Black on Canada’s Proud Black History

Did you learn any Black history in Black History Month? February came and went in Canada with few high-profile offerings, except a nod to a pioneering black athlete there and […]
Published on March 16, 2024

Did you learn any Black history in Black History Month? February came and went in Canada with few high-profile offerings, except a nod to a pioneering black athlete there and a slogan or commercial there. Black organizations sued the Canadian Human Rights Commission for systemic discrimination, and then the month gave way to March.

Fortunately, every month is “Black” history month for Lord Conrad Black, who is easily one of Canada’s most formidable and influential intellectuals.  Among his many worthy pursuits he is also the Historian in Residence for The Democracy Fund, a Canadian charity dedicated to constitutional rights, advancing education and relieving poverty. Last year, he wrote a book for TDF entitled Forgotten History: Civil Liberties in Canada. And, along the way, he discussed the neglected but noble place Canada became to Blacks making history of their own.

The British offered sanctuary to all black slaves who fled to them during the American Revolutionary War. Historians estimate that Black loyalists numbered more than 20,000 by war’s end. The Commander-in-Chief of British forces from 1782 to the conclusion of the war was Guy Carleton. After the U.S. victory, General George Washington demanded the slaves be returned, but Carleton adamantly refused.

This same Carleton, who governed Quebec from 1768 to 1778, later governed all of British North America from 1786 to 1796.

Only a few hundred blacks were ever enslaved in Canada before slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1834. Over the next 30 years, about 40,000 fugitive slaves fled north to find freedom in Canada, including Joseph Taper, who settled in St. Catharine’s, Ontario. In 1839, he sent a letter back to his former owner.

“I’m in a land of liberty, in good health,” Taper wrote.

“In the Queen’s dominions, man is as God intended he should be; all are born free and equal, not like the southern laws, which put man on a level with brutes. All the coloured population is supplied with schools. My boy Edward, who will be six years next January, is now reading and I intend keeping him at school until he becomes a good scholar. My wife and self are sitting by a good comfortable fire, happy, knowing that there are none to molest us or make us afraid. God save Queen Victoria.”

Leading anti-slavery advocates John Brown, Harriet Tubman, and Josiah Henson found homes in Canada. Henson inspired the chief character in the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The work by Harriet Beecher Stowe sold two million copies in the 1850’s, opening minds from that day until ours to the realities of black slavery.

At least 11 Black Canadian doctors who were fugitive slaves or their sons served in the Union Army in the Civil War. At the request of President Abraham Lincoln, white Canadian anti-slavery activist Dr. Alexander Ross helped break up a Confederate spy ring in Montréal.

As many as 40,000 Canadian volunteers served in the Union Army in the Civil War. Lincoln often thanked Canadians for infiltrating Confederate exile organizations.

Of support for racial equality, Black wrote, “This was an issue in which all Canadians were united and is a legitimate matter of national pride.” And it would be so now, if not for those who conflate equity for equality. Those who smear Canada as racist from its roots to today must ignore the many annual immigrants Canada welcomes and those black Americans of yesteryear who found for themselves a true north strong and free.

 

Lee Harding is a Research Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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