FOR  KIDS (2003)


Canada is one of the most diverse countries in the world. The people of Canada come from many different backgrounds — African, Chinese, Scottish, Ukrainian, Native peoples and hundreds more. Canadian history includes the stories of all these people.

But for a long time, history books focused only on White people from Great Britain and France. That's probably because these countries were the first to explore Canada, send settlers and keep records of their voyages. But the Native peoples were already here when these Europeans arrived. What about Black people? They first arrived in Canada about 400 years ago,. Black Canadians — also called African Canadians — have changed Canada and made important contributions to its * story. They have a fascinating history full of strong, courageous people.

Why Did Black People Come to Canada? 

Some Black people arrived in Canada as explorers. Many came to escape slavery. Others were soldiers who helped Britain defend Canada against the French or Americans. Still more hoped to fulfill their dreams or find a place where they could live, raise their families and work or go to school.

Quick Facts

Black Canadians in Canada

Total population of Canada: 28, 500, 000

Number of Black people living in Canada: 580 000

Percentage of Canadian population that's Black: 2%

Percentage of the Black Canadian population living in:

Toronto        17%

Montreal     20%

Vancouver     3%    

Nova Scotia   3%

(As this book was written in 2003 the stats are now outdated - Keith Hunt)

Where Black Canadians Were Born

Caribbean and Guyana (South America) 300, 000 people

Africa 170, 000 people

Canada and United States 110, 000 people

TOTAL 580, 000 people

(Outdated now - the book being written in 2003 - Keith Hunt)

Richard Pierpoint was a military hero who formed an all-Black regiment to fight in the War of 1812.

Mary Ann Shadd was first female newspaper publisher in North America.   

Harriet Tubman, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, saved more than 300 enslaved Black people.

Carrie Best, a journalist, fought for equal rights for Black citizens.

Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott was the first Black graduate of Toronto's Medical College.

The seven Carty brothers from New Brunswick fought World War II.

African Roots

Whether their skin tone is light or dark, all Black people have African ancestors. Some Black Canadians have parents, grandparents and more ancestors who were born in Canada, while others have come recently from Africa, Bermuda, Europe, South America, the United States or Caribbean countries such as Barbados, Haiti, Jamaica or Trinidad.

Who Are the Black Canadians?

The four main groups of Black

Canadians are:

* People who have lived in Canada for several generations

* Immigrants from Bermuda, the Caribbean and South 

* America Immigrants from Africa 

* Immigrants from the United States

Most people in the first group originally came from the United States. But Black Canadians all share a common African heritage. Today, they feel a connection to one another
through their experiences of life in Canada.

Time to Tell the Story

For years, Canadians didn't see Black Canadians in history books, on television or in newspapers — their story wasn't told. Many people, Black or White, didn't know about Black people's important contributions to Canada. But Black Canadians have added to Canada's story in many ways. From military heroes and journalists to cowboys and activists, Black Canadians have a proud history, present and future.

Black Canadian history started on the continent of Africa. Like Canada, Africa is a diverse place. Most African people are Black, but others are of Asian, Arab and European descent. Africa is made up of many countries, and its people have a great number of religions, languages, foods and traditions.

Africa's history is interesting and long.

The oldest known human being lived 2 million years ago in Africa. From this African birthplace, humans spread out to all parts of the world, including, eventually, Canada.   


About Africa

* Africa is the second-largest continent in the world.

* Africa is three times the size of Canada.

* The total population of Africa is about 700 million people.

* There are 52 countries in Africa.

* Between 800 and 1000 languages are spoken in Africa.

Beginning in Africa

Long before the European explorers arrived in Africa, it had great cities and powerful empires. The African people were skilled farmers, doctors, merchants, metal-workers and sailors. They traded with the Arabs to the north and the Indians to the east. For thousands of years, they'd also been creating wonderful art. Most people know about the amazing civilization of ancient Egypt, in northeastern Africa. It began more than 5000 years ago along the Nile River. You can still visit the pyramids, which are the tombs of Egyptian kings or pharaohs. But there were other incredible civilizations in Africa.

