Black Canadians

"Blacks in Canada" redirects here. For other uses, see Blacks (Canada).
Black Canadians
Noirs canadiens (French)
Total population
2.9% of the total Canadian population (2011)[1])
Regions with significant populations
Ontario Ontario 539,205 (4.3%)
Quebec Quebec 243,625 (3.2%)
Alberta Alberta 74,435 (2.1%)
British Columbia British Columbia 33,260 (0.8%)
Nova Scotia Nova Scotia 20,790 (2.3%)
Canadian English  Canadian French  Caribbean English  Haitian Creole  African languages
Predominantly Christianity; minority Islam, other faiths
Related ethnic groups
Afro-Caribbeans  African Americans

Black Canadians is a designation used for people of Black African descent, who are citizens or permanent residents of Canada.[2][3] The majority of Black Canadians are of Caribbean origin, though the population also consists of African American immigrants and their descendants (including Black Nova Scotians), as well as many African immigrants.[4][5]

Black Canadians and other Canadians often draw a distinction between those of Afro-Caribbean ancestry and those of other African roots. The term African Canadian is sometimes used by Black Canadians who trace their heritage to the first slaves brought by British and French colonists to the North American mainland;[3] thousands of Black Loyalists and an estimated ten to thirty thousand fugitive slaves settled in Canada after the American Revolutionary War. Many Blacks of Caribbean origin in Canada reject the term African Canadian as an elision of the uniquely Caribbean aspects of their heritage,[6] and instead identify as Caribbean Canadian.[6] Unlike in the United States where African American has become a widely used term, due to controversies associated with proper designation of African or Caribbean heritage, the term "Black Canadian" is accepted in the Canadian context.[7]

Black Canadians have contributed to many areas of Canadian culture.[8] Many of the first visible minorities to hold high public offices have been Black, including Michaëlle Jean, Donald Oliver, Stanley G. Grizzle, Rosemary Brown and Lincoln Alexander, in turn opening the door for other minorities.[9] Black Canadians form the third-largest visible minority group in Canada, after South Asian and Chinese Canadians.[10]


According to the 2006 Census by Statistics Canada, 783,795 Canadians identified as black, constituting 2.5% of the entire Canadian population.[10] Of the black population, 11% identified as mixed-race of "white and black".[11] The five most black-populated provinces in 2006 were Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia.[10] The ten most black-populated census metropolitan areas were Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Halifax, and Oshawa.[12] Preston, in the Halifax area, is the community with the highest percentage of blacks, with 69.4%; it was a settlement where the Crown provided land to Black Loyalists after the American Revolution.[13]

According to the 2011 Census, a total of 949,665 Black Canadians were counted, comprising 2.9% of Canada's population.[1]

Demographics and Census issues

Historical population
Census data[1][5][10]

At times, it has been claimed that Black Canadians have been significantly undercounted in census data. Writer George Elliott Clarke has cited a McGill University study which found that fully 43% of all Black Canadians were not counted as black in the 1991 Canadian census, because they had identified on census forms as British, French or other cultural identities which were not included in the census group of Black cultures.[14]

Although subsequent censuses have reported the population of Black Canadians to be much more consistent with the McGill study's revised 1991 estimate than with the official 1991 census data, no recent study has been conducted to determine whether some Black Canadians are still substantially missed by the self-identification method.


One of the ongoing controversies in the Black Canadian community revolves around appropriate terminologies. Many Canadians of Afro-Caribbean origin strongly object to the term "African Canadian", as it obscures their own culture and history, and this partially accounts for the term's less prevalent use in Canada, compared to the consensus "African American" south of the border.

Black Nova Scotians, a more distinct cultural group, of whom some can trace their Canadian ancestry back to the 1700s, use both terms, African Canadian and Black Canadian. For example, there is an Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs and a Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia.

