January 2003
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Celebrating Black History in Canada

In December of 1995, the Parliament of Canada officially recognized February as Black History Month. The Canadian government proclaimed Black History Month because despite a presence in Canada that dates back farther than Samuel de Champlain's first voyage down the St. Lawrence River, peoples of African descent are conspicuously absent from Canadian history books.

Therefore, every year Canadians are invited to take part in the festivities that commemorate the legacy of Black Canadians, past and present, during Black History Month. This is a time to celebrate their many achievements and contributions which have allowed Canada to become the multicultural and diverse nation it is today. It is also a time to learn about the experiences of Blacks in Canadian society.

Story Suggestions:

1. Explore the history of Black Canadians in your province or a province in Canada. For example:

a. Between1783 and 1785, more than 3000 Black persons came to Nova Scotia as a direct result of the American Revolution. They established two Nova Scotian Black Loyalist communities, Birchtown and Tracadi.

b. The Underground Railroad was a term used to describe the nineteenth-century clandestine network that helped runaway slaves make their way north to the free states or Canada. Some 20,000 African-American refugees settled in Canada between 1820 and 1860,primarily in southern Ontario.

c. Believing that they could not live securely in California, on April 20, 1858, some 600 - 800 black Californians boarded the steamship Commodore and set sail for Victoria, British Columbia.

2. Profile Black Canadians who have made a contribution to Canadian history and culture. For example:

a. Mary Ann Shadd, Ontario 1823-1893. Ms. Shadd arrived in Canada via the Underground Railroad to teach the children of arriving refugees and distribute anti-slavery materials. She was the first woman in Canada to become a publisher, publishing the Provincial Freeman.

b. Portia White, Nova Scotia 1911-1968. Ms. White Portia White embarked on her stellar singing career at her father's Baptist Church in Halifax. She supported her musical career by teaching in rural Black schools in Halifax County. She went on to receive international success, performing over 100 concerts- including a command performance before Queen Elizabeth II.

c. Josiah Henson 1789 - 1889 Henson formed a community where he taught other ex-slaves how to be successful farmers. Harriet Beecher Stowe read his autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson (1849) which inspired her best-selling novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.

d. Mathieu da Costa 1500-1600's. Da Costa was a navigator and interpreter of African descent. As an interpreter he spoke French, Dutch, Portuguese, as well as "pidgin Basque" - common trade language used in dealing with Aboriginal peoples in the era of early contact. Da Costa was instrumental in bridging the cultural and linguistic gap between the early French explorers and the Mi'kmaq people.

e. Elijah McCoy 1843/44 - 1929) McCoy was an Inventor who was awarded over 57 patents. Today, his lubrication processes are used in machinery such as cars, locomotives, ships, rockets and many other machinery. The expression “The Real McCoy” came about because machine buyers wanted to make sure they were getting “the real McCoy”.

3. The life of Black Canadians in today’s society. Discuss the issues of racism, equality, culture.

4. Profile how Black Canadians celebrate Black History Month. Research organizations in your province.

Here are some links to help you write your story.

Dalhousie University, NS Website on Black History
Heritage Canada webpage on Black History
Black History Society
BC Black History Awareness Society
Black History Month Association of Nova Scotia

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