The Kingdom of Rush

Rush became a kingdom in Nubia, on the Nile River south of Egypt, around 800 B.C.E. The Rushites conquered Egypt and ruled it for about 100 years. Rush continued to flourish until 300 C.E.

The Rushites were wealthy and inventive. They built pyramids, trained elephants to work and made iron tools and weapons while the Egyptians were still using bronze, a softer metal. They also developed the world's first form of writing based on an alphabet.


Religion in Africa

From the earliest times, African tribes had their own religions. The people believed they were surrounded by spirits of nature and of their ancestors. Using songs, drumming, dances and other rituals, they asked the spirits for protection.

About 2000 years ago, Christianity came to Africa. Then, 700 years later, Islam arrived in North Africa. Over the centuries, it replaced Christianity in most parts of Africa except Ethiopia. Many African kings and their people became Muslims, or believers in Islam. But the older African religions survived alongside the newer religions.

At Lalibela, a mountain village in Ethiopia, ten Christian churches were carved out of solid rock during the 13th century.

West African Kingdoms

While knights and castles flourished in Europe, the kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhay arose in western Africa.

Traders from these kingdoms crossed the Sahara Desert regularly, their camel caravans loaded with gold and salt. They returned carrying metal, cloth and leather goods from Arab countries such as Morocco, in northern Africa. With the wealth gained from trade, Ghana, Mali and Songhay built beautiful cities. Their kings received visitors in splendid palaces.

Mansa Kankan Musa

In 1324, Mansa Kankan Musa, a wealthy king of Mali, made a pilgrimage to the sacred Muslim city of Mecca. He was accompanied by 60, 000 people and 100 camels loaded with gold. While visiting Cairo in Egypt, he gave away so much gold that it lost its value. The price of gold stayed low for the next 12 years!

"It is a wonder to see what plenty of merchandise is daily brought hither, and how costly and sumptuous all things be."

Leo Africanus, a Spaniard visiting Songhay in 1510

East African dhows [boats] designed to sail against the wind

East African Trading Cities

The Swahilis of East Africa built stone cities 1000 years ago on the coast of the Indian Ocean — Mogadishu (in Somalia), Mombasa (in Kenya) and Kilwa (on an island off Tanzania).

Traders sailed from these cities in ships called dhows. They carried cargoes of iron goods to China and India and returned with cotton cloth, porcelain and copper. Farther south, Zimbabwe was also an important trading power.

Timbuktu in Mali had an important Muslim university at least 600 years ago. Students from as far away as Europe went there to study astronomy, literature, mathematics,

The Great Zimbabwe was built in the 1300s. Although today it is in ruins, it was once the residence of a powerful ruler.


A small trade in slaves began as well. At that time, slavery was common around the world. Slaves were usually criminals or prisoners of war and could be of any race. In Africa, enslaved people were used as workers in salt mines and as porters on trade caravans. But according to law, these African slaves could purchase their freedom after some years.

During the Atlantic slave trade, some British slaving ships were built in Newfoundland, although enslaved Black people, were never brought directly to Britain's northern colonies.

In 1498, Vasco da Gama, an explorer from Portugal, became the first European to sail around Africa. With great excitement, he discovered some of Africa's wealthy cities. After his voyage, trade between Africa and Europe increased rapidly. Portugal, Britain and other countries wanted to trade for African gold, silk and ivory.

Plantations of the New World

In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain and landed on a Caribbean island. He thought he had reached the Far East. Instead, his search for gold and spices had led him to discover a "New World." Of course, it wasn't a new world to the Native peoples who lived there.

Enslaved Black people are shipped from Africa to New World colonies in the Caribbean and the Americas.

Products such as sugar and gold are sent from the colonies back to Europe.

Manufactured goods such as guns and cotton cloth are sent to Africa in trade for the slaves.

The tropical climate of the islands gave the Spanish an idea. In order to profit from Columbus's "mistake," they set up huge farms, called plantations, to grow sugar cane there. These plantations needed many workers, so the Spanish owners forced the Native people to work as slaves. But many of the slaves fled or died from European diseases such as smallpox and measles.

By 1600, the Portuguese, British, French and Dutch also had plantations and mines in the Caribbean and the Americas. They all needed workers, and so they turned to the slave traders. In Africa, both Africans and Europeans rounded up men and women and marched them in chains to coastal cities. There they were crammed into ships and sent across the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic slave trade became a huge business.

The Slave Ships

Conditions on the slave ships were hideous. Before boarding, the captives were branded like cattle so that their purchasers could identify them on arrival. Once on board, they were packed in so closely they could barely move. Afraid of revolts, sailors guarded the slaves with guns. There were terrible shortages of drinking water and food during the voyage. Many enslaved people became sick and died.


report from a British anti-slaving patrol in 1829

Effects of the Slave Trade

The Atlantic slave trade lasted 250 years, from about 1600 to 1850. At least 20 million Black people were taken from Africa to the Americas, the Caribbean, China, Europe and other countries. Historians say that 10 to 12 million captives landed alive in the Americas and Caribbean. Almost one-third of all Black people died during the passage.

The effect on Africa was devastating, as communities lost their strongest young people and most educated adults. The New World gained from the skills the Africans brought with them, including their knowledge of tropical agriculture, healing and carpentry. Others contributed music and other arts to the culture of their new home.

* Most enslaved Africans who crossed the Atlantic Ocean never saw their homes again. Abu Bakr al-Siddiq was an exception. Born in Timbuktu in 1790, he was brought up in a well-educated Muslim family then captured and sent to Jamaica as a slave. There, his master discovered that he could read and write Arabic (like many other enslaved people). As a result, al-Siddiq was freed after 30 years of slavery. He joined an English expedition to Timbuktu and managed to return home.


While the Atlantic slave trade was growing, Europeans were exploring the northern parts of North America. John Cabot, who was born in Italy (where he was known as Giovanni Caboto), sailed to Canada's east coast from Bristol, England, in 1497.

After Cabot's voyage, Britain claimed ownership of North America. But another 100 years passed before Britain founded its first colony, Virginia, in what's now the United States. Then, in 1608, the explorer Samuel de Champlain established a colony for France at what is now Quebec City. Over the next 150 years, this colony — New France — grew and its population reached about 65, 000.

Who Were the Slaves?

The first slaves in New France were people of the Pawnee Nation, called pains by the French. But many of the Native slaves were killed by European diseases. So the French settlers imported African slaves from American and Caribbean plantations. These slaves had built up immunity to most European diseases. Plus, because of their dark skin colour, it was harder for them to blend in with the people around-them if they ran away.

There weren't many enslaved Black people in New France, however. The long, cold winters prevented the settlers from creating large plantations like the ones in the southern colonies. Their small farms didn't need huge numbers of workers.

New France's First Black Slave

The first enslaved African in New France was a young boy. He was born on the island of Madagascar, off Africa's east coast. At age seven, he was sold as a slave to the British commander David Kirke. When Kirke invaded Quebec City in 1628, he sold the boy to the colony's head clerk, Olivier Le Tardif.

New France was handed back to the French in 1632. Le Tardif had to flee because he had worked for the British, but he sold his young slave first. The boy was educated in a school run by a Jesuit priest, Father Le Jeune. Later, the enslaved boy was baptized Olivier Le Jeune — his first name came from Olivier.

Although slavery wasn't legal in France, the Code Noir (Black

Code) made it acceptable in New France. Passed by King Louis XTV of France, the Black Code stated how slaves were to be treated. Owners couldn't marry their slaves, and the children of slaves were the property of the slave owner. Slavery was made fully legal in New France in 1709.

Le Tardif and his last name from Father Le Jeune. Olivier Le Jeune died when he was 30.

Slave Labour

The living conditions for enslaved people in New France were less harsh than on the plantations in the South. Most slaves lived in the cities of Montreal and Quebec and worked in people's houses as domestic servants. They washed and ironed clothes, cooked meals and cared for children. Some of the men worked as farm labourers.

Things were different outside the cities, however, where heavy outdoor work was needed. For example, enslaved Black people helped to build and protect French far-trading posts.

All sorts of people were slave owners — military men, merchants, governors and priests. Even Catholic women's convents used slave labour in their hospitals and schools.