"Caribbean Canadian" is often used to refer to Black Canadians of Caribbean heritage, although this usage can also be controversial because the Caribbean is not populated only by people of African origin, but also includes large groups of Indo-Caribbeans, Chinese Caribbeans, European Caribbeans, Syrian or Lebanese Caribbeans, Latinos and Amerindians. The term "West Indian" is often used by those of Caribbean ancestry, although the term is more of a cultural description than a racial one, and can equally be applied to groups of many different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The term "Afro-Caribbean-Canadian" is occasionally used in response to this controversy, although as of 2016, this term is still not widely seen in common usage.

More specific national terms such as "Jamaican Canadian", "Haitian Canadian" or "Ghanaian Canadian" are also used. As of 2016, however, there is no widely used alternative to "Black Canadian" that is accepted by the Afro-Caribbean population, those of more recent African extraction, and descendants of immigrants from the United States as an umbrella term for the whole group.[7]

One increasingly common practice, seen in academic usage and in the names and mission statements of some Black Canadian cultural and social organizations but not yet in universal nationwide usage, is to always make reference to both the African and Caribbean communities.[15] For example, one key health organization dedicated to HIV/AIDS education and prevention in the Black Canadian community is now named the African and Caribbean Council on HIV/AIDS in Ontario, the Toronto publication Pride bills itself as an "African-Canadian and Caribbean-Canadian news magazine", and G98.7, a Black-oriented community radio station in Toronto, was initially branded as Caribbean African Radio Network.[16]


One of the more noted aspects of Black Canadian history is that while the majority of African Americans trace their presence in the United States through the history of slavery, the Black presence in Canada is rooted almost entirely in voluntary immigration.[17] Despite the various dynamics that may complicate the personal and cultural interrelationships between descendents of the Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia, descendents of former American slaves who viewed Canada as the promise of freedom at the end of the Underground Railroad, and more recent immigrants from the Caribbean or Africa, one common element that unites all of these groups is that they are in Canada because they or their ancestors actively chose of their own free will to settle there.[6]

First black people in Canada

Mathieu de Costa, the first recorded free black person to arrive in Canada.

The first recorded black person to set foot on land now known as Canada was a free man named Mathieu de Costa. Travelling with navigator Samuel de Champlain, de Costa arrived in Nova Scotia some time between 1603 and 1608 as a translator for the French explorer Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Monts. The first known black person to live in what would become Canada was a slave from Madagascar named Olivier Le Jeune, who may have been of partial Malay ancestry. As a group, black people arrived in Canada in several waves. The first of these came as free persons serving in the French Army and Navy, though some were enslaved or indentured servants.

African Americans during the American Revolution

Main article: Black Loyalists
Anderson Ruffin Abbott, the first Black Canadian to be a licensed physician, participated in the American Civil War and attended the deathbed of Abraham Lincoln.

At the time of the American Revolution, inhabitants of the United States had to decide where their future lay. Those loyal to the British Crown were called United Empire Loyalists and came north. Many White American Loyalists brought their African-American slaves with them, numbering approximately 2,500 individuals. During the war, the British had promised freedom to slaves who left rebel masters and worked for them; this was announced in Virginia through Lord Dunmore's Proclamation. Slaves also escaped to British lines in New York City and Charleston, and their forces evacuated thousands after the war. They transported 3,000 to Nova Scotia.[18][19]

This latter group was largely made up of merchants and labourers, and many set up home in Birchtown near Shelburne. Some settled in New Brunswick. Both groups suffered from discriminatory treatment by white settlers and prominent landowners who still held slaves. Some of the refugees had been free blacks prior to the war and fled with the other refugees to Nova Scotia, relying on British promises of equality. Under pressure of the new refugees, the city of Saint John amended its charter in 1785 specifically to exclude blacks from practising a trade, selling goods, fishing in the harbour, or becoming freemen; these provisions stood until 1870, although by then they were largely ignored.[20]

In 1782, the first race riot in North America took place in Shelburne; white veterans attacked African-American settlers who were getting work that the former soldiers thought they should have. Due to the failure of the British government to support the settlement, the harsh weather, and discrimination on the part of white colonists, 1,192 Black Loyalist men, women and children left Nova Scotia for West Africa on 15 January 1792. They settled in what is now Sierra Leone, where they became the original settlers of Freetown. They, along with other groups of free transplanted people such as the Black Poor from England, became what is now the Sierra Leone Creole people, also known as the Krio.

