Abolition of Enslavement in Canada

Image: Medal commemorating the Emancipation in 1834 throughout the British Empire (courtesy Bolton Museum)

It was through the dynamic created by the resistance of Africans, both enslaved and free, and the position of others opposed to slavery based on ideas of equality, that the abolition of enslavement was finally achieved throughout the British controlled world, including Canada, on August 1, 1834 and following a graduated period by 1838 in other countries (eg, Jamaica)

Enslaved Africans fought against being taken and held captive in Africa, fought against enslavement while in slave ships and during their confinement before sale and once they were sold. It was through these acts of resistance that some slave owners had to reconsider the slave system, the independence of Africans and why they would not accept this status. Their resistance brought into question the ways in which people thought about Africans—they were bright and capable and not content with slavery.

Former slave owners and those having strong religious convictions also began to fight against the enslavement of Africans. Known as abolitionists, they attempted to use their positions in society to affect laws that had allowed slavery to develop. The movement toward abolition was evident in Britain, and in Canada, a British colony with its own enslaved population, the movement grew quickly.

Following the example of abolitionists such as William Wilberforce, Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe was shocked to learn that an enslaved woman named Chloe Cooley was forcibly bound and dragged onto a boat and taken across the Niagara River to be sold. Realizing that the freedom of all Africans in Upper Canada was in similar jeopardy, he began to lobby others in government. Some of them were slave owners; they were not immediately interested in seeing their property go free. Finally, in 1793, Simcoe was able to have compromise legislation passed, providing freedom to indentured servants (European Canadians) but providing for gradual freedom of African Canadians after they reached the aged of 25. This compromise legislation led the way for the end of enslavement in Canada, and was the first such law of its kind. It led to the abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade by 1807.

With the success of this legislation, abolitionists in Britain were able to continue to lobby for change while Africans continued to resist and abolitionists of all backgrounds pressed for change. British controlled countries around the world gave consideration to how to deal with this phenomenon and by July 1833, the British Imperial Act was passed. It became effective August 1, 1834 in Canada, and at different times in other areas controlled by Britain. "Emancipation Day" was celebrated by those who had been enslaved, by those who had never worn shackles, and by those who wanted justice for all.

The Hanging Of Angelique
An informative review of Afua Cooper's book The Hanging Of Angelique: The Untold Story Of Canadian Slavery And The Burning Of Old Montreal. From the “Montreal Review of Books” website.

Chronology of the Abolition of Enslavement
This document offers a chronology of measures taken to abolish enslavement around the world. From unesco.org.

You Cannot Steal a Gift
About the Black community and the final years of slavery in Canada. From Indigo Books & Music Inc.

Historical context for the Racism, Violence, and Health Project
This paper offers a concise review of historical issues and events involving the Black community in Canada. By Adrienne Shadd. From the Dalhousie University website.

The Black Canadian Experience: From the Underground Railroad to Black Canadian Studies Today
This site offers synopses of major conference topics and profiles of participants, including, Professor David Divine, James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies, Dalhousie University.

Slavery's long destructive legacy
This article recognizes Canadians who contributed to the abolition of enslavement. From thestar.com.

Notes for a presentation: Stories from The Little Black School House.
In this paper, Sylvia D. Hamilton talks about Canadian's unfamiliarity with the prevelence of enslavement in the early years of our history. From the Trudeau Foundation.

I've Got A Home In Glory Land
An interactive website for I've Got A Home In Glory Land, a book that chronicles Thornton and Lucie Blackburn's harrowing escape from enslavement in the US, landmark legal triumphs in Canada, and their successful business ventures in the Town of York (Toronto). From carleton.ca.

Bell pealed freedom for slaves
A news story about a display of a replica of the Buxton bell at the Ontario Legislature (Toronto) in honour of Black History Month, the memory of the Underground Railroad, and the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. From thestar.com.

British Anti-slavery Movement
This BBC article offers a rationale for the success of the anti-slavery movement in Britain in the 19th century.

Celebrating Emancipation Day
Scroll down to "Celebrating Emancipation Day," a brief account of Frederick Douglass and Josiah Henson celebrating the 20th anniversary of British Emancipation the at the Dawn Settlement in 1854. From Heritage Matters, a publication of the Ontario Heritage Foundation.

August 1 is Emancipation Day in Ontario
An article about the halting attempts to ban the practice of enslavement in the British Empire in the early 19th century. From the newspaper Share.

Emancipation Celebration Festival
The website for the Owen Sound Emancipation Celebration Picnic which commemorates the British Commonwealth Emancipation Act of August 1, 1834.

