Black History in Canada

3 SECTION 1: Enslavement in Canada The Transatlantic Slave Trade, also known as the Triangular Trade, was established in the 15th century by various European empires to bring kidnapped Africans to lands colonized by different European countries. From the early 1600s until 1834, settlers in what is now Canada participated in the Transatlantic Slave Trade by buying, selling, and enslaving African people. Enslavement in Canada was legal, with laws that supported enslavers. It was costly to pay European workers, so there was a high demand for enslaved people to work as domestics or in the agricultural sector. French and British colonists also consumed goods such as sugar that were produced in the Caribbean by enslaved people, and exploited the labour of enslaved people to increase personal wealth and to spur the economic growth of colonial economies. The first known enslaved Black person to be kidnapped and taken to Canada was a young boy, originally from either Madagascar or Guinea. Arriving in New France in 1629, by May 1633, he had been given the name Olivier Le Jeune by the Jesuit Father Paul Le Jeune. When New France came under British rule in 1759, there were more than 3,000 enslaved persons in Canada, around a third of whom were Black. Did you know? Indigenous Peoples made up two-thirds of enslaved peoples in the colony of New France. Most were enslaved women and girls who were forced to work in urban centres like Montreal, and many were also traded to the Caribbean. After the American War of Independence, when British Loyalists migrated to Canada, the number of enslaved persons of African descent grew to represent the majority of enslaved persons in the land we now refer to as Canada. People of African and Indigenous descent, known as Afro-Indigenous or Black Indigenous Canadians, have a longstanding history in this land and continue to exist as a distinct and culturally rich community. Although the history of Black Indigenous people in Canada is not well documented, a sense of unity and shared struggles have led to cultural exchanges between Black and Indigenous communities going back centuries. For example, many Black Indigenous people in Nova Scotia have heard generational stories of their Mi’kmaw ancestors helping enslaved people and later Black Loyalists. However, discriminatory policies often resulted in people having to choose between identities. These once-lost identities and heritages are more recently being reclaimed through efforts such as the Proclaiming Our Roots Project. Notable Black Indigenous figures include George Bonga, George Elliot Clarke, and Julian Taylor. Indentured servitude existed alongside slavery in what is now Canada. Under this exploitative system, individuals signed a contract that bound them to unpaid labour for a certain period — often years — in exchange for transport, shelter, and food. Many formerly enslaved people were freed only under the condition that they work as indentured servants for their former enslavers. For example, Dembo Sickles, a formerly enslaved Black man in Prince Edward Island, had to work as an indentured servant from from 1796 to 1802/03 after being “freed.” A chattel slave was an enslaved person considered the property of their enslaver and legally not a person. The laws of chattel slavery meant that the children of chattel slaves were automatically enslaved as well. Abolitionists were individuals who advocated for or supported the end of enslavement and the freedom of enslaved people. Freedom seekers were people who, sometimes with help from abolitionists and the Underground Railroad, sought freedom from enslavement. The term is meant to reflect that though they were in physical bondage, their minds and spirits remained free. KEY TERMS James Murray, the first British governor of Quebec (National Portrait Gallery/ NPG 3122) Imperial Statute, 1790 (TPL Virtual Exhibits) Portrait of a Haitian woman, 1786, by Francois Malepart de Beaucourt (M12067/ McCord Stewart Museum)