Search for "Black History"

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Kay Livingstone

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.

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Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present

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. 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. In the 2016 Canadian census, 1.2 million people reported being Black. According to Statistics Canada, Black Canadians formed about 3.5% of the total population and 15.6% of the racialized population in 2016. Despite ongoing challenges, including discrimination and systemic racism, Black Canadians have excelled in sectors and industries across the country.

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Black Enslavement in Canada

In early Canada, the enslavement of African peoples was a legal instrument that helped fuel colonial economic enterprise. The buying, selling and enslavement of Black people was practiced by European traders and colonists in New France in the early 1600s, and lasted until it was abolished throughout British North America in 1834. During that two-century period, settlers in what would eventually become Canada were involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Canada is further linked to the institution of enslavement through its history of international trade. Products such as salted cod and timber were exchanged for slave-produced goods such as rum, molasses, tobacco and sugar from slaveholding colonies in the Caribbean. 

This is the full-length entry about Black enslavement in Canada. For a plain language summary, please see Black Enslavement in Canada (Plain Language Summary).

(See also Olivier Le Jeune; Sir David KirkeChloe Cooley and the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada; Underground Railroad; Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; Slavery Abolition Act, 1833Slavery of Indigenous People in Canada.)

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Black Cross Nurses in Canada

The Black Cross Nurses (BCN) is an auxiliary group intended for female members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The BCN was modeled on the nurses of the Red Cross. Its first chapter was launched in Philadelphia in May 1920. Under the leadership of Henrietta Vinton Davis, the BCN quickly became one of the UNIA’s most popular and iconic auxiliary groups. Offering a safe and inviting place for the Black community, UNIA halls became important cultural hubs in many cities and towns across Canada, where BCN divisions were also established. Although they were not professionally trained nurses, members of the BCN were expected to provide care and advice on matters of health and hygiene.

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Edith Clayton

Edith Clayton (née Drummond), basket weaver (born 6 September 1920 in Cherry Brook, NS; died 8 October 1989 in East Preston, NS). Using dyes from the Mi’kmaq community and a style that originated in Africa, Edith Clayton weaved traditional baskets that were admired across Canada and around the world. She was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977. Her baskets were prominently displayed at the Canadian pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver. In 1989, she was featured in a National Film Board film titled Black Mother Black Daughter.

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Albert Jackson

Albert Jackson, letter carrier (born c. 1857–58 in Delaware; died 14 January 1918 in Toronto , ON). Albert Jackson is thought to be the first Black letter carrier in Canada (see Postal System). Jackson was born into enslavement in the United States, and escaped to Canada with his mother and siblings when he was a toddler in 1858. In 1882, Jackson was hired as a letter carrier in Toronto, but his co-workers refused to train him on the job. While his story was debated in the press for weeks, the Black community in Toronto organized in support of Jackson, meeting with Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald to have Jackson reinstated. Jackson returned to his post days later and served as a letter carrier for almost 36 years.

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Portia White

Portia May White, contralto, teacher (born 24 June 1911 in Truro, NS; died 13 February 1968 in Toronto, ON). Portia White was the first Black Canadian concert singer to win international acclaim. She was considered one of the best classical singers of the 20th century. Her voice was described by one critic as “a gift from heaven.” She was often compared to the celebrated African American contralto Marian Anderson. The Nova Scotia Talent Trust was established in 1944 specifically to enable White to concentrate on her professional career. She was named a “person of national historic significance” by the Government of Canada in 1995.

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John Ware

John Ware, cowboy, rancher (born c. 1845–50 in the United States; died 11 September 1905 near Brooks, AB). John Ware is legendary in the history of Alberta for his strength and horsemanship. Born enslaved, he became a successful rancher who settled near Calgary and Brooks. He was widely admired as one of the best cowboys in the West, even at a time of widespread anti-Black racism and discrimination.

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Black Canadians

Black people have lived in Canada since the beginnings of transatlantic settlement. Although historically very few have arrived directly from their ancestral homeland in the continent of Africa, the term "African Canadian" became increasingly popular in the 1990s to identify all descendants of Africa regardless of their place of birth.

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Mary Ann Shadd

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.

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Colored Hockey League

The Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes (CHL) was an all-Black men’s hockey league. It was organized by Black Baptists and Black intellectuals and was founded in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1895. It disbanded in 1911 and reformed in 1925 but fell apart by the 1930s. Play was known to be fast, physical and innovative. The league was designed to attract young Black men to Sunday worship with the promise of a hockey game between rival churches after the services. Later, with the influence of the Black Nationalism Movement — and with rising interest in the sport of hockey — the league came to be seen as a potential driving force for the equality of Black Canadians. Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp in honour of the league in January 2020.

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Black Fur Traders in Canada

The role of Black people within the history of the fur trade is rarely considered. Black people were rarely in a position to write their own stories, so often those stories went untold. This owes to a complex set of factors including racism and limited access to literacy. Black people are also not the focus of many historical documents. However, historians have identified several Black fur traders working in different roles, and even an entire family of Black fur traders who left their mark on history.

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Joseph Lewis

Joseph Lewis, alias Levi Johnston, also Lewes and Louis, fur trader (born c. 1772–73 in Manchester, New Hampshire; died 1820 in Saskatchewan District). Joseph Lewis was a Black fur trader, originally from the United States, who participated in the fur industry’s early expansion into the Canadian Northwest in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He is one of very few Black people involved in the fur trade whose name was documented in existing texts. Joseph Lewis is further notable for being the first Black person in present-day Saskatchewan, as well as, in all likelihood, Alberta.

Article

Salome Bey

Salome Bey, singer, actress, songwriter (born 1939 in Newark, New Jersey; died 8 August 2020 in Toronto, ON). Salome Bey was an award-winning jazz, blues and R&B singer. Known as “Canada’s First Lady of the Blues,” she often appeared with her daughters Jacintha Tuku and Saidah Baba Talibah, who accompanied her as the Relatives. Bey wrote and starred in Indigo, a Dora Award-winning history of the blues, and was part of the all-star lineup of Canadian singers who produced the charity single “Tears Are not Enough,” Bey received a Toronto Arts Award and the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for lifetime achievement from the Black Theatre Workshop of Montreal. She was inducted as an honorary member of the Order of Canada.

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Jackie Shane

Jackie Shane, singer (born 15 May 1940 in Nashville, Tennessee; died 22 February 2019 in Nashville). Jackie Shane was a pioneering transgender performer who was a prominent figure in Toronto’s R&B scene in the 1960s. Her cover of William Bell’s “Any Other Way” reached No. 2 on the CHUM singles chart in 1963. Her 1967 live album, Jackie Shane Live, was reissued in 2015 and was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize’s 1960–1970 Heritage Award. Any Other Way, an anthology album of songs from Shane’s career and monologues from her live shows, was released in 2017. It was nominated for a 2019 Grammy Award for Best Historical Album. Shane is featured in a mural on the side of a building in downtown Toronto commemorating the Yonge Street music scene of the 1960s.

Editorial

Editorial: The Arrival of Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia

“Freedom and a Farm.” The promise was exciting to the thousands of African Americans, most seeking to escape enslavement, who fought in British regiments during the American Revolutionary War (1775–83). Following the war, they joined tens of thousands of Loyalists — American refugees who had sided with the British. Between 80,000 and 100,000 Loyalists eventually fled the United States. About half came to British North America. The main waves arrived in 1783 and 1784. The territory that now includes the Maritime provinces became home to more than 30,000 Loyalists. Most of coastal Nova Scotia received Loyalist settlers, as did Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island (then called St. John’s Island).

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