Black Canadians

Black Canadians

"'Infobox Ethnic group
group=Black Canadians

caption= Lincoln AlexanderOscar PetersonMichaëlle Jean
poptime=783,795ndash 2.5% of Canada's population [ Visible minority groups, 2006 counts, for Canada, provinces and territories] ]
region1 = Provinces:
region2 = flagicon|Ontario Ontario – 473,765
region3 = flagicon|Quebec Quebec – 188,070
region4 = flagicon|Alberta Alberta – 47,075
region5 = flagicon|British Columbia British Columbia – 28,315
region6 = flagicon|Nova Scotia Nova Scotia – 19,230
langs=Canadian English, Canadian French, Caribbean English, Haitian Creole, and other African languages
rels=Christianity, Islam, Rastafari, and others
related=Afro-Caribbean, Black Nova Scotian, African American, Black British, Afro-European, African Australian
Black Canadians, Caribbean Canadians, and African Canadians are designations used for people of Black African descent who reside in Canada. The terms are used by and of Canadian citizens who trace their ancestry back to people who were indigenous to Sub-Saharan Africa. The majority have relatively recent origins in the Caribbean, while some trace their lineage to the first slaves brought by British and French colonists to the mainland of North America. A minority have recent African roots. Many Canadians identify as black even though they may have multi-ethnic ancestries.

Blacks and other Canadians often draw a distinction between those of Caribbean ancestry and those of African descent, which sometimes results in controversy around the terms used to label and identify the Black community. Unlike in the United States, where African American is now one of several generally accepted terms, Blacks of Caribbean origin in Canada largely "reject" the term African Canadian as an elision of their Caribbean heritage.


According to the 2006 Census by Statistics Canada, 783,795 Canadians identified themselves as black, constituting 2.5% of the entire Canadian population. The five largest provinces of Black population in 2006 were Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia. The ten largest cities of Black population were Toronto, Montreal, Brampton, Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Halifax, and Oshawa. Preston, in the Halifax area, is the community with the highest percentage of Blacks at 69.4%. [ [ Community Counts Home Page ] ]

Census issues

At times, it has been alleged that Black Canadians have been significantly undercounted in census data. Writer George Elliott Clarke has cited a McGill University study which found that fully 43 per cent of all Black Canadians were not counted as black in the 1991 Canadian census, because they had identified themselves on census forms as British, French or other cultural identities which were not included in the census group of Black cultures. [ [ "The Complex Face of Black Canada"] , George Elliott Clarke, "McGill News", Winter 1997.]

Although subsequent censuses have reported the population of Black Canadians to be much more consistent with the McGill study's revised 1991 estimate than with the official 1991 census data, no recent study has been conducted to determine whether some Black Canadians are still substantially missed. One must remember that the Canadian Census is once every 5 years (as opposed to once every 10 years for the US Census) thus the Canada's census data is more readily self correcting with respect to minority counting than initial evidence would suggest. Fact|date=July 2008


One of the ongoing controversies in the Black Canadian community revolves around appropriate terminologies. Some use the term "African Canadian" instead, although this is more commonly used to refer only to those whose ancestors came directly from Africa or from the United States. "Caribbean Canadian" is often used to refer to Black Canadians of Caribbean heritage, although this usage can also be controversial because the Caribbean is not populated only by people of African origin, but also includes large groups of Indo-Caribbeans, Chinese Caribbeans, European Caribbeans, Syrian or Lebanese Caribbeans, Latinos and Amerindians. (The same racial diversity is also true of Africa, although this is far less frequently cited as an argument against the use of "African Canadian".) The term "Afro-Caribbean-Canadian" is occasionally used in response to this controversy, although as of 2008 this term is still fairly rare. Blacks of Caribbean origin form a much larger proportion of the black community in Canada than in the United States — in fact, almost 30% of Canada's black population is of Jamaican origin alone, and a further 32% are from other Caribbean nations. Many Canadians of Afro-Caribbean origin strongly object to the term "African Canadian", as it obscures their own culture and history, and this partially accounts for the term's less prevalent use in Canada, compared to the consensus "African American" south of the border.

