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 Lives Matter-Canada

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.

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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 History in Canada until 1900

Black people have lived in Canada since the beginnings of transatlantic settlement. Although historically very few arrived directly from their ancestral homeland in Africa, the term "African Canadian" is used to identify all descendants of Africa regardless of their place of birth. “Black Canadian” is also used as a more general term. The earliest arrivals were enslaved people brought from New England or the West Indies. Between 1763 and 1900, most Black migrants to Canada were fleeing enslavement in the US. (See also Black Enslavement in Canada.)

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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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Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman, née Araminta "Minty" Ross, abolitionist, “conductor” of the Underground Railroad (born c. 1820 in Dorchester County, Maryland; died 10 March 1913 in Auburn, New York). Tubman escaped from enslavement in the southern United States and went on to become a leading abolitionist before the American Civil War. She led numerous enslaved persons to freedom in the “free” Northern states and Canada through the Underground Railroad — a secret network of routes and safe houses that helped people escape enslavement.

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Rosemary Brown

Rosemary Brown, née Wedderburn, OC, OBC, social worker, politician (born 17 June 1930 in Kingston, Jamaica; died 26 April 2003 in Vancouver, BC). Rosemary Brown was Canada's first Black female member of a provincial legislature and the first woman to run for leadership of a federal political party.

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William Pearly Oliver

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.

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Ray Lewis

Raymond Gray (“Rapid Ray”) Lewis, CM, sprinter (born 8 October 1910 in Hamilton, ON; died 14 November 2003 in Hamilton, ON). Ray Lewis was the first Canadian-born Black athlete to earn an Olympic medal. He won a bronze medal in the 4 x 400 m relay at the 1932 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles. He was also part of the Canadian team that won the silver medal in the 4 x 400 m event at the 1934 British Empire Games in London, England. Lewis was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2000.

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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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Elgin Settlement

The Elgin Settlement, also known as Buxton, was one of four organized Black settlements developed in Southwestern Ontario in the mid-1800s. Established in 1849 by Reverend William King, the Elgin Settlement was one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad. Today, the settlement is a national historic site within the Municipality of Chatham-Kent. It was named in honour of Lord Elgin, governor general of Upper Canada. The name “Buxton” paid tribute to Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, a slave trade abolitionist. While the community was officially known as the Elgin Settlement, at its heart was the Buxton Mission. The Elgin Settlement was the largest of the four Black settlements and considered the most successful.

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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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Fred Christie Case (Christie v York)

The Fred Christie Case (Christie v York, 1939) is a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that allowed private businesses to discriminate on the basis of freedom of commerce. In July 1936, Fred Christie and two friends went to the York Tavern attached to the Montreal Forum to have a beer. The staff refused to serve them because Christie was Black. Christie sued, eventually bringing his case to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the York Tavern was within its rights to refuse to serve people on the basis of race. The case reveals an era of legalized racism, while its facts hide the subtle ways that racism operated in early 20th-century Canada.

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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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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.