Enslaved people were at the lowest level of society. Their owners could beat them whenever they wished. Many died young, at an average age of 25. By 1760, New France's population of 65, 000 included about 1,200 Black slaves and 2,500 panis.

Marie-Joseph Angelique

The story of Marie-Joseph Angelique shows how harshly slaves could be punished. Angelique was a house slave in Montreal. In April 1734, she learned that she was about to be sold and decided to run away. While she was escaping, a fire started in her owner's house. The flames spread and destroyed 46 homes. When Angelique was captured, she was found guilty of starting the fire, tortured, paraded through the streets and hanged.


The first Black person known to have come to Canada (as the country would later be called) was a free man, not a slave. Sometime before 1605, Mathieu Da Costa travelled from France to the new French colony of Port Royal, in today's Nova Scotia.

Da Costa was a translator — he could speak French as well as the language of the local Native people, the Mi'kmaq. The French needed Da Costa to help them trade with the Mi'kmaq. As a member of the Order of Good Cheer, Canada's first social club, Da Costa also took his turn with the other men in putting on shows or providing other entertainment for the club. He returned to Europe around 1607.


A slave is a human being who is the property of another person. In the slave trade, people were bought and sold like cattle at a farm market.

In the past, slavery was common in many countries. For instance, White Europeans enslaved other White Europeans, and some Native Canadians had slaves. If you were taken prisoner in a battle, or if you owed someone a lot of money, you might be made a slave. Usually, slaves could work hard and purchase their freedom. Slavery didn't necessarily last for a lifetime.

When Africans were captured and shipped to the New World, however, things changed. The Africans were enslaved for their entire lives, and their children were the owner's property. There was no way they could buy their freedom. For these Black people, slavery was a permanent condition.

African Culture in the New World

In the Caribbean and South America, enslaved Black people far outnumbered White people. As a result, they were able to keep alive their African songs, languages and religions. In the United States, however, much of African culture was soon forgotten by the children and grandchildren of the enslaved Black people. Canada had only a small population of slaves, and their heritage also was mostly forgotten.

American Plantations

A plantation is a large farm that grows one crop, such as cotton, sugar or coffee. Most plantations are in tropical countries or places with hot climates, such as the southern United States. Plantation owners needed many workers. Most owned 10 to 20 enslaved Blacks, but some of the richer ones had 100 or more. Because slaves were forced to work for free, the owners could make large profits.

The enslaved Africans who lived on American plantations had a harsh life. As slaves, they had no rights. They weren't allowed to go to school or learn to read and write, nor could they legally marry or go anywhere without their owner's permission. As well, slaves were punished or sold whenever their owner liked.

Josiah Henson was born enslaved in Maryland in 1789. When he  was about 3, his father tried to protect his mother from a savage beating. For this crime, his father had an ear cut off, was whipped and sold to a new owner.

Henson and his mother were purchased by a Kentucky farmer called Isaac Riley. Henson was such a reliable worker that, when he grew up, he was made manager of Riley's farm.

While still enslaved, Henson became a Christian preacher. But the cruelty of slavery made him increasingly angry. When he was 20, a savage beating broke both his shoulders. Two years later, Henson married a young enslaved woman named Charlotte and started a family. He began to think about escaping.

Henson finally made his break for freedom in 1830 after Riley betrayed him. He and Charlotte and their children set out on a long, terrifying journey from Kentucky. (Read more about Henson on pages 25 and 30.)

Work of a Field Slave

Most male and many female slaves toiled in the fields. They worked 16-hour days, from sunrise to sundown, six days a week. Supervised by overseers — White men or trusted slaves -— they hoed, planted or harvested crops under the hot sun. If an enslaved person arrived late, made a mistake or worked too slowly, he could receive 50 to 100 lashes from the overseers whip.

Other Slave Work

About one-quarter of enslaved Black people were house slaves or tradespeople such as carpenters, builders and weavers. House slaves worked in the "big house," performing tasks for the owners wife and family Most were children, women or old people, and they worked as cooks, caregivers, grooms and drivers. They had to do whatever their owner demanded. If they angered the owner, they could be whipped.

