A few of the books available on the topic of Black history in Canada.

A few of the books available on the topic of Black history in Canada.

If you think Black history isn’t Canadian history, think again

‘In a community with a relatively small number of Black residents, it would be easy to let Black History Month pass without pausing’

By Jordan Wellwood and Dr. Nicolas Bussard

If you think Black history isn’t Canadian history, think again.

In a community with a relatively small number of Black residents, it would be easy to let Black History Month pass without pausing to think about the experience of our Black neighbours and their ancestors. If we are committed to inclusiveness and understanding, however, it’s worth taking time to explore some of the things that weren’t included in our history classes.

For instance, as Canadians we like to believe that we don’t have a legacy of Black slavery, but in fact thousands of Africans were brought to Canada as slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries, and slavery was practised for 200 years by traders and colonists.

We also like to celebrate our role in bringing tens of thousands of slaves from the American South to freedom via the Underground Railroad, but we often overstate our role, overlooking the support that Indigenous People provided as well as the sheer determination of those fleeing.

In fact, Canada’s history of Black immigration (sometimes forced) is complex, nuanced, political, and worth further reading. For example, the British offered freedom and land to slaves who would fight for the Loyalists during the U.S. War of Independence, a calculated military decision rather than an altruistic one. Britain didn’t abolish slavery throughout its colonies until 1834, after all.

And Canada’s early Black immigrants were not warmly welcomed; they faced segregation, hostility, competition for jobs, and few of them received the land grants they were promised. The first recorded race riots in North America occurred in Canada, and many Black Canadians returned to the United States or Africa. In 1910, Canada passed an Immigration Act barring races deemed ‘undesirable’, and very few Black people entered Canada in the following decades.

If you are interested in learning more, the CBC has provided a relatively short list of non-fiction books that explore the historical, political, and social context of the experience of Black Canadians: Blank by M. NourbeSe Philip; In the Black by Denham Jolly; Canada in Africa by Yves Engler; The Hanging of Angelique by Afua Cooper; North of the Color Line by Sarah-Jane Mathieu; Queer Returns by Rinaldo Walcott; Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard; and Viola Desmond’s Canada by Graham Reynolds.

The Book of Negroes, a novel by Lawrence Hill based on a true story, is another engaging read that gives a more Black-centred version of the experience of those who were granted freedom by the British for fighting the Americans.

Black History Month isn’t simply a history lesson, it’s also a celebration — of Black culture and the contributions of Black Canadians to our communities and country.

It is also an acknowledgment that throughout history and today, racialized populations have faced unfair obstacles and systemic discrimination. It is an opportunity to learn more, and to reflect on what it would take to create a truly post-racial society, free from prejudice and racism.

Jordan Wellwood is a resident of the Comox Valley. Wellwood and Nicolas Bussard are each parents to mixed-race children, committed to raising awareness of the issues their children will face as they grow.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Black History Month

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce hosted a virtual all candidates forum for the Coast Mountains School District trustee by-election on Feb. 23, 2021. (Screenshot/Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce Facebook)
Terrace trustee candidates lay out top priorites during virual all candidates forum

All candidates forum was held virtually on Feb. 23, 2021

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Murder charge laid in February 2020 stabbing death of Smithers man

Michael Egenolf is charged with the second-degree murder of Brodie Cumiskey

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Murder charge laid in February 2020 stabbing death of Smithers man

Michael Egenolf is charged with the second-degree murder of Brodie Cumiskey

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

The Majagaleehl Gali Aks Elementary School in Hazelton is being shut down for a week by the Gitanmaax Band Council following a confirmation of a COVID-19 exposure there on Feb. 26. (Black Press Media File Photo)
COVID-19 exposure notice shuts down Hazelton school

Closure to last for one week and school is to be sanitized

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

The machines are located in four cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Victoria

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

The incident happened in downtown Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar teen recounts stabbing after stranger breaks into grandmother’s house

The unnamed teen survived a terrifying attack Feb. 21

(Black Press file photo)
Agassiz boy, 11, dies from ‘extensive injuries’: Homicide team

Agassiz RCMP were called out Friday to assist with a child in medical distress

Dr. Amit Desai of St. Francis Hospital receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17. (Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan)
B.C. has now vaccinated more people from COVID-19 than total confirmed cases

B.C. has reached a milestone, vaccinating roughly 1.6% of its population from the coronavirus

Most Read