Emancipation Day in Canada 2022

July 20, 2022 | Rachelle

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Many people may be familiar with or at least have heard of Juneteenth, but how many Canadians know about Emancipation Day in Canada? On March 24, 2021, Canada's House of Commons voted unanimously to officially designate August 1, Emancipation Day, the anniversary of when Britain's Parliament abolished slavery in the British Empire in 1834. 

The history of slavery in Canada is often forgotten or overshadowed by the enslavement of people of African descent in the Americas, where over 90% of enslaved people were sent to the Caribbean and South America. Many Canadians often focus on the Underground Railroad and Canada's role in harbouring freedom seekers from our southern neighbours. However, did you know that slavery in the United States ended in 1865 States, just 31 years after it was abolished in Canada? Therefore, while Canada played a role in helping over 30,000 freedom seekers escape slavery in the United States, we cannot forget that Canada also benefited greatly from free slave labour.

A quick search through our Digital Archive provides links to many interesting documents like The Negro's Petition and the "Underground" Routes to Canada, a map showing the routes that many enslaved people used to escape to Canada. Below, is another rare find, the autobiography of Reverend Josiah Henson, a true hero. Noted as being the inspiration behind Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Henson provides a first hand account of what life was like to be an enslaved person in North America. 

We also have a selection of Emancipation Day in Canada themed books that you can peruse on our reading list. I asked my colleague, Sagal, for some suggestions and here are our top picks.


Blacks in Canada

Blacks in Canada: A History by Robin W. Winks
Using primary and secondary sources, Blacks in Canada chronicles the detailed histories of African-Canadians, from the introduction of slavery in 1628 to the first wave of Caribbean immigration in the 1950s and 1960s. Learn about the varied experiences of Black Canadians, including those brought to Nova Scotia by Loyalists, Jamaican Maroons, and fugitive slaves who fled to British North America. Read about the Black West Coast businessmen who helped found British Columbia as well as Black settlements in the prairie provinces.

Canada's Forgotten Slaves

Canada's Forgotten Slaves : Two Centuries of Bondage by Marcel Trudel
"A ground-breaking work by one of French Canada's leading historians, available for the first time in English. This book reveals that slavery was not just something that happened in the United States. Quite the contrary! Slavery was very much a part of everyday life in colonial Canada under the French regime starting in 1629, and then under the British regime right up to its official abolition throughout the British empire in 1834." - from publisher's description

Emancipation Day

Emancipation Day: Celebrating Freedom in Canada by Natasha L. Henry
"When the passage of the Abolition of Slavery Act, effective August 1, 1834, ushered in the end of slavery throughout the British Empire, people of the African descent celebrated their newfound freedom. Now African-American fugitive slaves, free black immigrants, and the few remaining enslaved Africans could live unfettered live in Canada – a reality worthy of celebration." - from publisher's description

Enslaved People in Canada

Enslaved People in Canada by Julie Kentner
A gentle introduction to the history of slavery in North America, the lives of enslaved people, changing attitudes toward slavery in Canada, and finally the law that made it illegal to enslave people.

Hanging of Angelique

The Hanging Of Angélique: The Untold Story Of Canadian Slavery And The Burning Of Old Montréal by Afua Cooper
In this powerful story, learn about Marie-Joseph Angélique, an enslaved woman, convicted of starting a fire that destroyed a large part of Montréal in April 1734. Angelique was subsequently condemned to die a brutal death. With archival illustrations, Cooper uses her many years of research to crush the myth of Canada being a slave-free country and reveal the truth - Canada legally and culturally endorsed slavery for over 200 years.

It Was Dark There All the Time

It was dark there all the time : Sophia Burthen and the legacy of slavery in Canada by Andrew Hunter
"Sophia Burthen’s account of her arrival as an enslaved person into what is now Canada sometime in the late 18th century, was recorded by Benjamin Drew in 1855. In It Was Dark There All the Time, writer and curator Andrew Hunter builds on the testimony of Drew’s interview to piece together Burthen’s life, while reckoning with the legacy of whiteness and colonialism in the recording of her story. In so doing, Hunter demonstrates the role that the slave trade played in pre-Confederation Canada and its continuing impact on contemporary Canadian society." from publisher's description


Join our program on the history of Emancipation Day

This Emancipation Day, Canadians are invited to reflect, educate and engage in the ongoing fight against anti-Black racism and discrimination. It is a time to also celebrate the strength and perseverance of Black communities in Canada. To learn more, tune into our event on Tuesday, August 9th @ 7 pm with Natasha Henry-Dixon as she presents, The History of Emancipation Day in Canada and answers your questions.

Natasha Henry-Dixon


Related links

Black History Series

Black History 2022 – Adult Reading List

Black Lives Matter: A Booklist

The Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection