April 10, 2012
Africans in Canada

The first known Black in Canada is Mathieu de Costa, in 1608, an interpreter to the Micmac Nation. The first known slave in Canada, Oliver Le Jeune, is recorded in 1628. He had been captured in Africa as a child, at six years of age, and was transported to Canada by English invader, David Kirke. He was sold to a Canadian resident when Kirke left in 1629. Baptized in 1633, he was given the last name of one of his owners, who was a priest. Le Jeune died in 1654.

From 1628 to 1759 (when the British conquered New France), 1132 slaves were transported to New France, all of African descent. In 1688, Governor Denonville’s request for royal permission to import slaves directly from Africa was denied. A direct slave trade from Africa to Canada was never established.

Slavery in Canada remained virtually nonexistent, due to a short growing season and the economic impracticality of housing and feeding idle slaves over the winter months. Most of the slaves were “body” or family servants for wealthy officials or for families living in urban areas. Unlike the large plantations in the South, where a large number of slaves were owned, Canadian households tended to have one slave only or, at the most, a very small number. Slaves usually served the same family during their lifetime. Very few slaves were in the Owen Sound area during the eighteenth century; most tended to be south, in the Niagara area. The majority of slaves in Canada originated from either the French West Indies or the colonies of British North America. Of the total brought to Canada, about 40% were female and 60% male.

With the fight for independence from the British in 1776 came an awareness of the slaves in the colonies; the antislavery movement began to take hold in the Northern colonies. Slaves who fought in the war against the British were granted their freedom, creating a fairly substantial class of free Blacks in both the North and the South. Yet again, freedom for Black American citizens was not equal to that of free whites; there were still limitations place on them.

In 1779, all Black men, women and children were invited to fight for the British against the Americans in the American Revolution; they were promised their freedom in return. Ten percent of the Loyalists that arrived in the Maritimes at this time were Black. White Loyalists fleeing to Canada brought with them about 2000 slaves. The majority (about 1200) of Blacks settled, with their owners, in the three Eastern provinces of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. About 500 were in Ontario (Upper Canada) and 300 in Quebec (Lower Canada). Here, too, slave numbers per household were small and most were domestic servants, farm hands and skilled artisans.