Family Life

Slave families lived together in small cabins away from the owners house. They often had six or seven children, who had to begin working when they were just 7 or 8 years old. The more fortunate families had garden plots and could grow their own food. They also hunted and fished to get enough to eat. Singing, dancing, storytelling and practising their religion helped keep their culture alive. Sundays were free, and Christmas brought a few days' holiday.


--Delicia Patterson, an  enslaved  Black  American  girl

The Auction Block 

In their lifetime most enslaved people would live on two or more plantations. When an owner decided to sell some slaves, he took them to market, where they were closely examined by purchasers. Some owners employed a slave trader to help them sell their slaves. The taxer would feed the enslaved blacks just enough so that they looked healthy at sale time.

It was common for slave families be split up when sold. Children were separated from parents, and husbands from wives. Often, they ever saw one another again. Enslaved people who were moving to a new plantation marched in "coffles" — lines of people chained together. Many died before they arrived.

Slave auctions were frequent in Canada as well, especially in Nova Scotia. In the 1700s, newspapers regularly advertised sales of skilled slaves.


A BLACK  WOMAN, named PEGGY, aged  about  forty years; and a Black boy her son, named JUPITER, aged about fifteen years, both of them the property of the Subscriber. The Woman is a tolerable Cook and wafher woman and perfectly understands making Soap and Candles. The Boy is tall and strng of his age, and has been employed in Country bufinefs, but brought up principally as Houfe Servant—They arc each of them Servants for life. The Price for the Wowan is one hundred and fifty Dollars — and the Boy two hundred Dollars, payable in three years with Intereft from the day of Sale— and to be properly fecund by Bond - But one fourth left will be taken in ready Money.

PETER  RUSSELL. York, Feb. 10th 1806.

Religion and Plantations

For the first 100 years of slavery, White owners didn't want their enslaved workers to become Christians. But by the mid-1700s, many Black people began to join Protestant churches, especially Baptist and Methodist. Soon, Black people were turning church services into joyous occasions full of music and movement.

Some plantation owners tried to control slaves through religion. They would bring a White Christian minister to preach to the enslaved people. The message? That obedience to the owner was a good thing, and slaves should be happy to be slaves.

But the slaves understood Christianity in a different way. In the Bible, they read about the Jewish slaves in Egypt. They believed that God had sent Moses to free the Jews from their masters, and they longed for the same freedom.


In their religious songs, called spirituals, the slaves sang about their hopes of becoming free or going to heaven. Later, when the slaves were escaping to Canada, these songs contained coded messages to help them travel the Underground Railroad (see page 24).

Let My People Go


When Israel was in Egypt's land, 

Let my people go.

Oppressed so hard they could not stand, 

Let my people go.

Go down, Moses, 

Way down in Egypt land, 

Tell ole Pharaoh, 

Let my people go.

In 1831, Nat Turner, a slave from Virginia, led a slave revolt during which more than 60 White people were killed. Soldiers were called in to stop the rebellion. The incident led to harsher laws in the American South that restricted the movement of enslaved people. As a result, many enslaved people tried to escape to Canada — by that time, slavery was illegal here.

Slave Life in Canada

Most enslaved Black people in early Canada were house slaves. Besides cleaning the owners house, doing the laundry and preparing meals, they cared for children and old people, made clothing, candles and soap, and tended small vegetable gardens. Some developed trades such as carpentry, blacksmithing and hairdressing. Others helped to clear the land, chop logs and store firewood in preparation for the long, cold winters.

The Fight Against Slavery

There were always people who objected to slavery. They were called abolitionists because they wanted to end, or abolish, slavery. One group was the Quakers in the northern American colonies. Quakers were Christians who felt that all people deserved liberty in the eyes of God. In Britain, too, there were strong opponents to slavery, such as William Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament. In Upper Canada (now Ontario), Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe took a big step towards abolishing slavery in 1793 (see page 17).

After Slavery

When the Civil War broke out in the United States in 1861, many slaves in the South escaped to fight for the North. Two years later, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, making slavery illegal in the U.S. After the North won the war in 1865, all American slaves were declared free, although many slave owners tried to hide the news from their enslaved people.

Slavery still exists today in China, some African countries and elsewhere. Often the slaves are poor children who are purchased from their parents.