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The history of Black Canadian voting rights is marked by contrasting shifts. Enslaved during the period 1600–1834, Black persons could not vote. Emancipated, they were entitled to the rights, freedoms and privileges enjoyed by British subjects, including the franchise; however, racial discrimination did at times impede Black Canadians’ right to vote. The rights and freedoms of Black women were further restricted by virtue of their sex.
Black communities in Canada represent an array of experiences, below are some that relate to the right to vote.
Mary Ann Camberton Shadd Cary, educator, publisher, abolitionist (born 9 October 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware; died 5 June 1893 in Washington, DC). Mary Ann Shadd was the first Black female newspaper publisher in Canada. Shadd founded and edited The Provincial Freeman. She also established a racially integrated school for Black refugees in Windsor, Canada West. She played an important role in giving Black people a voice and advocating for women’s rights. In 1994, Shadd was designated a Person of National Historic Significance in Canada.
Marie-Joseph Angélique (born circa 1705 in Madeira, Portugal; died 21 June 1734 in Montréal, QC). Angélique was an enslaved Black woman owned by Thérèse de Couagne de Francheville in Montréal. In 1734, she was charged with arson after a fire leveled Montréal’s merchants' quarter. It was alleged that Angélique committed the act while attempting to flee her bondage. She was convicted, tortured and hanged. While it remains unknown whether or not she set the fire, Angélique’s story has come to symbolize Black resistance and freedom.
Prior to 1960, black Africans comprised a very small, scattered and almost unknown group of newcomers to Canada, although Africans of European and Asian ancestry had a clearer presence. According to the 2016 census, 1,067,925 Canadians reported being of African origin (682,570 single and 385,355 multiple responses). Of that number, 230, 110 people reported Central and West African origins; 355, 040 reported North African origins; 260, 145 reported Southern and East African origins and; 239, 560 reported other African origins.
People from the Caribbean region began to settle in Canada in the late 18th century (see Jamaican Maroons in Nova Scotia and Black Canadians). In the 2016 census, 749,155 Canadians reported that they originated from the Caribbean, and most have immigrated to Canada since the 1970s.
Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone (née Jenkins), organizer and activist, broadcaster, actor (born 13 October 1919 in London, ON; died 25 July 1975). Kay Livingstone founded the Canadian Negro Women’s Association in 1951 and organized the first National Congress of Black Women in 1973. An established radio broadcaster and actor, Livingstone also devoted a great deal of her life and energy to social activism and organizing. Her tireless work to encourage a national discussion around the position of racialized people in society, particularly Black women, led Livingstone to coin the term visible minority in 1975.
Caribbean music is an important component of musical life in Canada on two grounds: firstly, significant numbers of Caribbean peoples have immigrated to Canada, particularly beginning in the 1960s, and have continued the musical traditions of their homelands in the new environment; and secondly as early as the 1920s successive styles of Caribbean-derived music began to form part of the fabric of Euro-American pop music and thus part of the musical experience of many Canadians over the years.
Afua (Ava Pamela) Cooper, educator, historian, performance artist, poet (born 8 November 1957 in the Whithorn district of Westmoreland, Jamaica), is considered one of the most influential and pioneering voices in the Canadian dub poetry and spoken word movement. Her poems are published in numerous regional, national and international journals and anthologies. Afua Cooper also has CDs of her performances that make her work well known to the global community. In addition to her renown as a performance artist, she is an internationally-ranked historian. She has taught Caribbean cultural studies, history, women's studies and Black studies at Ryerson and York universities, at the University of Toronto and at Dalhousie University.
Jully Ann Inderia Gordon, singer, songwriter, actor, TV personality (born 8 November 1977 in Toronto, ON). Jully Black is known as “Canada’s Queen of R&B.” In 2013, CBC Music named her one of the 25 Greatest Canadian Singers Ever. Her rich and soulful alto voice has drawn comparisons to Tina Turner and Amy Winehouse. She has won a Juno Award from 10 nominations and has written songs for Destiny’s Child, Nas, Sean Paul and Missy Elliott, among others. She also started her own recording, management and publishing company, and her own fitness enterprise. Black has appeared onstage in productions of trey anthony’s play Da Kink in My Hair and Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s musical Caroline, or Change; the latter earned Black a 2020 Dora Award. She is also a popular television and radio host and panel guest. She was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2021.
