By Sainey Faye
QUESTION : Did you know that Africans played a tremendous role in the creation, of what is today known as Canada.Few people know the role Africans played in building the country of Canada, in North America.The history of Canada is very much similar to that of the United States Of America.Both had native people and populations living there, prior to the advent of European colonizers.These were mainly the Cree,the Huron, and the Inuits who are mostly called and known as Eskimos.
Both France and Britain ruled Canada, sold slaves on the slave markets and public auctions; and divided the country into colonies.In 1754, Britain and France went to war for control of this vast land mass of North America.Canada’s land area was the largest in North America.France lost the war and Britain gained control of the territory, now known as Canada.
African settlements started to build around Nova Scotia, historical records with large populations in Ontario of nearly 60% Africans. In 1800, Quebec ended slavery and nine years after in 1839; Africans/Blacks could sit on juries. The British too declared slavery abolished in 1834 within the British Empire; and set up a “British Parliament Abolitionist Act that was to free an estimated 800,000 to a million slaves in the British Empire.The migration of Africans to Canada came in several stages, some by the Jamaican Maroons,the 1812 War,and the Underground Railroad.Thus it is hard to give a detailed narrative of African slavery, liberated Africans and those that migrated latter part of the 19th and 20th century.
One hundred million dollars was set aside to compensate the slave owners, and not a penny or dime to the slaves or their descendants. Those Africans that decided to make an exodus from Halifax to Sierra Leone and elsewhere , left in 15 ships on the most dangerous jpurney across the Atlantic Ocean, was estimated at least 1100 to 1200; at least 200 or more could not make it back to their motherland. Their bodies were thrown over board in the Ocean to feed the hungry sharks,those that survived the trip had little or no compensation to help them start a new life in their motherland. Thanks to the generosity of their brethren who gave them a helping hand.
Black Loyalists :- In 1783 there were 3,000 or more Africans who supported the British against the Americans during the American Revolution.They fought hard on the side of the British, after the British promised them (African Slaves) ; that if they joined them they would be free , and given free land in Canada and other compensation.Slaves from Virginia and elsewhere in the country, were asked to leave the plantations and join the British army to fight for freedom against the U.S. slave masters. They were promised the same rights and privileges as Whites who crossed over to fight for the British Crown.The Black loyalists, as they were called believed that they were fighting for freedom and the abolition of slavery in U.S. territory.A book of records was compiled known as the “The Book Of Negroes”. This document listed them all as “Free”, along with their gender, age, and name, all of whom were shipped to Nova Scotia to begin a new life.The British had them scattered all over this new colony called Canada.Halifax, Birchtown,Clements, Granville, Windsor,and many too numerous to list here.
The Underground Railroad – In the mid nineteeth century, some abolitionists worked in secret in helping people escape from slavery.Canada was known to be a Promised Land for slaves to escape to, using the Underground Railroad.But the Underground Railroad wasn’t really underground per se.It was also not a railroad either.It was the routes that led and directed slaves to freedom using escape routes, and hiding places to get them out of the south.Harriet Tubman and many White abolitionist worked hard to get many fled to Canada, or fled South to Florida, Mexico, or the Caribbean.
The “Fugitive Slave Law” passed by the U.S. Congress made many to fiee North to Canada, and Frederick Douglas and many abolitionist fought hard against it in the 1850’s. These were diabolical laws enacted for the slave catchers and masters against African slaves who deserted the plantations, and their masters in pursuit of freedom to anywhere but the antebellum south.
In 1867, Canada separated from Britain and became a self-governing country.It has a representative democracy, with powers divided between the provinces and a federal government.Canada also belongs to the Commonwealth.The French influence is still strong in Canada, especially in the province of Quebec.In Quebec, most people speak French, or both French and English. Throughout Canada, French and English are official languages.
Native people are an important part of Canadian society.The Inuit have their own territory called Nunavut.Canada also has many immigrants from Europe, Asia, and South and Central America.In Canada , one out of six is an immigrant.With so many immigrants , Canada is a multicultural society having so many cultural traditions; but the African tradition is less conspicuous. Canada is probably one of few former British possessions with a high immigrant population where every nationality has been hyphernated e.g. Japanese Canadian, Chinese Canadian, Jamaican Caribbean, etc. etc.
The relics that Africans left were not even highlighted in its historical documents, like graves and/or cemeteries; until recently when Africans started raising alarm bells. The problem of identity and nationality is still prevalent amongst peoples of African descent; the confused new transplants and old transplants see their Africaness in micro-nationalistic terms.
Africans are Africans , no matter where they migrated from, and Canada would not be the country it is today, if African slave labour was not used with early European colonizers as an alternative settlements for those fighting on the British side, after the Brits lost the American Revolutionary War for Independence.
During the American Revolutionary War, the British had made many promises to the slaves; that those who left their masters on the plantation and joined them to fight against the Americans would be free.Virginia’s governor Lord Dunmore made these announcements, making many slaves in New York, Charleston, and many other cities fled with them along with White loyalists who supported the British side. Almost 3,000 plus left Nova Scotia, records indicate.
Migrations to Canada started since the 17th century, when this Northern land mass now called Canada was almost inhabitable, safe for the indigenous peoples.In the middle of the 19th century, it was known as a Promised Land for slaves escaping via the Underground Railroad. Migrations of Africans occurred in many waves mainly during the War of 1812, 1858, and 1860 to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick. Ontario, Quebec etc.Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta came later as records indicate. Some historical records also indicate that more 200 ‘black slaves’ lived in Nova Scotia during the French rule between 1713 – 1758, and that the early inhabitants of Halifax included not only slaves, but free “Blacks’ as well, some of whom were skilled tradesmen and labourers.
Another trickery played on African slaves in the early 1760’s was the promise of land distribution by the early New England planters. This was similar to the “40 acres and a mule” Lincoln and his generals promised during and after the Civil War and Reconstruction era to Africans who helped them win the Civil War.This one preceeded the Civil War, and it stated that Blacks who numbered in the hundreds were to get “100 acres to every person, Master or Mistress of a Family”with [additional] 50 acres for every white or black man, woman or child” who journed with thm to the Great White North, aka Canada; as it was then called.
At the beginning of the 20th century, or in 1911 to be exact; Canada passed a law to ban Black immigration or “Black Persons” under Prime Wilfrid Laurier. This law became effective until 1962, when the newly Independent Caribbean nations got their Independence, and the British Empire was dissolved. Then came a new wave of immigrants from the Carribbean, mainly workers etc.
Anyone who doubts the African presence in Canada,should revisit the major African cemeteries left behind two centuries ago.Those that are historically preserved are less than five. They are in places like (1) Shelbourne (Nova Scotia), (2) St. armand (Quebec), (3) Dresden (Ontario), and (4) Pineville (Ontario).
Though encouraged to migrate by West Indian and Nova Scotian officials, and despite poor land, severe winters and the competition of abundant white labour, the vast majority of refugees were determined to survive in Canada. Most present-day blacks in the Maritimes are descendants of these people.