However, there are also regional demographic variations. In particular, the black communities of Nova Scotia and Southwestern Ontario — two of the major historical destinations along the Underground Railroad — are much more strongly associated with African American immigration from the United States, and much less with Caribbean immigration, than in most of Canada. Blacks in the province of Nova Scotia, who have a unique history stretching back to the Black Loyalist community during the American Revolution, are also commonly identified as a distinct Black Nova Scotian community within the larger Black Canadian group, a distinction that is not shared by any other Canadian province. More specific national terms such as "Jamaican Canadian", "Haitian Canadian" or "Ghanaian Canadian" are also used. As of 2008, however, there is no widely-used alternative to "Black Canadian" that is accepted by both the African Canadian and Afro-Caribbean-Canadian communities as an umbrella term for the whole group.


First black people in Canada

The history of blacks in Canada prior to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, though extensive, is rarely mentioned in Canadian media or education. The first recorded black person to set foot on land now known as Canada was a free man named Mathieu de Costa, who travelled with explorer Samuel de Champlain, or arrived in Nova Scotia some time between 1603 and 1608 as a translator for the French explorer Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Monts. The first known black person to live in Canada was a slave from Madagascar named Olivier Le Jeune, who may have been of partial Malay ancestry. As a group, black people arrived in Canada in several waves. The first of these came as free persons serving in the French Army and Navy; some were enslaved. Later, some were indentured servants, as were some white immigrants. This category can be used to efface slavery.

African Americans during the American Revolution

At the time of the American Revolution, inhabitants of the United States had to decide where their future lay. Those loyal to the British Crown were called United Empire Loyalists, and came north. White American Loyalists brought their African American slaves with them, while formerly enslaved Black Americans, about 10% of the total [ Black History in Guelph and Wellington County ] ] , also made their way to the colonies of British North America, settling predominantly in Nova Scotia [ Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia ] ] , see Black Nova Scotians. This latter group was largely made up of tradespeople and labourers, and many set up home in Birchtown near Shelburne. Some settled in New Brunswick, where they received discriminatory treatment; prominent leaders there held slaves. The charter of the city of Saint John was amended in 1785 specifically to exclude blacks from practising a trade, selling goods, fishing in the harbour, or becoming freemen; these provisions stood until 1870. [ [ Arrival of the Black Loyalists: Saint John's Black Community: Heritage Resources Saint John ] ] In 1782, the first race riot in North America took place in Shelburne, with white soldiers attacking the African American settlers who were getting work that the soldiers thought they should have. Due to the unkept promises of the British government and the discrimination from the white colonists, 1,192 African American men, women and children left Nova Scotia for West Africa on January 15, 1792 and settled in what is now Sierra Leone, where they became the original settlers of Freetown. They, along with other groups of free transplanted people such as the Black Poor from England, became what is now the Sierra Leone Creole people, also known as the Krio.

Maroons from the Caribbean

In 1796, a group of fiercely independent rebels known as the Trelawney Maroons were moved from Jamaica to Nova Scotia, following their long battle against colonization. While there, these Jamaican Maroons deterred an attack by Napoleon and constructed parts of the Halifax Citadel and all of Government House. After only a few winters, the British government decided it would be cheaper to send them to Sierra Leone than to try to persuade them to farm in a cold country. Upon their arrival in West Africa in 1800, they were used to quell an uprising among the previous settlers mentioned above, who after eight years were unhappy with their treatment by the Sierra Leone Company.

The abolition of slavery

The Canadian climate made it uneconomic to keep slaves year-round [ [ The Underground Rail Road ] ] , unlike the plantation agriculture practised in the southern United States and Caribbean, and slavery within the colonial economy became increasingly rare. Not all owners were white. For example, the powerful Mohawk leader Joseph Brant bought an African American named Sophia Burthen Pooley, whom he kept for about 12 years before selling her for $100. [ Black History in Guelph and Wellington County ] ] [Drew, p. 192] In 1773 John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, attempted to abolish slavery. That same year, the new Legislative Assembly there became the first entity in the British Empire to restrict slavery, confirming existing ownership but allowing for anyone born to a female slave after that date to be freed at the age of 25. [ [ Black History in Guelph and Wellington County ] ] Slavery was all but abolished throughout the other British North American colonies by 1800, and was illegal throughout the British Empire after 1834. This made Canada an attractive destination for those fleeing slavery in the United States, such as minister Boston King.