Although difficult to estimate due to the failure to differentiate slave and free Black populations, it is estimated that by 1784 there were around 40 Black slaves within Montreal, compared to around 304 slaves within the Province of Quebec.[21] By 1799, vital records note 75 entries regarding Black Canadians, a number which doubled by 1809.[21]

Maroons from the Caribbean

On 26 June 1796, Jamaican Maroons, numbering 543 men, women and children, were deported on board the three ships Dover, Mary and Anne from Jamaica, after being defeated in an uprising against the British colonial government. Their initial destination was Lower Canada, but on 21 and 23 July, the ships arrived in Nova Scotia. At this time Halifax was undergoing a major construction boom initiated by Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn's efforts to modernize the city's defences. The many building projects had created a labour shortage. Edward was impressed by the Maroons and immediately put them to work at the Citadel in Halifax, Government House, and other defence works throughout the city.

Funds had been provided by the Government of Jamaica to aid in the resettlement of the Maroons in Canada.[22] Five thousand acres were purchased at Preston, Nova Scotia, at a cost of £3000. Small farm lots were provided to the Maroons and they attempted to farm the infertile land. Like the former tenants, they found the land at Preston to be unproductive; as a result they had little success. The Maroons also found farming in Nova Scotia difficult because the climate would not allow cultivation of familiar food crops, such as bananas, yams, pineapples or cocoa. Small numbers of Maroons relocated from Preston to Boydville for better farming land. The British Lieutenant Governor Sir John Wentworth made an effort to change the Maroons’ culture and beliefs by introducing them to Christianity. From the monies provided by the Jamaican Government, Wentworth procured an annual stipend of £240 for the support of a school and religious education.[23] The Maroons were not interested in converting from their own religion to Christianity. Strong-willed and opinionated people, they refused to work for less money than was paid to white workers.

After suffering through the harsh winter of 1796–1797, Wentworth reported the Maroons expressed a desire that "they wish to be sent to India or somewhere in the east, to be landed with arms in some country with a climate like that they left, where they may take possession with a strong hand."[23]:260 The British Government and Wentworth opened discussions with the Sierra Leone Company in 1799 to send the Maroons to Sierra Leone. The Jamaican Government had in 1796 initially planned to send the Maroons to Sierra Leone but the Sierra Leone Company rejected the idea. The initial reaction in 1799 was the same, but the Company was eventually persuaded to accept the Maroon settlers. On 6 August 1800 the Maroons departed Halifax, arriving on 1 October at Freetown, Sierra Leone.[23][24]

Upon their arrival in West Africa in 1800, they were used to quell an uprising among the black settlers from Nova Scotia and London. After eight years, they were unhappy with their treatment by the Sierra Leone Company.

Abolition of slavery

Main article: Act Against Slavery
Monument in Pictou, Nova Scotia dedicated to abolitionist James Drummond MacGregor, who helped free Black Nova Scotian slaves

The Canadian climate made it uneconomic to keep slaves year-round,[25] unlike the plantation agriculture practised in the southern United States and Caribbean. Slavery within the colonial economy became increasingly rare. Not all owners were white. For example, the powerful Mohawk leader Joseph Brant bought an African American named Sophia Burthen Pooley, whom he kept for about 12 years before selling her for $100.[26][27]

