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The total population of all the people in Canada as of January 2007 is an estimated 33,777,304. Of this number, an estimated 662,200 identified themselves as Black in the year 2001. Black people in Canada, therefore, represent just over 2% of the total population and 17% of the visible minority group. People of African descent have been living in British North America as long as the British and the French. Others came at later periods. They all migrated to Canada at different times, commonly referred to as “waves”, and settled in various parts of Canada, with the major concentration found in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Ontario and in Nova Scotia, as well as in Montreal, Quebec and Vancouver, British Columbia. They came from all over the world and at different times, but they have made significant contributions to the growth and development of Canada.

The First Wave, 1500s – 1800s

The first wave of Black people to Canada came mainly from the United States during the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Matthieu Da Costa is believed to have been the first Black person to arrive in Canada. Da Costa was a navigator and an interpreter in the late 1500s – early 1600s. He traveled extensively, especially up the St. Lawrence River and along the coast of Atlantic Canada. Da Costa served as interpreter between the French and Mi’k Maqs under Governor Pierre Dugua de Monts in Nova Scotia and for Samuel de Champlain in Quebec. Da Costa was well sought after by the French as well as the Dutch to help them communicate in their trade with the First Nations people. Da Costa spoke several languages including French, Dutch, Portuguese and pidgin Basque, a common trade dialect useful in communicating with First Nations people during the era of early contact.

Black Slaves and Black Loyalists

During the period 1628 – the early 1800s, Blacks lived as slaves in Canada, especially in Eastern Canada, in New France where 1000 Black slaves worked mostly as household servants, as the Canadian climate did not permit large scale plantation crops. Another 2000 enslaved Blacks came to Canada as slaves of White (United Empire) Loyalists who immigrated with them from the United States of America after the American Revolution (1775-1783). In the late 1700s Canada became home to about 3500 Black Loyalists who were promised grants of land and other provisions for fighting on the side of the British during the American Revolution. Black Loyalists settled mostly in Nova Scotia (which then included New Brunswick) in the communities of Hammonds Plains, Beechville, Lucasville, Preston and Africville.

Maroons from Jamaica

In 1796, an estimated 600 runaway slaves who resided in the mountainous regions of Jamaica were shipped from Trelawney, Jamaica to Nova Scotia. They were sent to Nova Scotia after their long fight against colonial rule. In Nova Scotia, the Maroons helped to deter an attack on Canada. The Maroons also helped to build Halifax Citadel and were solely responsible for building the Government House. Most, if not all the Maroons in Nova Scotia, along with other Blacks who so desired, were sent to Freetown, Sierra Leone in Western Africa, circa 1800.

War of 1812 (– 1814).

Once again, Blacks from the United States were promised freedom and land in Canada in return for fighting against the United States army. Over 2000 Blacks came to Canada during the War of 1812. They were very instrumental in helping Canada win this war. People of African origin were only permitted entry into the country if they could provide advantageous protection or development for the country. As ‘refugees’, African Americans were willing to risk their lives to try to improve their plight in Canada.

The Underground Railroad

With the help of abolitionists such as Harriet Tubman, thousands of Black fugitives fleeing slavery in the United States also made Canada their home via the Underground Railroad Movement (1830-1865). Blacks who entered Canada via the Underground Railroad settled in Ontario where they worked as farmers, teachers, preachers, household servants, business owners and sawmill workers. A few became doctors, lawyers, politicians and inventors. Early Black settlements in Ontario include the communities of Windsor, Chatham, Sudbury, Amhertsburg, Dresden, Wallaceburg, Guelph, London, Hamilton, Waterloo, Collingwood, Niagara Falls, St. Catherines, Fort Erie, Welland, Owen Sound and Toronto.