Dominique François Gaspard, physician and community builder (born 22 December 1884 in New Orleans, Louisiana; died 6 February 1938 in Montreal, QC). Gaspard was a respected doctor and a trailblazer in Montreal’s Black district. After serving with distinction at a field hospital during the First World War, he devoted himself to medical practice in Montreal. He also worked to create social and intellectual outlets for Black men in the city. A bilingual Catholic, he was unique in the city’s early-20th-century anglophone Protestant Black community. His story speaks of a complexity of language, ethnicity and migration not often explored in narratives of Quebec’s English-speaking and Black communities.
Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, politician, judge, diplomat, banker, entrepreneur (born 17 April 1823 in Philadelphia, PA; died 11 July 1915, in Little Rock, AR). Gibbs was a notable figure in both American and Canadian history. In just over a decade in colonial British Columbia, he prospered in business, advocated for the Black community, served as an elected official and helped guide British Columbia into Confederation. Gibbs was the first Black person elected to public office in what is now British Columbia.
William Andrew White, Baptist minister and army chaplain (born 16 June 1874 in King and Queen Court House, VA; died 9 September 1936 in Halifax, NS). White was a leading member of the African Nova Scotian community. He was chaplain for the No. 2 Construction Battalion, making him one of the few Black officers in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War.
Michaëlle Jean, social activist, journalist, documentary filmmaker, governor general of Canada 2005–2010, secretary general of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie 2014–2019 (born 6 September 1957 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti).
William Pearly Oliver, CM, minister, army chaplain and community organizer (born 11 February 1912 in Wolfville, Nova Scotia; died 26 May 1989 in Lucasville). Oliver was a social activist, educator and minister. He cofounded the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP) and the Black United Front (BUF). He was also instrumental in the creation of the Black Cultural Society and the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia.
Order-in-Council P.C. 1324 was approved on 12 August 1911 by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. The purpose of the order was to ban Black persons from entering Canada for a period of one year because, it read, “the Negro race…is deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada.” The order-in-council was the culmination of what researcher R. Bruce Shepard has called Canada’s “campaign of diplomatic racism.” Though the order never became law, the actions of government officials made it clear that Black immigrants were not wanted in Canada (see Immigration).
Black people have lived in Canada since the 17th century. Some of the earliest arrivals were enslaved persons brought from what we now call the United States of America and from the Caribbean. (See Black Canadians; Caribbean Canadians.) From the 18th century to the 1960s, most Black immigrants to Canada were fleeing enslavement and/or discrimination in the United States. Since then, changes to Canadian immigration policy have led to an influx of immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa. (See African Canadians.) In the 2016 Canadian census, 1.2 million people (3.5 per cent of the Canadian population) reported being Black.. Despite ongoing challenges, including discrimination and systemic racism, Black Canadians have excelled in sectors and industries across the country.
See also Black History in Canada until 1900 and Black History in Canada: 1900–1960.
Onyenyechukwu (Onye) Nnorom, family physician, specialist in public health and preventive medicine (born 27 February 1981 in Montreal, Quebec). Nnorom is the associate director of the residency program in public health and preventive medicine at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. She also leads the Black health curriculum at the university’s medical school. Her work addresses the health inequities that racialized and immigrant communities face.
Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a decentralized movement to end anti-Black racism. It was founded as an online community in the United States in 2013 in response to the acquittal of the man who killed Black teenager Trayvon Martin. Its stated mission is to end white supremacy and state-sanctioned violence and to liberate Black people and communities. The Black Lives Matter hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) has been used to bring attention to discrimination and violence faced by Black people. BLM has chapters in the United States and around the world. There are five chapters in Canada: Toronto (BLM-TO), Vancouver (BLM-VAN), Waterloo Region, Edmonton, and New Brunswick.
Black Canadians, or African Canadians, are people of African or Caribbean ancestry who live in Canada. According to the 2016 Canadian census, 1.2 million Canadians (3.5 per cent of the population) identified as being Black.
This is a summary of Black history in Canada. For more detailed information, please see our articles on Black History in Canada until 1900, Black History in Canada: 1900-1960 and Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present..
See also African Canadians and Caribbean Canadians.