Although many people are familiar with Black American history, few know about the struggles the Black community faced in Canada. So for this Black History Month, we're highlighting pivotal moments in Black Canadian history that you can share with your class. How many of these events do your students know?
1. North America's First Race Riot
It might be surprising, but North America's first race riot happened in Canada. Around the time of the American Revolution, the British offered escaped Black slaves land in Canada if they fought for them in the American Revolution. Because of this, roughly 10,00 Black Loyalists fought for Britain, and 1200 settled in the Maritimes.
Problems began with rising racial tensions between between the colony of free Black Loyalists in Birchtown and predominately white community of Shelburne County. In 1784, forty white Loyalists broke into the house of David George, a Black preacher and the home of twenty others. This incident incited a riot that went on for ten more days, where only one man was charged in connection with the riots.
2. The Underground Railroad (1815 - 1860)
The Underground Railroad gave enslaved people in the South a chance to escape to free northern states or Canada. More people began traveling as far as Canada when the U.S. Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. This law encouraged the capture of runaway Black people, even within free states. One famous person who used the underground railroad was Harriet Tubman. She not only escaped successfully from being enslaved, but she was also an abolitionist and political activist. She helped other enslaved people escape to southern Ontario by leading journeys in the middle of the night.
3. Hogan's Alley
Hogan's Alley was Vancouver's first major Black community. This community continued to grow as Black immigrants escaped from the States. This cultural hub was home to restaurants like Vie's Chicken and Steak House. These businesses often acted as as speakeasies and provided a safe space for the Black community to gather.
Unfortunately, the community didn't last. Huge portions of Hogan's Alley was demolished because of the Georgia Viaduct Replacement project. Many community members saw this as an active attempt to uproot the Black community. And since the destruction of Hogan's Alley, Vancouver has made efforts to recognize the cultural importance of the area by establishing the Jimi Hendrix Shrine and Hogan's Alley Cafe.
4. Ontario Passes Anti-Discriminatory Acts
The province of Ontario took major steps towards racial equality in 1944 when it became the first province in Canada to pass the Racial Discrimination Act. The act meant that it was illegal to place discriminatory public signage, newspaper notices, and radio broadcasts. Shortly afterwards, Ontario passed more laws against discrimination like the Fair Employment Practices Act (1951) and the Fair Accommodation Practices Act (1954). These acts would combine to create Ontario's Human Rights Code. They would give all Canadians equal rights and opportunities without discrimination.
5. Apology for destroying Africville (2010)
Africville was a Black Canadian village that was located north of Halifax. The village was a haven from the racism in Halifax. Despite paying taxes, Africville residents did not receive government services like paved roads and proper sewage drainage. On top of that, the City of Halifax started destroying homes to build train tracks, slaughterhouses, prisons, human waste pits, and the Infectious Diseases Hospital in the village. Residents tried to protest against relocating to Halifax, but were forced to move. In 2010, Mayor Peter Kelly apologized for the destruction of Africville and began building and opening sites to honour the city's memory.
Are your students passionate about issues on social justice? Take your class to New York and learn about the lives and challenges of immigrants with a visit to the Tenement Museum, participate in workshops about influential female filmmakers, and more!
Learn more about our educational tours to New York City!