West Coast

A group of Blacks fleeing discrimination in the United States settled on Vancouver Island in 1858 during the Caribou Gold Rush. Of this group, Peter Lester and Mifflin Gibbs rose to become successful merchants, with Gibbs elected to Council of the City of Victoria in the 1860s. With there only being a small number, they were not seen as a threat to the developing region. Also, Native Indians have been instrumental in helping Blacks acclimatize and get accustomed to the land and environment.

Prairie Provinces

In the 1920s, 1000 Blacks from Oklahoma and other Great Plains states settled in Alberta and Saskatchewan, mostly in Edmonton. The Black cowboys were an integral part of the developing plains. Emigration: Many Blacks returned to the United States after slavery was abolished there in 1865.

Blacks from the Caribbean, Africa and Latin America (1920s – present)

In the 1920s, another wave of Blacks immigrated to Nova Scotia., only this time the trend was not from the United States, but from the Caribbean. They came to work the steel mills of Cape Breton (replacing Blacks who were there from Alabama in 1899).

In 1962, the lifting of racial restrictions on Canadian immigration policy permitted non-Whites to gain entry to Canada, and over the following decades several hundred thousand Blacks migrated to Canada from the Caribbean. Most came as female domestic workers during the 1960s – 1980s. They then sent for their families to join them. Today, about 70% of the Black people in Canada are of Caribbean heritage; with 40% being of Jamaican heritage. Blacks from the English speaking Caribbean islands tend to settle in Ontario, while those from the French speaking Caribbean islands tend to settle in Montreal. A small percentage of Blacks from the continent of Africa came as skilled workers and as refugees. An even smaller number of Blacks came from Latin America. They and the original Black population who came from the United States make up the remaining 30% of Black population in Canada.

Regardless of when and where Black people arrived in or came from, they have made and continue to make significant contributions to the growth and development of Canada.

The Contribution of Black people to Canada’s War Effort

The American Revolution (1775-1783) The Black Pioneers

Black Loyalists who fought on the side of the British formed their own corps, The Black Pioneers. They distinguished themselves on battlefield and received commendations for bravery and conduct.

The War of 1812

Black men fought on the side of the British in the Battle of Queenston Heights and the Battle of Lundy’s Lane (both in Niagara Falls).

U.S. Civil War (1861-1865)

Major Martin Robinson became the first Black commanding officer in the United States Armed Forces. He was born in Chatham, Ontario, and joined the Union Forces during the Civil War.

WWI (1914-1918)

The No.2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Expediency Force

Due to the racial climate of the time, Black men and women in Canada were prevented from participating in Canada’s war effort during the First World War. Nevertheless, Blacks lobbied for the right to volunteer their services. And on July 5, 1916 the No. 2 Construction Battalion, headquartered in Pictou, Nova Scotia, was born. It consisted of 1,049 Black men of all ranks.

Initially, they had problems raising the number of men because Black men were reluctant to sign due to resentment from being rejected previously. U. S. Blacks and Blacks across Canada filled the ranks of the No. 2 Construction Battalion. John Ware, the famous Canadian Black cowboy, and his two sons came from Alberta to join. Reverend William Andrew White of Nova Scotia joined as chaplain and was given the rank of captain. They received orders to go overseas on March 17, 1917.

The No. 2 Construction Battalion was the only segregated Battalion in Canada’s history. They were assigned a non-combatant role in WWI, which means they were not involved in fighting. Instead, they were relegated to menial, but hard tasks. For example, they built roads, dug trenches, and laid rails in France.

Only a few of these Black soldiers actually saw action in the frontline trenches. They were transferred to other units where they placed their sense of duty and honour for Canada and distinguished themselves on the battlefield. Private Jeremiah Jones was one of 16 Black soldiers of the 106th Battalion who saw action on the front line. He cleared a German dugout, and captured survivors. He was recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal, but there exists no official record of him ever receiving one. Band Sgt. Seymour Tyler is another Black soldier who distinguished himself on the battlefield. He fought for Canada in both World Wars. He received a British War Medal, a Victoria Cross Medal, a Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and a Defense Medal.