In 1772, prior to the American Revolution, Britain outlawed the slave trade in the British Isles followed by the Knight v. Wedderburn decision in Scotland in 1778. This decision, in turn, influenced the colony of Nova Scotia. In 1788, abolitionist James Drummond MacGregor from Pictou published the first anti-slavery literature in Canada and began purchasing slaves' freedom and chastising his colleagues in the Presbyterian church who owned slaves.[28]

In 1790 John Burbidge freed his slaves. Led by Richard John Uniacke, in 1787, 1789 and again on January 11, 1808, the Nova Scotian legislature refused to legalize slavery.[29][30] Two chief justices, Thomas Andrew Lumisden Strange (1790–1796) and Sampson Salter Blowers (1797–1832) were instrumental in freeing slaves from their owners in Nova Scotia.[31][32] These justices were held in high regard in the colony.

In 1793, John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, attempted to abolish slavery. That same year, the new Legislative Assembly became the first entity in the British Empire to restrict slavery, confirming existing ownership but allowing for anyone born to a female slave after that date to be freed at the age of 25.[33] Slavery was all but abolished throughout the other British North American colonies by 1800. The Slave Trade Act outlawed the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807 and the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 outlawed slave-holding altogether in the colonies (except for India). This made Canada an attractive destination for many refugees fleeing slavery in the United States, such as minister Boston King.

War of 1812

The next major migration of blacks occurred between 1813 and 1815. Refugees from the War of 1812, primarily from the Chesapeake Bay and Georgia Sea Islands, fled the United States to settle in Hammonds Plains, Beechville, Lucasville, North Preston, East Preston, and Africville. An April 1814 proclamation of Black freedom and settlement by British Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane led to an exodus of around 3,500 Black Americans by 1818.[34] The settlement of the refugees was initially seen as a means of creating prosperous agricultural communities; however, poor economic conditions following the war coupled with the granting of infertile farmland to refugees caused economic hardship.[34] Social integration would prove difficult in the early years, as the prevalence of enslaved Africans in the Maritimes caused the newly freed Black Canadians to be viewed on the same level of the enslaved.[34] Militarily, a Black Loyalist named Richard Pierpoint, who was born about 1744 in Senegal and who had settled near present-day St. Catharines, Ontario, offered to organize a Corps of Men of Colour to support the British war effort. This was refused but a white officer raised a small black corps.[18] This "Coloured Corps" fought at Queenston Heights and the siege of Fort George, defending what would become Canada from the invading American army.[18] Many of the refugees from America would later serve with distinction during the war in matters both strictly military, along with the use of freed slaves in assisting in the further liberation of African Americans slaves.[34]

The Underground Railroad

There is a sizable community of Black Canadians in Nova Scotia[19] and Southern Ontario who trace their ancestry to African-American slaves who used the Underground Railroad to flee from the United States, seeking refuge and freedom in Canada. From the late 1820s until the American Civil War began in 1861, the Underground Railroad brought tens of thousands of fugitive slaves to Canada. The refugee slaves who settled in Canada did so primarily in South Western Ontario, with significant concentrations being found in Amherstburg, Colchester, Chatham, Windsor, Sandwich. These settlements acted as centers of abolitionist thought, with Chatham being the location of abolitionist John Brown's constitutional convention which preceded the later raid on Harper's Ferry.[35] While the first newspaper published by a black woman was founded in North Buxton by the free Black Mary Ann Shadd which pressed for Black emigration to Canada as the best option for fleeing African Americans.[35] The settlement of Elgin was formed in 1849 with the royal assent of Governor-General of the time James Bruce as a settlement for Black Canadians and escaped slaves based upon social welfare and the prevention of moral decay among the Black community there. Led by the Elgin Association and preacher William King, the settlement flourished as a model of a successful predominantly African settlement which held close to 200 families by 1859.[36] Following the end of the American Civil War and subsequent emancipation of enslaved African Americans, a significant population remained, concentrated both within settlements established in the decades preceding the Civil War, and existing urban environments like Toronto.[37][38][39]

