Search for "Black History"

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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 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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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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Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad was a secret network of abolitionists (people who wanted to abolish slavery). They helped African Americans escape from enslavement in the American South to free Northern states or to Canada. The Underground Railroad was the largest anti-slavery freedom movement in North America. It brought between 30,000 and 40,000 fugitives to British North America (now Canada).

This is the full-length entry about the Underground Railroad. For a plain language summary, please see The Underground Railroad (Plain-Language Summary).

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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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Heritage Minutes

The Heritage Minutes collection is a bilingual series of history-focused public service announcements. Each 60-second short film depicts a significant person, event or story in Canadian history. They are produced by Historica Canada, the not-for-profit organization that also publishes this encyclopedia. First released in 1991, the Heritage Minutes have been shown on television, in cinemas and online. They have become a recognizable part of Canadian culture. The collection currently includes 96 episodes.

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Historical Societies

The main purpose of historical societies in Canada is the study and promotion of Canadian history. There are hundreds of historical associations in Canada. Activities include publication of scholarly and amateur works, public education programs, and assistance to and co-operation with archives, museums, heritage groups and other similar organizations.

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Sleeping Car Porters in Canada

Sleeping car porters were railway employees who attended to passengers aboard sleeping cars. Porters were responsible for passengers’ needs throughout a train trip, including carrying luggage, setting up beds, pressing clothes and shining shoes, and serving food and beverages, among other services. The vast majority of sleeping car porters were Black men and the position was one of only a few job opportunities available to Black men in Canada. While the position carried respect and prestige for Black men in their communities, the work demanded long hours for little pay. Porters could be fired suddenly and were often subjected to racist treatment. Black Canadian porters formed the first Black railway union in North America (1917) and became members of the larger Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1939. Both unions combatted racism and the many challenges that porters experienced on the job.

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Historical Thinking Concepts

The six “Historical Thinking Concepts” were developed by The Historical Thinking Project, which was led by Dr. Peter Seixas of the University of British Columbia and educational expert Jill Colyer. The project identified six key concepts: historical significance, primary source evidence, continuity and change, cause and consequence, historical perspectives and ethical dimensions. Together, these concepts form the basis of historical inquiry. The project was funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage and The History Education Network (THEN/HiER). Seixas and Tom Morton published a book, The Big Six: Historical Thinking Concepts, that expanded on these concepts.

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Historical Sources

Historians use written, oral and visual sources to develop and support their interpretations of historical events. The historical discipline divides source materials into two categories: primary sources and secondary sources. Both categories are flexible and depend on the subject and era a historian is investigating. 

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West Indian Domestic Scheme

The West Indian Domestic Scheme was an immigration program for Caribbean women between 1955 and 1967. Through the scheme, approximately 3,000 Caribbean women emigrated to Canada to work as domestic workers. The program opened the door for many Black Caribbeans to migrate to Canada, giving them an opportunity which would not have been available otherwise. Despite this, the women that participated in the scheme often faced difficult work conditions and racial discrimination. (See Racism.) Due to Canada’s changing immigration policy, the scheme officially ended in January 1968; it was replaced by a points-based system, which provided temporary work permits. Even with the program’s official end, women from the West Indies continued to come to Canada as domestic workers on temporary employment visas for years afterwards. (See Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Programs.)

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History of Gender Roles in Canada

Over the course of several thousand years, gender roles in Canada have shifted dramatically. In general, they were more flexible in Indigenous societies and more rigid in settler communities. However, even in colonial times, gender roles were not as narrow as might be expected, particularly on farms and in frontier communities. Gender roles became stricter during the Victorian era, when men and women were relegated to “separate spheres.” Gender roles became more elastic during the world wars, but traditional gender norms were re-established in the 1950s. Since the 1960s, though, gender roles have become more flexible.

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Origins of Ice Hockey

The origins of ice hockey have long been debated. In 2008, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) officially declared that the first game of organized ice hockey was played in Montreal in 1875. Many also consider ice hockey’s first rules to have been published by the Montreal Gazette in 1877. However, research reveals that organized ice hockey/bandy games were first played on skates in England and that the earliest rules were also published in England. Canada made important contributions to the game from the 1870s on. By the early 20th century, “Canadian rules” had reshaped the sport.

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Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket

The Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket is a wool blanket with a series of stripes and points (markers on cloth) first made for the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in 1779. The most iconic design is that which is white with green, red, yellow and indigo stripes; these colours are now used as an emblem for the HBC. While the HBC was not the first to create the point blanket, the company did popularize it among Indigenous and settler communities in Canada. Today, the design from the blanket is used on a variety of clothing, accessories and household items sold by the HBC.

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Economic History of Canada

The economic history of what is now Canada begins with the hunting, farming and trading societies of the Indigenous peoples. Following the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, the economy has undergone a series of seismic shifts, marked by the early Atlantic fishery, the transcontinental fur trade, then rapid urbanization, industrialization and technological change. Although different industries have come and gone, Canada’s reliance on natural resources — from fur to timber to minerals to oil, and on export markets for these commodities, particularly the United States — has underpinned much of the economy through the centuries and does so still in many regions today.

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Indian Agents in Canada

Indian agents were the Canadian government’s representatives on First Nations reserves from the 1830s to the 1960s. Often working in isolated locations far from settler communities, Indian agents implemented government policy, enforced and administered the provisions of the Indian Act, and managed the day-to-day affairs of Status Indians. Today, the position of Indian agent no longer exists, as First Nations manage their own affairs through modern band councils or self-government.