Emancipation Day Act, 2008
The Preamble to the Government of Ontario’s Emancipation Day Act, 2008. Includes a brief summary of noteworthy historical events of concern to the Black community in Ontario.

Emancipation Day Act, 1999
Read the full text of the Preamble to the Emancipation Day Act, 1999 from the website for the House of Commons, Government of Canada.

Slavery and the Judges of Loyalist New Brunswick
An article about the debate over the legality of “Negro slavery” in New Brunswick in the early 19th century. From the website Black Loyalists in New Brunswick.

From Slavery to Freedom
Scroll down to “Chloe Cooley and the Limitation of Slavery in Ontario,” which describes the circumstances surrounding the introduction of an Act which limited the practice of enslavement in Upper Canada. Accompanying the article is an image of a digitized copy of the Act. This site also highlights the current network of Black heritage sites in Ontario. From a special edition of Heritage Matters, a publication of the Ontario Heritage Trust.

The Abolition of Slavery in the British Empire
Read the text of "An Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies, 1833." From Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Done With Slavery
A review of Done With Slavery, a book that examines the history of enslavement in Montréal. From the Montreal Review of Books.

Black then: Blacks and Montreal, 1780-1880's
Read excerpts from Black then: Blacks and Montreal, 1780-1880's, a book that chronicles the lives of notable African persons in colonial and post-Confederation Montréal. From Google Books.

Notice Regarding an Escaped Enslaved Person
View a digitized copy of a “Notice Regarding an Escaped Enslaved Person, 1781” from the August 24, 1781 edition of the Quebec Gazette. From the website The Anti-Slavery Movement in Canada, Library and Archives Canada.

The Case of the Fugitive Slave
A fascinating account about judicial proceedings brought against formerly enslaved John Anderson in Montréal and the case of Lavinia Bell, another formerly enslaved person who had been brutally abused by former owners in the US. From the website Some Missing Pages.

Addressing Quebec’s Black History
An article in which Montréal writer Dr. Dorothy Williams suggests Canadians take a closer look at this country’s past ties to enslavement. From the website for the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph.

History of Canada
Page 441 of this book offers references to the eventual end of the practice of enslavement in Montréal and other regions in Canada. From Google Books.

Quebec, past and present: a history of Quebec, 1608-1876
Page 249 refers to legislation in Quebec and other Canadian jurisdictions regarding the legality of enslavement in this country. From Google Books.

Pierre-Louis Panet
A biography of Pierre-Louis Panet, lawyer and office holder, who, in 1793, unsuccessfully introduced a bill on the abolition of slavery in the Lower Canada parliament. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

From the Abolition of the Slave Trade to the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
From the Abolition of the Slave Trade to the Elimination of Racial Discrimination http://www.gg.ca/document.aspx?id=12400 Scroll down the page for a brief reference to calls for the abolition of enslavement in late 18th century Lower Canada. The text of a speech by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean. From the website for the General Governor of Canada.

Journal de la chambre d'assemblee du Bas-Canada, Volume 7
On page 126, read an account of the landmark 1798 legal case involving Charloette, an enslaved woman residing in Montréal. From Google Books.

Black History Month
This site is devoted to the annual celebration of Canada’s Black History Month. See profiles of notable Black Canadians and videos that highlight many of the Black community's outstanding contributions to our shared history and heritage. From Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Canadian Black History - An Interactive Experience
Search for clues about Black Canadian history in this interactive online treasure hunt presented by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

A Past, Denied: The Invisible History of Slavery in Canada
Watch the trailer for A Past, Denied: The Invisible History of Slavery in Canada, a feature-length documentary by independent filmmaker Mike Barber

African Nova Scotians in the Age of Slavery and Abolition
Focuses on the importation of enslaved Blacks to Nova Scotia during the 18th century. With illustrations and documents. A Province of Nova Scotia website.

Slavery in Canada
An interactive timeline about key events in Black Canadian history. Includes a reference to an enslaved African, Olivier Le Jeune, who died a free man in Québec. From the CBC website.

Slavery Rulings: Judges refuse to treat people as property
Scroll down to the story about two Nova Scotia chief justices, Thomas Strange and Sampson Blowers, who fought against enslavement. From the Courts of Nova Scotia.

John Graves Simcoe
An article about the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, who fought to eradicate slavery. From The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Black History in Ontario: The End of Slavery
An online exhibit featuring dramatic digitized images and documents that chronicle the eventual abolition of slavery in Upper Canada. From the Archives of Ontario.

Black Then: Blacks In Montreal 1780s-1880s
Frank Mackey’s book about the history of the Black community in Montréal. From the Montreal Review of Books.

Blacks in Montreal, 1628-1986 : an urban demography
About the historical development of Montréal’s Black community. From Urban Mozaik.