28 Canadian Black History Facts You Never Knew.
And while we may only make up about 2% of the population, what we lack in numbers, we make up in our diverse cultures and triumphant accomplishments.
Since Black Canadian history isn’t as well publicized as African American history, in honor of Black History Month, here are 28 lesser known facts from Blavity’s favorite Canucks, Amy and Kayla.
1.) #NewBlacks. Literally: On August 20, 1619, the first shipload of African slaves arrived in British North America.
2.) Rebel With A Cause: Yep, slavery and slave rebellions existed in kum-by-yah Canada. In 1734, former slave, Marie-Joseph Angélique was accused of starting a fire that destroyed 46 buildings in Montreal. After being tortured courts circumstantial evidence, she was hung on June 21, 1734.
3.) Turncoats: On 30 June, 1777, Sir Henry Clinton encouraged enslaved Blacks to desert rebel masters, promising them freedom and shelter. British Commander-in-Chief Sir Guy Carleton guaranteed that all slaves who formally requested British protection would be freed. An estimated 100, 000 Blacks fled to the British side during the American Revolution.
4.) #BlackWomenMatter: In July 1782, enslaved Sylvia defends Colonel Creighton When Lunenburg, Nova Scotia was invaded by American soldiers, Colonel John Creighton’s servant Sylvia rose to his defense. Sylvia shuttled cartridges in her apron from Creighton’s house to the fort where he and his soldiers were engaged in battle. She also protected the Colonel’s son and valuables. Following the battle, Creighton was publicly recognized and rewarded for her heroism.
5.) #BlackGirlsAreMagic: Mary Ann Shadd Cary arrived in Canada from the United States at the time of the Underground Railroad. In 1853, she broke the glass ceiling in the Canadian print media industry when she became the first female publisher in the country with her newspaper, The Provincial Freeman.
6.) Canada’s First Race-Riot Rocks Birchtown: After the Revolutionary War, the “Black Pioneers” were among the first settlers in Shelburne, Nova Scotia. They helped build the new settlement. On its fringes they established their own community, “Birchtown.” When hundreds of White, disbanded soldiers were forced to accept work at rates competitive with their Black neighbours the ensuing hostility caused a riot in July of 1784.
7.) Promises Unfulfilled: In July 1791 a Slave Case was finally heard at Provincial Court. Freedom for Black people was elusive, regardless of the promises made by the British at the end of the American War of Independence. Enslaved woman Mary Postell took her “owner,” Jesse Gray, to court, twice for stealing her children. He was found not guilty, even though he had sold her and her daughter.
8.) Going…Back..Back.. to Africa: The Black Loyalist Exodus: The difficulty of supporting themselves in the face of widespread discrimination convinced many Black Loyalists that they would never find true freedom and equality in Nova Scotia. When offered the opportunity to leave the colony in the 1790s, almost 1200 Blacks left Halifax to relocate to Sierra Leone.
9.) Welcome to the other Jamrock: The Maroons Land at Halifax: On 22 July 1796, a group of 600 freedom-fighters landed at Halifax. These immigrants, called Maroons, came from the Jamaican community of escaped slaves, who had guarded their freedom for more than a century and fought off countless attempts to re-enslave them.
10.) Last Stop on the Railroad: Canada’s reputation as a safe haven for Blacks grew substantially during and after the War of 1812. Between 1815 and 1865, tens of thousands of African-Americans sought refuge in Upper and Lower Canada via the legendary Underground Railroad.
11.) Free(*): Building on earlier works, Attorney General John Beverley Robinson openly declared in 1819 that residence in “Canada” made Blacks free. He also publicly pledged that “Canadian courts” would uphold this freedom. Many, at home and abroad, took notice.
12.) #Freeornah: British Parliament Abolishes Slavery: On 28 August 1833, slavery was abolished throughout the British colonies by an Imperial Act which became effective 1 August 1834. The act formally freed nearly 800,000 slaves but there were probably fewer than 50 slaves in British North America by that time.
13.) About That Free…: The Fugitive Slave Act: The Fugitive Slave Act passed by the American Congress on 18 September 1850 dealt a severe blow to the American abolitionist cause. It gave slave-owners and their agents the right to track down and arrest fugitives anywhere in the country. Bounty hunters often kidnapped free Blacks and illegally sold them into slavery in the Southern states.
