February is Black History Month, a time to learn, honour, and celebrate the achievements of black men and women throughout history. Since the first documented black person arrived in Canada in the early 1600, black Canadians have been making unique and valuable contributions to the development of our nation. Canadiana.org invites you to browse our rich and distinctive collections to discover rare images, text, and other material related to the history of black Canadians.
Here is a small sample of resources available through our collections:
Photo of a group of black women in front of the Y.W.C.A. boarding house at 698 Ontario Street, Toronto, Ontario. The photo is from the late 1800's and has been made available by Library and Archives Canada.
Photo of children buying goods at Matilda Newman's store located in Africville, Nova Scotia. Africville was a north-end Halifax community populated primarily by residents of African descent. In the 1960s, Africville was bulldozed by the city, under the guise of urban renewal. The photo is made available by Library and Archives Canada.
Photo, contributed by Library and Archive Canada, of people living in a black colony in Alberta near Athabasca Landing. According to historians, Between one thousand and fifteen hundred Blacks came to Canada, settling in Saskatchewan and Alberta, attracted by the image of “free lands [in Canada] and also that everyone had the right to vote and was a free man.”
Mary Ann Shadd (1823-1893) was an educator, abolitionist, author, publisher and journalist. She became a leader and spokesperson for refugees who had left the United States for Upper Canada after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. In 1852, she published A Plea for Emigration to encourage American Blacks to emigrate to Canada. She was the first woman in Canada known to have published a newspaper, the Provincial Freeman. Contributed by Library and Archives Canada.
“A plea for emigration, or, Notes of Canada West in its moral, social, and political aspect; with suggestions respecting Mexico, West Indies, and Vancouver's Island, for the information of colored emigrants”. This short book was written by Mary Ann Shadd, an educated Black woman who fled to Windsor after the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in the US. She and her brother founded the abolitionist newspaper the Provincial Freeman.
“The Under-Ground Railroad”. A book written by reverend W.M. Mitchell, a man of colour who was himself indentured for 12 years. It chronicles his experiences helping black slaves escape to Toronto in the 1800s.
“A Black man's Toronto, 1914-1980: the reminiscences of Harry Gairey”. This book, available through Our Roots, contains the reminiscences of Harry Gairey, a senior statesman in the black community. It documents his insights into the immigration experience, discrimination, and the every day life of black Canadians spanning across almost the full century.
"La Case du Père Tom" Written by American abolitionist, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and published in 1852, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was the best-selling novel of the 19th century in America. It is alleged that the novel’s leading character, Tom, was based partly on the real life story of Josiah Henson – a former slave, born in 1789 in Maryland, USA, who escaped to Ontario in 1830, where he soon founded a community for American fugitive slaves, near Dresden. The novel had international appeal and within a year of its original publication, was translated into French and German. This item is available only to those with a subscription to Early Canadiana Online.
"Histoire des États-Unis depuis les premiers établissements jusqu'à nos jours." A book published in French that chronicles the history of the United States including several section about the rise and fall of slavery. The book was likely used in history courses in Quebec schools.
Government papers discussing the settling of “Maroons in His Majesty's province of Nova Scotia”, published in 1798. This item is available only to those with a subscription to Early Canadiana Online.
Newspaper article published in an Alberta Newspaper describing black immigrants from the US settling in Canada in 1911. The article has been made available by the Glenbow Archives in Calgary.
You can also search the Canadiana Discovery Portal to find a wealth of other material on black Canadians.
Some suggested terms you can use when searching for information on: negro*, negroes*, black people, black men, black women, slavery, slaves, Africville, under-ground railway
*Remember, many of these items where catalogued over 100 years ago, when such terms were commonly used.