The Anti-Slavery Society of Canada estimated in its first report in 1852 that the "coloured population of Upper Canada" was about 30,000, of whom almost all adults were "fugitive slaves" from the United States.[40] St. Catharines, Ontario had a population of 6,000 at that time; 800 of its residents were "of African descent".[41] Many slaves sought refuge in Toronto which was known as a tolerant city. Black Canadians integrated in many areas of society, but the influence of slavery in the south still impacted these citizens. James Mink, an African Canadian who married his daughter to a white man, had his daughter sold into slavery during their honeymoon in the Southern States. She was freed after a large sum of money was paid and this behaviour was characterized as “a villainy that we are pleased to say characterizes few white [Toronto] men.”[42]

West Coast

In 1858, James Douglas, the governor of the British colony of Vancouver Island, replied to an inquiry from a group of blacks in San Francisco about the possibilities of settling in his jurisdiction. They were angered that the California legislature had passed discriminatory laws to restrict blacks in the state, preventing them from owning property and requiring them to wear badges. Governor Douglas, whose mother was a "free coloured" person of mixed black and white ancestry from the Caribbean,[43] replied favourably. Later that year, an estimated 600 to 800 black Americans migrated to Victoria, settling on Vancouver Island and Salt Spring Island. At least two became successful merchants there: Peter Lester and Mifflin Wistar Gibbs. The latter also entered politics, being elected to the newly established City Council in the 1860s.

Gibbs returned to the United States with his family in the late 1860s after slavery had been abolished following the war; he settled in Little Rock, Arkansas, the capital of the state. He became an attorney and was elected as the first black judge in the US. He became a wealthy businessman who was involved with the Republican Party; in 1897 he was appointed by the President of the US as consul to Madagascar.

Immigration restrictions

In the early nineteenth century, the Canadian government had an unofficial policy of restricting immigration by blacks. The huge influx of immigrants from Europe and the United States in the period before World War I included few blacks, as most immigrants were coming from eastern and southern Europe. This policy was formalised in 1911 by Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier:

"His excellency in Council, in virtue of the provisions of Sub-section (c) of Section 38 of the Immigration Act, is pleased to Order and it is hereby Ordered as follows: For a period of one year from and after the date hereof the landing in Canada shall be and the same is prohibited of any immigrants belonging to the Negro race, which race is deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada."[26]

(Compare with the White Australia policy.)

Black Canadians pose with Ontario Premier Ernest Charles Drury at Queen's Park, 1920
Black Canadians pose with Ontario Premier Ernest Charles Drury at Queen's Park, 1920

Early 20th century

William Peyton Hubbard was the first visible minority and the first black citizen to be elected to public office at any level of government in a Canadian city.

The flow between the United States and Canada continued in the twentieth century. A wave of immigration occurred in the 1920s, with blacks from the Caribbean coming to work in the steel mills of Cape Breton, replacing those who had come from Alabama in 1899.[44] Some Black Canadians trace their ancestry to people who fled racism in Oklahoma, Texas, and other southern states in the early 1900s as part of the Great Migration out of the rural South, and continued up to Alberta and Saskatchewan.[45] (See for example those buried in the Shiloh Baptist Church cemetery in Saskatchewan.)[46] Many of them were disappointed to encounter racism when they arrived in Canada, which they had regarded as a kind of Promised Land.[47]

Many of Canada's railway porters were recruited from the U.S., with many coming from the South, New York City, and Washington, D.C. They settled mainly in the major cities of Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver, which had major rail connections. The railroads were considered to have good positions, with steady work and a chance to travel.[48] A noted cause célèbre in the 1920s was the case of Matthew Bullock. He fled to Canada to avoid a potential lynching in North Carolina and fought extradition to the US.[49]

