims, followers of Islam. Some Canadians were inspired by Malcolm X, an American Muslim leader in the civil rights movement. Many recent African immigrants are also Muslims.

Some Black Canadians are Rastafarians. This faith group began in Jamaica in the 1930s. Rastafarians celebrate their African heritage, believing that the last Ethiopian emperor — Haile Selassie — was divine.

Black History on the Screen and Stage

Black Canadians also explore their heritage through movies and theatre. Filmmakers have uncovered almost-forgotten stories from Black history. Montreal's Black Theatre Workshop and Toronto's Obsidian Theatre Company perform plays with Black Canadian themes, train young actors and tour schools.