Search for "Black History"

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Black History in Canada: 1900–1960

Black Canadian communities continued to expand through migration despite racist measures implemented against them. Many communities were tied to the rail industry, as many Black Canadians worked as porters. Others worked in important sectors like mining and farming. Communities bonded together through many associations that advocated for their rights, such as unions and the Universal Negro Improvement Association of Canada (UNIA). Despite the hostility, Black Canadians contributed to Canada’s victory in both World Wars. Famous Black musicians like Oscar Peterson also brought international fame and prestige to Canada’s music scene. The Black community helped redefine Canada’s post-war image, as the country became the proving ground for racial integration in professional sports. This heralded the landscape of sports and entertainment that we see today.

See also Black History in Canada until 1900 and Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present.

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Racial Segregation of Black People in Canada

Racial segregation is the separation of people, or groups of people, based on race in everyday life. Throughout Canada’s history, there have been many examples of Black people being segregated, excluded from, or denied equal access to opportunities and services such as education, employment, housing, transportation, immigration, health care and commercial establishments. The racial segregation of Black people in Canada was historically enforced through laws, court decisions and social norms.

See also Anti-Black Racism in Canada.

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Black Cross Nurses in Canada

The Black Cross Nurses (BCN) is an auxiliary group intended for female members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The BCN was modeled on the nurses of the Red Cross. Its first chapter was launched in Philadelphia in May 1920. Under the leadership of Henrietta Vinton Davis, the BCN quickly became one of the UNIA’s most popular and iconic auxiliary groups. Offering a safe and inviting place for the Black community, UNIA halls became important cultural hubs in many cities and towns across Canada, where BCN divisions were also established. Although they were not professionally trained nurses, members of the BCN were expected to provide care and advice on matters of health and hygiene.

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Peter Martin

Peter Martin, loyalist, soldier (born c. 1753; died before 1816). Martin was one of at least twenty noted Black Loyalists who relocated to Upper Canada after the American Revolution and was one of many Black inhabitants in Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario). (See also Black Loyalists in British North America.) Martin was instrumental in reporting the Chloe Cooley incident to the Executive Council of Upper Canada, which influenced the creation of the 1793 Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada.

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Chloe Cooley

Chloe Cooley was one of hundreds of Black women enslaved in the French and British colonies that became Canada. Although little is known about Chloe Cooley, who was enslaved in Upper Canada, her struggles against her enslaver, Sergeant Adam Vrooman, precipitated the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada of 1793. The Act was the first legislation in the British colonies to restrict the slave trade. (See also Black Enslavement in Canada.)

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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John Ware

John Ware, cowboy, rancher (born circa 1845–50 in the United States; died 11 September 1905 near Brooks, AB). John Ware is legendary in the history of Alberta for his strength, skilled farming techniques and skilled horsemanship. Born enslaved, he became a successful rancher who settled his first ranch near Millarville (near Calgary, Alberta) and his second ranch near Brooks, Alberta. Despite widespread anti-Black racism and discrimination, he was widely admired as one of the best ranchers and cowboys in the West. (See also Black Canadians.)

Click here for definitions of key terms used in this article.

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Kay Livingstone

Kathleen (Kay) Livingstone (née Jenkins), organizer and activist, broadcaster, actor (born 13 October 1919 in London, ON; died 25 July 1975). Kay Livingstone founded the Canadian Negro Women’s Association in 1951 and organized the first National Congress of Black Women in 1973. An established radio broadcaster and actor, Livingstone also devoted a great deal of her life and energy to social activism and organizing. Her tireless work to encourage a national discussion around the position of racialized people in society, particularly Black women, led Livingstone to coin the term visible minority in 1975.

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Black History in Canada until 1900

Black people have lived in Canada since the beginnings of transatlantic settlement. Although historically very few arrived directly from their ancestral homeland in Africa, the term "African Canadian" is used to identify all descendants of Africa regardless of their place of birth. “Black Canadian” is also used as a more general term. The earliest arrivals were enslaved people brought from New England or the West Indies. Between 1763 and 1900, most Black migrants to Canada were fleeing enslavement in the US. (See also Black Enslavement in Canada.)

See also Black History in Canada: 1900–1960 and Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present.

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Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present

Black people have lived in Canada since the 17th century. Some of the earliest arrivals were enslaved persons brought from what we now call the United States of America and from the Caribbean. (See Black Canadians; Caribbean Canadians.) From the 18th century to the 1960s, most Black immigrants to Canada were fleeing enslavement and/or discrimination in the United States. Since then, changes to Canadian immigration policy have led to an influx of immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa. (See African Canadians.) In the 2016 Canadian census, 1.2 million people (3.5 per cent of the Canadian population) reported being Black.. Despite ongoing challenges, including discrimination and systemic racism, Black Canadians have excelled in sectors and industries across the country.

See also Black History in Canada until 1900 and Black History in Canada: 1900–1960.

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Black Lives Matter-Canada

Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a decentralized movement to end anti-Black racism. It was founded as an online community in the United States in 2013 in response to the acquittal of the man who killed Black teenager Trayvon Martin. Its stated mission is to end white supremacy and state-sanctioned violence and to liberate Black people and communities. The Black Lives Matter hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) has been used to bring attention to discrimination and violence faced by Black people. BLM has chapters in the United States and around the world. There are five chapters in Canada: Toronto (BLM-TO), Vancouver (BLM-VAN), Waterloo Region, Edmonton, and New Brunswick.

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Black History Month in Canada

Black History Month (BHM) is a month dedicated to discussing and learning about Black people. It is set in February. Black History Month is in appreciation of Black culture and arts. There is also an emphasis on history, especially local Black history. The month seeks to highlight Black people’s historical contributions to society.

See Black History in Canada until 1900; Black History in Canada: 1900–1960; Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present.

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Paul Smith

Paul Anthony Smith, naval officer (born 26 August 1967 in Lionel Town, Jamaica). Smith emigrated to Canada when he was six years old and grew up in North York, Ontario. He enrolled in the Naval Reserve in 1986, rose to the rank of petty officer second class and was commissioned in 1999. In 2014, Smith took command of HMCS Kingston, becoming the first Black officer to command a ship in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). On 2 October 2021, he became the first Black commanding officer of HMCS York, the largest naval reserve division in Canada.

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Ray Lewis

Raymond Gray (“Rapid Ray”) Lewis, CM, sprinter (born 8 October 1910 in Hamilton, ON; died 14 November 2003 in Hamilton, ON). Ray Lewis was the first Canadian-born Black athlete to earn an Olympic medal. He won a bronze medal in the 4 x 400 m relay at the 1932 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles. He was also part of the Canadian team that won the silver medal in the 4 x 400 m event at the 1934 British Empire Games in London, England. Lewis was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2000.

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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 Kirke; Chloe Cooley and the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada; Underground Railroad; Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; Slavery Abolition Act, 1833; Slavery of Indigenous People in Canada.)