Late 20th century and early 21st century

Canada maintained its restrictions of immigration until 1962, when racial rules were eliminated from the immigration laws. This coincided with the dissolution of the British Empire in the Caribbean. By the mid-1960s, approximately 15,000 Caribbean immigrants lived in Toronto.[50] Over the next decades, several hundred thousand Afro-Caribbeans came from that region, becoming the predominant black population in Canada. Since then, an increasing number of new immigrants from Africa have been coming to Canada;[5] they have also immigrated to the United States and Europe. This includes large numbers of refugees, but also many skilled and professional workers pursuing better economic conditions. Today's Black Canadians are largely of Caribbean origin, with some of recent African origin, and smaller numbers from the United States, Europe and Latin America.

However, a sizable number of Black Canadians who descend from freed American slaves can still be found in Nova Scotia and parts of Southwestern Ontario. Some descendants of the freed American slaves, many of whom were of mixed race descent, have mixed into the white Canadian community and have mostly lost their ethnic identity. Some descendants returned to the United States. Bangor, Maine, for example, received many Black Canadians from the Maritime provinces.[51]

Like other recent immigrants to Canada, Black Canadian immigrants have settled preferentially in provinces matching the language of their country of origin. Thus, in 2001, 90% of Canadians of Haitian origin lived in Quebec,[52] while 85% of Canadians of Jamaican origin lived in Ontario.[53]

In 1975, a museum telling the stories of African Canadians and their journeys and contributions was established in Amherstburg, Ontario, entitled the Amherstburg Freedom Museum.[54] In Atlantic Canada, the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia was established in Cherrybrook.


Below is a list of provinces, with the number of Black Canadians in each province and their percentage of population.[57]

Province Blacks 2001 % 2001 Blacks 2011 % 2011
Ontario 411,090 3.6% 539,205 4.3%
Quebec 152,195 2.1% 243,625 3.2%
Alberta 31,395 1.1% 74,435 2.1%
British Columbia 25,465 0.7% 33,260 0.8%
Nova Scotia 19,230 2.1% 20,790 2.3%
Manitoba 12,820 1.2% 19,610 1.7%
Saskatchewan 4,165 0.4% 7,255 0.7%
New Brunswick 3,850 0.5% 4,870 0.7%
Newfoundland and Labrador 840 0.2% 1,455 0.3%
Northwest Territories 175 0.5% 555 1.4%
Prince Edward Island 370 0.3% 390 0.3%
Nunavut 65 0.3% 120 0.4%
Yukon 120 0.4% 100 0.3%
Canada 662,215 2.2% 945,665 2.9%

List of census subdivisions with Black populations higher than the national average

Source: Canada 2011 Census[1]
National average: 2.9% (945,665)


Nova Scotia




Although many Black Canadians live in integrated communities, a number of notable Black communities have been known, both as unique settlements and as Black-dominated neighbourhoods in urban centres.

The most historically documented Black settlement in Canadian history is the defunct community of Africville, a district located at the North End of peninsular Halifax, Nova Scotia. Its population was relocated and it was demolished in the 1960s to facilitate the urban expansion of the city. Similarly, the Hogan's Alley neighbourhood in Vancouver was largely demolished in 1970, with only a single small laneway in Strathcona remaining.

The Wilberforce Colony in Ontario was also a historically Black settlement. It evolved demographically as Black settlers moved away. It became dominated by ethnic Irish settlers, who renamed the village Lucan. A small group of Black American settlers from San Francisco were the original inhabitants of Saltspring Island in the mid-19th century.

Other notable Black settlements include North Preston in Nova Scotia, Priceville, Shanty Bay, South Buxton and Dresden in Ontario, the Maidstone/Eldon area in Saskatchewan[58] and Amber Valley in Alberta. North Preston currently has the highest concentration of Black Canadians in Canada, many of whom are descendants of Africville residents.

