Racism in Canada

Racism in Canada

Racism in Canada
Photo by Leighann Blackwood on Unsplash

Part 1: Anti-Black Racism: How did we get here?

Is there Racism in Canada?
This is the question I’m asked the most.

It’s phrased like a statement:
There’s no racism in Canada.

As the internet has exploded with story after story in the past month
People’s eyes are being opened.
No longer can we look to our neighbours to the South
shake our heads
and admire the dumpster fire.

Our own garbage has been on fire for years!
We also have a past drenched in blood and violence.
We like to remember that African American slaves ran to us for safety.
We focus on the Underground Railroad and the many conductors who saved the slaves from the South.
But that’s not the whole story.

Racism is alive and well here in Canada.

Here’s a small sliver of what they don’t teach you in school:

  1. Enslavement was legal in most of  Canada until 1793

So no…the US did not invent the book.
Canada was just as guilty.
They were considered chattel.
They could not own property.
Many were beaten.
Women were sexually abused.
It was horrific.

2.  Black Loyalists were lied too (also known as Slavery part two)

During the American Revolutionary War many black slaves fought on the side of the British in hopes that they could gain their freedom in Canada.
In fact, the Philipsburg proclamation stated that any slave who joined the British side would be granted freedom and land.
Out of 649 black men only 187 received that land.
If the Black Loyalists had a trade that was useful they could work — for less money than a white man.
But in order to survive many became indentured servants (pretty much slavery).
In Nova Scotia slavery was allowed and enforced even longer. Until 1834.
Many Black Loyalists in that province lived in fear of being kidnapped by passing ships and sold to the Americans or the West Indies.

3. Segregation

Black children were not allowed to attend the same schools as white people.
If they used the same building they met at separate times.
The last racially segregated school in Ontario closed in 1965.
The final segregated school in Canada (Nova Scotia) closed in 1985! (only 35 years ago!)

Universities weren’t much better.
Students were were either denied or restricted.

Clauses on real estate deeds denied “any person of the Chinese, Japanese or other Asiatic race or to any Indian or Negro” to purchase certain property.

Black men and women could only work in the service trade.
“Monkey cages” were designed in movie theatres for the black only sections.
As late as 1967 “the American-published Green Book, the travelling guide for Black motorists that identified places that welcomed Black patrons,” named places in Canada as well.
The list goes on and on…

4. A Case Study: Land given and land taken away

Remember the Loyalists from point 2?
Well some of them did get land.
Never mind that it was the worst land that was available.
It was still their land.

The village of Africville was established in Nova Scotia in the 1800s.
The people there were close knit and the community was focused the Seaview church.
But the people of Africville were not given access to sewage, water, or garbage disposal despite the fact that they paid taxes.
As years passed the city of Halifax made the land more inhospitable by establishing an infectious disease hospital, a prison and a dump nearby.

In the 1960s the city of Halifax, saw the deplorable conditions and decided they needed to do something about it.
Without listening to the people in the community they decided that Africville needed to be destroyed.

They offered money for the properties and promised that relocation would improve Africville resident’s lives.
But that’s not how the story goes.
The full amount of money for the properties were only given to  those who could prove it.
Otherwise they got a total of $500.
People were bribed and threatened into leaving their homes.
They ran out of transportation so garbage trucks came for residence’s few prized possessions.
Family homes were torn down.
In the dead of the night the little church, the heart of Africville, was razed to the ground.

In Halifax, life wasn’t as good as promised.
White neighbours weren’t pleased to have black people so close.
Many black people couldn’t find jobs.
The money that seemed like “so much” didn’t last,
and many families became reliant on social assistance.

It was only in 2010 that a settlement was reached and a public apology given.
Part of the settlement was the rebuilding of the Seaview church which is now the Africville museum.

5. That was soooooo long ago Karen…

Which brings us to now: 2020
Where things finally feel like they are shifting.

This is a long post.
But it only scratches the surface.
This didn’t happen overnight.
These attitudes have been hidden in attics and buried in the family tree far too long.

Did you know some of this history?
If not, take some time to educate yourself on the more unpleasant parts of Canada’s past.
History will continue to repeat itself if we don’t learn.

Please join me next time when I explore my personal encounter with racism as a black woman growing up in a white family. Plus, we can’t discuss systemic racism in Canada without looking at the plight of the Indigenous people. I’ll have a guest on in a few weeks to discuss that.



7 thoughts on “Racism in Canada”

  1. Thank you, Karen. Some of this I knew, but not about the last segregated school not closing until 1985! In many ways I’m proud to be a Nova Scotian, but not at all proud of the ways my province earned inclusion on this list. Nor about how the First Nations and Acadians were treated.

    1. Thanks for reading this, Janet. Yeah, that’s crazy to me too! My adoptive mother is Nova Scotia as is my neighbour–both the kindest and loving people I know. And welcoming in a way that is so different from here in Ontario. So there’s so much good in Nova Scotia as well!

  2. Thank you for writing this, Karen.

    There’s so much that has been hidden because the ones who “win” tend to be the ones who write and/or publish the textbooks.


    1. Thanks for reading, NJ. Yes, one of the things that really bugs me is how much we focus on American Black history in our schools. I’d love to highlight heroes here in Canada more!

    1. So glad that you visited and I hope you find the rest of of the posts informative. I’m learning new things all the time. I really wish this was taught in our schools.

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