African Canadian

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Template:Ethnic group Black Canadians or African Canadians are designations used for people of African descent who reside in Canada. The label is used by and of Canadian citizens who trace their ancestry back to people who were indigenous to Sub-Saharan Africa; there are many Black Canadians with partial European heritage as well. The majority have relatively recent origins in the Caribbean, while some trace their lineage to the first slaves brought by British and French colonists to North America. A minority have recent African roots.


According to the 2001 census by Statistics Canada, 593,335 Canadians identified themselves as black (not including 70,000 other who claim to be of mixed black and European), constituting 1.97 per cent of the entire Canadian population.<ref></ref> The majority of black Canadians live in five major Canadian cities. As of 2001, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Windsor and Halifax were home to approximately 78.4 percent of all black Canadians. Preston, outside of Halifax, has the highest percentage of Black people of any Canadian community at 71.4%.[1]


One of the ongoing controversies in the Black Canadian community revolves around appropriate terminologies. Some use the term "African Canadian" instead, although this is more commonly used to refer only to those whose ancestors came directly from Africa or from the United States. "Caribbean Canadian" is often used to refer to Black Canadians of Caribbean heritage, although this usage can also be controversial because the Caribbean is not populated only by people of African origin, also including large groups of Indo-Caribbeans, Chinese Caribbeans, European Caribbeans, Syrian or Lebanese (Arab) Caribbeans and Amerindians. (The same racial diversity is also true of Africa, although this is far less frequently cited as an argument against the use of "African Canadian".) The term "Afro-Caribbean-Canadian" is occasionally used in response to this controversy, although as of 2006 this term is still fairly rare.

Blacks of Caribbean origin form a much larger proportion of the black community in Canada than in the United States — in fact, almost 40 percent of Canada's black population is of Jamaican origin alone, and a further 30 per cent are from other Caribbean nations. Many Canadians of Afro-Caribbean origin strongly object to the term "African Canadian", as it obscures their own culture and history, and this partially accounts for the term's less prevalent use in Canada, compared to the consensus "African American" south of the border.

More specific national terms such as "Jamaican Canadian", "Haitian Canadian" or "Ghanaian Canadian" are also used. As of 2007, however, there is no widely-used alternative to "black Canadian" that is accepted by both the African Canadian and Afro-Caribbean-Canadian communities as an umbrella term for the whole group.


The history of blacks in Canada prior to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, though extensive, is rarely mentioned in Canadian media or education. The first recorded black person to set foot on land now known as Canada was a free man named Mathieu de Costa, who travelled with explorer Samuel de Champlain, or arrived in Nova Scotia some time between 1603 and 1608 as a translator for the French explorer Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Monts. The first known black person to live in Canada is a slave from Madagascar named Olivier Le Jeune, who may have been of partial Malay ancestry. As a group, Black people arrived in Canada in several waves. The first of these came with the French as free persons serving in the French Army and Navy, and some were enslaved.

Black Loyalists during the American Revolution

At the time of the American Revolution, inhabitants of the Thirteen Colonies had to decide where there future lay. Loyalists, i.e. those loyal to the British Crown, came north. The British colonial authorities promised land grants to those who had stayed loyal, though more promises were broken than keptTemplate:Fact. White American Loyalists brought their African slaves with them, while free Black AmericansTemplate:Fact (black Loyalists) also made their way to the remaining colonies of British North America, settling predominantly in Nova Scotia. This latter group was largely made up of tradespeople and labourers, and many set up home in Birchtown near Shelburne.

In 1782, the first race riot in North America took place there, with white soldiers attacking the black settlers who were getting work that the soldiers thought they should have. Due to the unkept promises of the British government and the discrimination from the white colonists, 1,192 Black American men, women and children left Nova Scotia on January 15, 1792 and settled in what is now Sierra Leone, where they established Freetown.

Maroons from the Caribbean

In 1796, the Trelawney Maroons of Jamaica were re-settled in Nova Scotia, following their long battle against colonization. While in Nova Scotia the Jamaican Maroons deterred an attack by Napoleon, and were very important to the construction efforts of the Nova Scotia government, constructing the parts of the Halifax Citadel and all of Government House. The Jamaican Maroons were sent to Sierra Leone in 1800 by the British Government in order to avoid the cost of maintaining them in Nova Scotia. Upon their arrival in Sierra Leone, the Maroons were used to quell an uprising among the Black settlers unhappy with their treatment by the Sierra Leone Company.