The Anti-Slavery Society of Canada estimated in its first report in 1852 that the "colored population of Upper Canada" was about 30,000, of whom almost all adults were "fugitive slaves". [ quoted in the author's preface to "The Refugee", Drew, 1856, available here [,M1] ]
St. Catharines had a population of 6000 at that time; 800 of them were "of African descent". [ p17 of "The Refugee", Drew, 1856, available here [,M1] ]

War of 1812

The next major migration of blacks occurred between 1813 and 1815. Refugees from the War of 1812 fled the United States to settle in Hammonds Plains, Beechville, Lucasville, North Preston, East Preston, and Africville. A Black Loyalist named Richard Pierpoint, who was born about 1744 in Senegal and who had settled near present-day St. Catharines, Ontario, offered to organize a Corps of Men of Colour; this was refused but a white officer raised a small black corps. This "Coloured Corps" fought at Queenston Heights and the siege of Fort George, defending what would become Canada from the invading American army.

The Underground Railroad

There is a sizable community of Black Canadians in Nova Scotia and Southern Ontario who trace their ancestry to African American slaves who used the Underground Railroad to flee from the United States, seeking refuge and freedom in Canada. From the late 1820s until the American Civil War began in 1861, the Underground Railroad brought tens of thousands of fugitives to Canada. While many of these returned to the United States after emancipation, a significant population remained, largely in Southern Ontario, widely scattered in both rural and urban locations, including Amherstburg, Colchester, Dresden, Wallaceburg, Guelph and Wellington County [ [ Black History in Guelph and Wellington County ] ] , Kitchener, Waterloo, Sudbury, Chatham, Windsor, London, Hamilton [ [ The Souls of Black Folk: Hamilton's Stewart Memorial Community ] ] , Collingwood, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Fort Erie, Welland, Owen Sound [ [ Owen Sound's Black History ] ] and Toronto.

West Coast

In 1858, James Douglas, the governor of the British colony of Vancouver Island, replied to an inquiry from a group of blacks in San Francisco about the possibilities of settling in his jurisdiction. Governor Douglas, whose mother had been a Creole, replied favourably, and, at the outbreak of the Cariboo Gold Rush, several dozen of these African American migrants travelled to Victoria. Two of them, Peter Lester and Mifflin Gibbs, became successful merchants there, and Gibbs was elected to the City Council in the 1860s.

Immigration restrictions

In the late nineteenth century, there was an unofficial policy of restricting blacks from immigration. The huge influx of immigrants from Europe and the United States in the period before World War I included only very small numbers of black arrivals. This was formalised in 1911 by Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier: "His excellency in Council, in virtue of the provisions of Sub-section (c) of Section 38 of the Immigration Act, is pleased to Order and it is hereby Ordered as follows: For a period of one year from and after the date hereof the landing in Canada shall be and the same is prohibited of any immigrants belonging to the Negro race, which race is deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada." (Compare with the White Australia policy.)

Early 20th century

The flow between the United States and Canada continued in the twentieth century. A wave of immigration occurred in the 1920s, with blacks from the Caribbean coming to work in the steel mills of Cape Breton, replacing those who had come from Alabama in 1899 [ [ Shunpiking Online Edition Black History Supplement 2005 . The Long Walk Home By Paul MacDougall ] ] . Some Black Canadians trace their ancestry to people who fled racism in Oklahoma and other American Great Plains states in the early 1900s to move north to Alberta and Saskatchewan. [ [ Settlement - New Communities - Black Settlers ] ] (See for example those buried in the [ Shiloh Baptist Church cemetery in Saskatchewan] .) Unfortunately, they found racism when they arrived in Canada, which they had regarded as the Promised Land. [ ['s%20Black%20Pioneers.htm] ] Many of Canada's railway porters came from the U.S. as well, with many coming from the South, New York City and Washington, D.C., and mainly settling in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver [ [ Jenny Carson | Riding the Rails: Black Railroad Workers in Canada and the United States | Labour/Le Travail, 50 | The History Cooperative ] ] .

Late 20th century and early 21st century

The restrictions on immigration remained until 1962, when racial rules were eliminated from the immigration laws. This coincided with the dissolution of the British Empire in the Caribbean, and over the next decades several hundred thousand blacks came from that region to Canada. Since then, an increasing number of immigrants from Africa have been coming to Canada, as is also the case in the United States and Europe. This includes large numbers of refugees, but also many skilled workers pursuing better economic conditions. Today's Black Canadians are largely of Caribbean origin, with some of recent African origin, and smaller numbers from Latin American countries.

