If Canadians think about the history of slavery at all, we tend to regard it in terms our neighbours to the south with a slight smugness and a sense of moral superiority.
But we shouldn’t, because Canada has a long and painful history of slavery of our own, the legacy of which is still being felt today.
As Black History Month draws to a close, let’s look at our nefarious and painful past, but also celebrate the countless success stories of African-Canadians over the past four centuries.
Our history of enslaving African Canadians dates back to 1628 when Olivier Le Jeune, a boy from Africa, became Canada’s first recorded black slave. Over the next 200 years, thousands of Africans were enslaved by white men in Upper and Lower Canada, the precursors of Ontario and Quebec today.
Between 1689 and 1834, more than 2,000 blacks lived as slaves in New France and, later, Lower Canada. In fact, in 1709, Louis XIV explicitly authorized slavery in New France, allowing les canadiens to own slaves. To the west, six of the 16 legislators in the first parliament of Upper Canada were slave owners.
It was not until 1834 that slavery was abolished in the entire British Empire, including Canada, with the adoption of the Slavery Abolition Act.