One of the most famous Black-dominated urban neighbourhoods in Canada is Montreal's Little Burgundy, regarded as the spiritual home of Canadian jazz due to its association with many of Canada's most influential early jazz musicians. In present-day Montreal, Little Burgundy and the boroughs of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, LaSalle, Pierrefonds-Roxboro, and Montréal-Nord have large Black populations, the latter of which has a large Haitian population.

In Toronto, many Blacks settled in St. John's Ward, a district which was located in the city's core.[59][60] Others preferred to live in York Township, on the outskirts of the city. By 1850, there were more than a dozen Black businesses along King Street;[59] the modern-day equivalent is Little Jamaica along Eglinton Avenue, which contains one of the largest concentrations of Black businesses in Canada.[61]

Several urban neighbourhoods in Toronto, including Jane and Finch, Rexdale, Malvern, Weston, St. James Town, and Lawrence Heights, are popularly associated with Black Canadians, although all are much more racially diverse than is commonly believed. The Toronto suburbs of Brampton and Ajax also have sizable Black populations, which have migrated outward from Toronto over the past decade. (Ajax has the highest percentage of Blacks of any municipality of 5,000 or more in Canada, with 16%.) The Greater Toronto Area is home to a highly educated middle to upper middle class Black population who continue to migrate out of the city limits, into surrounding suburbs.[62]


Media representation of Blacks in Canada has increased significantly in recent years, with television series such as Drop the Beat, Lord Have Mercy! and Da Kink in My Hair focusing principally on Black characters and communities.

The films of Clement Virgo, Sudz Sutherland and Charles Officer have been among the most prominent depictions of Black Canadians on the big screen. Notable films have included Sutherland's Love, Sex and Eating the Bones, Officer's Nurse.Fighter.Boy and Virgo's Rude and Love Come Down.

In literature, the most prominent and famous Black Canadian writers have been Josiah Henson, George Elliott Clarke, Lawrence Hill, Dionne Brand and Dany Laferrière, although numerous emerging writers have gained attention in the 1990s and 2000s.

Since the late 19th century, Black Canadians have made significant contributions to the culture of sports, starting with the founding of the Coloured Hockey League in Nova Scotia.[63] In North America's four major professional sports leagues, several Black Canadians have had successful careers, including Ferguson Jenkins (Baseball Hall of Fame member), Grant Fuhr (Hockey Hall of Fame member), Jarome Iginla, Russell Martin, and Jamaal Magloire; most recently, Andrew Wiggins and P. K. Subban have achieved a high level of success. In athletics, Harry Jerome, Ben Johnson, and Donovan Bailey were Canada's most prominent Black sprinters in recent decades; the current generation is led by Andre De Grasse.

The largest and most famous Black Canadian cultural event is the Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival (also known as Caribana), an annual festival of Caribbean Canadian culture in Toronto which typically attracts at least a million participants each year.[64] The festival incorporates the diversities that exist among the Canadians of African and Caribbean descent.

Black Canadians have had a major influence on Canadian music, helping pioneer many genres including Canadian hip hop, Canadian blues, Canadian jazz, R&B, Caribbean music, pop music and classical music.[65] Some of the earliest musical influences include Robert Nathaniel Dett, Portia White, Oscar Peterson and Charlie Biddle. Some Black Canadian musicians have enjoyed mainstream worldwide appeal in various genres, such as Dan Hill, Glenn Lewis, Tamia, Deborah Cox, and Kardinal Offishall.

While African American culture is a significant influence on its Canadian counterpart, many African and Caribbean Canadians reject the suggestion that their own culture is not distinctive.[6] In his first major hit single "BaKardi Slang", rapper Kardinal Offishall performed a lyric about Toronto's distinctive Black Canadian slang:

We don't say 'you know what I'm sayin', T dot says 'ya dun know'
We don't say 'hey that's the breaks', we say 'yo, a so it go'
We don't say 'you get one chance', We say 'you better rip the show'...
Y'all talking about 'cuttin and hittin skins', We talkin bout 'beat dat face'...
You cats is steady saying 'word', My cats is steady yellin 'zeen'...
So when we singin about the girls we singin about the 'gyal dem'
Y'all talkin about 'say that one more time', We talkin about 'yo, come again'
Y'all talkin about 'that nigga's a punk', We talkin about 'that yout's a fosse'...
A shoe is called a 'crep', A big party is a 'fete'
Ya'll takin about 'watch where you goin!', We talkin about 'mind where you step!'