However, a sizable number of Black Canadians who descended from freed American slaves can still be found in Nova Scotia and parts of Southwestern Ontario. Some descendants of the freed American black slaves have mixed into the white Canadian community and have mostly lost their ethnic identity. Some of the descendants went back to the United States. Bangor, Maine, for example, received quite a few Black Canadians from the Maritime provinces. [ [ Black Bangor: African Americans in a Maine Community, 1880-1950 - Wal-Mart ] ]


*Nearly 30% of Black Canadians have Jamaican heritage. [ Ethnic origins, 2006 counts, for Canada, provinces and territories - 20% sample data] ]
**An additional 32% have heritage elsewhere in the Caribbean or Bermuda. [ CST.SP04.qxd ] ]
*60% of Black Canadians are under the age of 35.
*60% of Black Canadians live in the province of Ontario.
*There are 20,000 more black women than black men in Canada.
**Black Canadiansndash 783,795 (2.5% of Canadian population)
**Black Britishndash 1.8 million (3.5% of British population)
**African Australiansndash 160,000 (0.8% of Australian population)
**African Americansndash 39,500,000 (12.4% of American population)
**Afro-Braziliansndash 92,690,000 (49.5% of Brazilian population)


Although many Black Canadians live in integrated communities, there have also been a number of notable Black communities, both as unique settlements and as Black-dominated neighbourhoods in urban centres.

The most famous and historically documented Black settlement in Canadian history is the community of Africville, a small village in Nova Scotia which was demolished in the 1960s to facilitate the urban expansion of Halifax. Similarly, the Hogan's Alley neighbourhood in Vancouver was largely demolished in 1970, with only a single small laneway in Strathcona remaining.

The Wilberforce Colony in Ontario was also a historically Black settlement, which evolved demographically as Black settlers moved away and eventually became the Irish-dominated village of Lucan. A small group of Black settlers were also the original inhabitants of Saltspring Island.

Other notable black settlements include North Preston in Nova Scotia, Priceville, Shanty Bay and parts of Chatham-Kent in Ontario, the Maidstone/Eldon area in Saskatchewan [ [ Shiloh Baptist Church Cemetery ] ] and Amber Valley in Alberta.

One of the most famous Black-dominated urban neighbourhoods in Canada is Montreal's Little Burgundy, regarded as the spiritual home of Canadian jazz due to its association with many of Canada's most influential early jazz musicians. Several urban neighbourhoods in Toronto, including Jane and Finch, Rexdale, Malvern, St. James Town and Lawrence Heights, are popularly associated with Black Canadians, although all are much more racially diverse than is commonly believed.


Media representation of Blacks in Canada has increased significantly in recent years, with television series such as "Drop the Beat", "Lord Have Mercy" and "Da Kink in My Hair" focusing principally on Black characters and communities.

The films of Clement Virgo and Sudz Sutherland have been among the most prominent depictions of Black Canadians on the big screen.

In literature, the most prominent and famous Black Canadian writers have been George Elliott Clarke, Austin Clarke, Dionne Brand and Dany Laferrière, although numerous emerging writers have gained attention in the 1990s and 2000s.


According to Statistics Canada's [| Ethnic Diversity Survey] released in September 2003, when asked about the five year period from 1998 to 2002, nearly one-third (32%) of respondents who identified as black described the frequency of suffering some form of racial discrimination or unfair treatment as '"sometimes"' or '"often"'.

ee also


*List of Black Canadians
*African diaspora
*Black people
*African-Canadian Heritage Tour
*List of topics related to Black and African people

Related ethnic groups

*Jamaican Canadian
*Haitian Canadians
*Canadians of Trinidad and Tobago origin
*Canadians of Barbadian origin
*Canadians of Guyanese descent
*Latin American Canadian
*Cape Verdean Canadian



*Drew Benjamin, "The Refugee, or the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada, Related by Themselves, with an Account of the History and Condition of the Colored Population of Upper Canada", 1856, available [,M1] here
*Margaret A. Ormsby, "British Columbia, A history" 1958: Macmillan Company of Canada
*Terry Reksten, "More English than the English": A Very Social History of Victoria" 1985: Orca Book Publishers

External links

* [ Ebony Roots, Northern Soil] A conference at McGill University and its legacy, an annotated compilation of online resources
* [ Alvin McCurdy - online exhibit at the Archives of Ontario]
* [ Blacks in Canada: a Long History] A Statistics Canada report by Anne Milan and Kelly Tran, Spring 2004
* [ Black History Canada] A Historica Foundation annotated compilation of online resources
* [ Remembering Black Loyalists]
* [ History of African Nova Scotians]
* [ Underground Railroad Niagara's Freedom Trail]
* [ Black Canada and the Journey to Freedom]

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