The abolition of slavery

The next major migration of blacks into Nova Scotia occurred between 1813 and 1815. Black war refugees from the United States settled in Hammonds Plains, Beechville, Lucasville, the Prestonsm (East and North), and Africville.

Canada was not suited to the large-scale plantation agriculture practised in the southern United States, and slavery became increasingly rare. In 1793, in one of the first acts of the new Upper Canada colonial parliament, slavery was abolished. It was all but abolished throughout the other British North American colonies by 1800, and was illegal throughout the British Empire after 1834. This made Canada an attractive destination for those fleeing slavery in the United States, such as minister Boston King.

The Underground Railroad

There is a sizable community of African Canadians in Nova Scotia and Southern Ontario who trace their ancestry to slaves who used the Underground Railroad to flee from the United States seeking refuge. From the late 1820s until the American Civil War began in 1861, the Underground Railroad brought tens of thousands of fleeing slaves to Canada. While many of these returned to the United States after emancipation, a significant population remained, largely in Southern Ontario, widely scattered in both rural and urban locations, including Amherstburg, Dresden, Wallaceburg, Guelph, Kitchener, Waterloo, Sudbury, Chatham, Windsor, London, Hamilton, Collingwood, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Fort Erie, Welland, Owen Sound and Toronto.

West Coast

In 1858, the governor of the colony of Vancouver Island, James Douglas replied to an inquiry from a group of blacks in San Francisco about the possibilities of settling on the island. Governor Douglas, whose mother had been at least part black, replied favourably, and several dozen travelled to Victoria at the outbreak of the Cariboo Gold Rush. Two of these people, Peter Lester and Mifflin Gibbs, became successful Victoria merchants, and Gibbs was elected to the Council of the City of Victoria in the 1860s.

Immigration restrictions

In the late nineteenth century, there was an unofficial policy of restricting blacks from immigration, and in the 1920s, formal racially-based immigration standards excluding blacks were developed. The huge influx of immigrants from Europe and the United States in the period before World War I included only very small numbers of black arrivals.

Early twentieth century

Another wave of immigration to Nova Scotia occurred in the 1920s, with blacks from the Caribbean coming to work in the steel mills of Cape Breton. This wave of blacks from the Caribbean replaced a previous wave of blacks from Alabama, that came to work in the steel mills in 1899[2]. The restrictions on immigration remained until 1962, when racial rules were eliminated from the immigration laws. This coincided with the dissolution of the British Empire in the Caribbean, and over the next decades several hundred thousand blacks came from that region to Canada.

There are also some African Canadians in Alberta and Saskatchewan who trace their ancestry to African Americans who migrated there from Oklahoma to escape racism in the early 1900s.

There also was a migration of blacks from Oklahoma and other American Great Plains states that came to Saskatchewan and Alberta in the early 20th century, with most settling in the Edmonton area. Many of Canada's Black Pullman Porters came from the U.S. as well, with many coming from the South, New York City and Washington, D.C. Most went to Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver[3].

More recent times

Since then, an increasing number of immigrants from Africa have been coming to Canada, as is also the case in the United States and Europe. This includes large numbers of refugees, but also many skilled workers pursuing better economic conditions. Today's black Canadians are largely of Caribbean origin, with some of recent African origin, and smaller numbers from Latin American countries.

However, a sizable number of black Canadians who descended from freed American slaves can still be found in Nova Scotia and parts of Southwestern Ontario. Some descendants of the freed American black slaves have mixed into the white Canadian community and have mostly lost their ethnic identity. Some of the descendants went back to the United States. Bangor, Maine received quite a few Black Canadians from the Maritime provinces.[4]

Many African Canadians trace their lineage through twentieth century migration from the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean or directly from Africa. Black and other Canadians often draw a distinction between those of Caribbean ancestry and those of African descent.



According to the Ethnic Diversity Survey released in September 2003, nearly one-third (32%) of blacks said that they had experienced some form of racial discrimination or unfair treatment sometimes or often in the five years prior to 2003.


  • Margaret A. Ormsby British Columbia, A history 1958: Macmillan Company of Canada
  • Terry Reksten "More English than the English": A Very Social History of Victoria 1985 Orca Book Publishers

See also


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External links