Because the visibility of distinctively Black Canadian cultural output is still a relatively recent phenomenon, academic, critical and sociological analysis of Black Canadian literature, music, television and film tends to focus on the ways in which cultural creators are actively engaging the process of creating a cultural space for themselves which is distinct from both mainstream Canadian culture and African American culture.[6] For example, most of the Black-themed television series which have been produced in Canada to date have been ensemble cast comedy or drama series centred around the creation and/or expansion of a Black-oriented cultural or community institution.[6]

The Book of Negroes, a CBC Television miniseries about slavery based on Lawrence Hill's award-winning novel, was a significant ratings success in January 2015.[66]


In a 2013 survey of 80 countries by the World Values Survey, Canada ranked among the most racially tolerant societies in the world.[67] Nevertheless, according to Statistics Canada's "Ethnic Diversity Survey", released in September 2003, when asked about the five-year period from 1998 to 2002 nearly one-third (32%) of respondents who identified as black reported that they had been subjected to some form of racial discrimination or unfair treatment 'sometimes' or 'often'.[68]

From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, many unarmed Black Canadian men in Toronto were shot or killed by Toronto Police officers.[69][70] In response, the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) was founded in 1988. BADC's executive director, Dudley Laws, claimed that Toronto had the "most murderous" police force in North America, and that police bias against Blacks in Toronto was worse than in Los Angeles.[70][71] In 1990, BADC was primarily responsible for the creation of Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, which investigates police misconduct.[70][72] Since the early 1990s, the relationship between Toronto Police and the city's Black community has improved;[70] in 2015, Mark Saunders became the first Black police chief in the city's history. However, carding remains an issue as of 2016.[73]

Throughout the years, high-profile cases of racism against Black Canadians have occurred in Nova Scotia.[74][75][76] The province in Atlantic Canada continues to champion human rights and battle against racism, in part, with an annual march to end racism against people of African descent.[77][78]

Additionally, Black Canadians have historically faced incarceration rates disproportionate to their population. In 1911, Black Canadians comprised .22% of the population of Canada while 3.21 of every 1000 Black Canadians were in prison. Comparatively, White Canadians were incarcerated at a rate of .18 per 1000 people. By 1931 this number would grow to 3.85 per 1000 Black Canadians compared to .35 per 1000 White Canadians.[79] Contemporary rates of incarcaration of Black Canadians have continued to be disproportionate to their percentage of the general population, with 1 in 10 federal prisoners being Black while constituting 2.9% of the population.[80]

See also


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  2. Harrison, Faye Venetia (2005). Resisting racism and xenophobia : global perspectives on race, gender, and human rights. AltaMira Press. p. 180. ISBN 0-7591-0482-4.
  3. 1 2 Magocsi, Paul Robert (1999). Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples. University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division. ISBN 0-8020-2938-8.
  4. "2006 Census of Canada – Ethnic Origin".
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Blacks in Canada: A long history" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-05-11.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Rinaldo Walcott, Black Like Who?: Writing Black Canada. 2003, Insomniac Press. ISBN 1-894663-40-3.
  7. 1 2 "As for terminology, in Canada, it is still appropriate to say Black Canadians." Valerie Pruegger, "Black History Month". Culture and Community Spirit, Government of Alberta.
  8. Rosemary Sadlier. "Black History Canada – Black Contributions". Retrieved 2010-07-26.
  9. "Black History Canada – Noteworthy Personalities". Retrieved 2010-07-26.
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