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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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Battle of Ridgeway

The Battle of Ridgeway is also known as the Battle of Lime Ridge or Limestone Ridge. It was fought on the morning of 2 June 1866, near the village of Ridgeway and the town of Fort Erie in Canada West (present-day Ontario). Around 850 Canadian soldiers clashed with 750 to 800 Fenians — Irish American insurgents who had crossed the Niagara River from Buffalo, New York. It was the first industrial-era battle to be fought exclusively by Canadian troops and led entirely by Canadian officers. It was the last battle fought in Ontario against a foreign invasion force. The battlefield was designated a National Historic Site in 1921.

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Fenian Raids

The Fenians were a secret society of Irish patriots who had emigrated from Ireland to the United States. Some members of this movement tried to take Canadian territory by force, so they could exchange it with Britain for Irish independence. From 1866 to 1871, the Fenians launched several small, armed attacks. Each raid was put down by government forces. Dozens were killed and wounded on both sides. The raids revealed shortfalls in the leadership, structure and training of the Canadian militia, and led to improvements in these areas. The raids also took place at a time of growing concern over the threat posed by American military and economic might. This led to increased support for Confederation.

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Coloured Hockey League

The Coloured 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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Chinese Head Tax in Canada

The Chinese head tax was enacted to restrict immigration after Chinese labour was no longer needed to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Between 1885 and 1923, Chinese immigrants had to pay a head tax to enter Canada. The tax was levied under the Chinese Immigration Act (1885). It was the first legislation in Canadian history to exclude immigration on the basis of ethnic background. With few exceptions, Chinese people had to pay at least $50 to come to Canada. The tax was later raised to $100, then to $500. During the 38 years the tax was in effect, around 82,000 Chinese immigrants paid nearly $23 million in tax. The head tax was removed with the passing of the Chinese Immigration Act in 1923. Also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, it banned all Chinese immigrants until its repeal in 1947. In 2006, the federal government apologized for the head tax and its other racist immigration policies targeting Chinese people.

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Canada and the Holocaust

The Holocaust is defined as the systematic persecution and murder of 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews, including Roma and Sinti, Poles, political opponents, LGBTQ people and Soviet prisoners of war (POWs), by Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. Jews were the only group targeted for complete destruction. Nazi racial ideology considered them subhuman. Though Jewish Canadians did not experience the Holocaust directly, the majority endured anti-Semitism in Canada. Jewish Canadians were only one generation removed from lands under German occupation from 1933 to 1945. They maintained close ties to Jewish relatives in those lands. These ties affected the community’s response to the Holocaust. There was, for instance, a disproportionate representation of Jews in the Canadian armed forces. Jewish Canadians were also heavily involved in postwar relief efforts for displaced persons and Holocaust survivors in Europe.

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Ukrainian Internment in Canada

Canada’s first national internment operations took place during the First World War, between 1914 and 1920. More than 8,500 men, along with some women and children, were interned by the Canadian government, which acted under the authority of the War Measures Act. Most internees were recent immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman empires, and mainly from the western Ukrainianregions of Galicia and Bukovyna. Some were Canadian-born or naturalized British subjects. They were held in 24 receiving stations and internment camps across the country — from Nanaimo, BC, to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Many were used as labour in the country’s frontier wilderness. Personal wealth and property were confiscated and much of it was never returned.