14.) Historical Visit: When Frederick Douglass visited Toronto and addressed a large anti-slavery audience on 3 April 1851, he was the most famous African-American in the abolition movement. In Toronto, a cheering crowd of 1,200 filled the St. Lawrence’s grand ballroom to listen to Douglass expound on the evils of American slavery.
15.) Heroine of the Underground Railroad Dies: Harriet Tubman, ardent abolitionist and heroine of the Underground Railroad, died in New York in 1913. As a conductor with the Underground Railroad, she made 19 secret trips to the American South and guided more than 300 slaves to freedom in Canada.
16.) Oscar’s No Grouch: Oscar Peterson, world renowned Jazz musician is born in 1925. He would go on to win numerous awards for musical achievements including Juno’s and Grammy’s.
17.) Our Rosa Parks: Viola Davis Desmond was not here for the nonsense. In 1946, she pulled a Rosa Parks in Nova Scotia’s Roseland Theatre as she refused to sit in the balcony and instead sat in the seats reserved exclusively for white people. She was later arrested. In 2010, the government of Nova Scotia apologized to her family for the incident
18.) The Northern KKK Touch: In 1965, racial tension ran high in Amherstburg, Ont. A cross-burning set the tone; the Black Baptist Church was defaced and the town sign was spray-painted “Amherstburg Home of the KKK.” Five days of racial incidents threatened to escalate but the situation was saved by an investigation by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. No arrests were made.
19.) Africville No More: One of Canada’s oldest Black communities saw it’s residents evicted and the town itself razed for poor neglect and conditions between 1964-1967. One could label it as the first major gentrification project. It was later designated as a Canadian Heritage Cultural Site in 2002.
20.) From Caribbean to Canada: West Indian Immigration Overwhelms: With the Immigration Act of 1962 and 1967 reforms, Black West Indians flocked to Canada. Indigenous Blacks and their established communities were overwhelmed by the influx and felt threatened by cultural differences.
21.) Jump Up and Wave: Toronto’s Caribana Festival Founded: Approximately two-thirds of Canada’s West Indian population resides in the greater Toronto area. On 28 July 1967, ten Torontonians with a common West Indian heritage founded the Caribana Cultural Festival to display their rich cultural traditions. The Caribbean extravaganza festival continues today, promoting cultural pride, mutual respect and social unity and is considered one of the largest parades in North America.
22.) Run Harry Run: In 1971, sprinter Harry Jerome was awarded the Order of Canada medal for “excellence in all fields of Canadian life.” Jerome proudly represented Canada in three Olympic Games, winning bronze at Tokyo in 1964. Known as the “Black Oscars” of the Black Canadian community, there is an award ceremony in his name held each year.
23.) #WeTheNorth. Calling all racist hockey fans – think you’re mad at the fact that PK Subban plays for the Montreal Canadiens? Well, #StayMad, because black men invented the slapshot and butterfly goaltending. Also, Fredericton-born Willie O’Ree was the first black player in the National Hockey League. O’Ree made his debut with the Boston Bruins in the 1957-58 season.
24.) Close to Royalty: Lincoln Alexander was born of West Indian immigrant parents. He was sworn in as Ontario’s lieutenant-governor in September 1985, the first Black person to hold the vice-regal position in Canada. Alexander was also the first Black MP and federal Cabinet minister.
25.) World’s Fastest Human: In 1995, Oakville’s Donovan Bailey assumed the title of “World’s Fastest Human” by winning the 100-metre sprint at the World Track Championships at Göteborg, Sweden. Taking silver in the same race was Montreal’s Bruny Surin. Bailey went on to win gold at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, setting a new world and Olympic record (9.84) (And helping us get over the whole Ben Johnson thing…)
26.) #FourFiveDecades: Black History Month in Canada: From humble beginnings inspired by our neighbours to the south in 1950, it took decades of work by the Ontario Black History Society to get it officially proclaimed and recognized at municipal (1979), provincial (1993) and eventually federal level in 1995.
27.) Let Your Backbone Slide: MuchMusic brought our hidden gems to light. Canadian Hip-Hop Pioneers like Maestro Fresh Wes, Kish and Michie Mee lead the way for artists such as Kardinal Offishall, Choclair and Drake. In 2001, Flow 93.5 became Canada’s First Urban Music Station.
28.) Roots: Shorter and Canadian: The critically acclaimed novel, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill lands its own mini series on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company). It’s set to premiere in the US February 16, 2015 on BET.