At the end of the war, when these soldiers returned home, they did not receive any official recognition for their contribution. The official Canadian history of Canada’s contribution to the Great War excluded members of this Battalion. The majority of these soldiers found jobs as sleeping car porter or farmers. Their story is captured in Honour Before Glory, a one hour documentary which was aired on CBC TV in November 2001.

Black Cross Nurses

Black women, although denied participation in Canada’s war effort in WWI, formed the Black Cross nurses, modeled on the Red Cross, to aid wounded soldiers. They also worked in the Black community by providing medical aid, such as first aid, nutrition, health care, and child care.

Black women also worked in other ways to support Canada in the war, including working in ammunition factories making the weapons for the men to use in the war. They were given the most dangerous jobs: working with explosives, and so forth.

WWII (1939-1945)

Although the racial climate did not improve much, there were no segregated units in the Canadian Armed Forces at this time. This means that Black and White soldiers along with other racial groups were in the same units. Initially, the Navy and the Air Force rejected Blacks as unsuitable, but by the end of this war, there were Black Canadian flying officers. Trinidadian Barrister, Jack Kelshall was one. He became a squadron leader in the Canadian Air Force, British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), and later trained young men how to fly war planes and informed them of the moral and civic duty of what they were doing and why they were doing it.

Quiz
1. Identify the various groups of Black people who migrated to Canada from the United States during the first wave.
2. Why did the each of these groups emigrate from the Unites States of America to Canada?
3. How did they get to Canada?
4. Where did each group settle?
5. What is the name given to the first group of Jamaicans who were brought to Nova Scotia, Canada?
6. Why was the above group of Jamaicans brought to Canada?
7. What contributions did they make to Canada before they were sent to Sierra Leone?
8. When did Black people from the Caribbean begin to migrate to Canada in large numbers?
9. Why would Blacks from the English and French speaking Caribbean islands choose to settle in Toronto and Montreal?
10. What percentage of Black people in Canada has their roots in the Caribbean?
11. What percentage of the Black people from the Caribbean in Canada is of Jamaican heritage?
12. What groups of Black people in Canada comprise the remaining 30%?
13. What is the estimated number of the Black population in Canada?
14. What is the percentage of the overall Canadian population does this number represent?
15. What is the estimated total population of Canada?
16. What percentage of the visible minority groups do Black people represent in Canada?
17. What is meant by the term visible minority?
18. Choose 3 people mentioned in the text. Research their historical backgrounds and explain their contributions to the growth and development of Canada?
Class Project

Do a survey of your teachers, friends or your classmates’ historical backgrounds to find out where they, their parents and their grandparents are from.

How many are of original Black Canadian heritage? How many are of Caribbean (Jamaican, Trinidadian, Barbadian, etc.) heritage?

Where do your non-Black teachers, friends and classmates and their families come from?

How do your findings correspond with what you have learned from this lesson? For example, what does this information tell you about Canadian history and the different waves of Black and other peoples who immigrated to Canada?

Research Project

1.  At the 1982 reunion of the No.2 Construction Battalion, Sgt. Seymour Tyler said:

Do not let anyone tell you different. No man is braver than a Black man. He has everything that it takes, and he has proven it, although he has not received any recognition for his courage. After all, the Black man went over there, he trained like a soldier and died like a soldier, he fought like a soldier, and that is all any White man can do.

Write a paragraph on how this speech can be applied to you in school and in society.

2. Do internet research on Seymour Tyler, Jeremiah Jones or any Black soldier from the No. 2 Construction Battalion and write a page on their experience and achievement in the War. Don’t forget to include where and when they were born, etc.

Some useful sites:
www.macleans.ca/article.jsp?content=2003117_69261_69261)
www.saintjohn.nbcc.nb.ca/Heritage/Black/GreatWar2.htm
www.vac-acc.gc.ca/general/sub.cfm?source=feature/black_history/battalion
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