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Black Enslavement in Canada

In early Canada, the enslavement of African peoples was a legal instrument that helped fuel colonial economic enterprise. The buying, selling and enslavement of Black people was practiced by European traders and colonists in New France in the early 1600s, and lasted until it was abolished throughout British North America in 1834. During that two-century period, settlers in what would eventually become Canada were involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Canada is further linked to the institution of enslavement through its history of international trade. Products such as salted cod and timber were exchanged for slave-produced goods such as rum, molasses, tobacco and sugar from slaveholding colonies in the Caribbean. 

This is the full-length entry about Black enslavement in Canada. For a plain language summary, please see Black Enslavement in Canada (Plain Language Summary).

(See also Olivier Le Jeune; Sir David KirkeChloe Cooley and the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada; Underground Railroad; Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; Slavery Abolition Act, 1833Slavery of Indigenous People in Canada.)

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Black Enslavement in Canada (Plain-Language Summary)

The practice of slavery was introduced by colonists in New France in the early 1600s. The practice was continued after the British took control of New France in 1760 (see British North America.) For about two hundred years, thousands of Indigenous and Black African people were bought, sold, traded and inherited like property in early Canada. Slavery was abolished (made illegal) throughout British North America in 1834.

(This article is a plain-language summary of slavery in Canada. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry on Black Enslavement in Canada.)

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Black Fur Traders in Canada

The role of Black people within the history of the fur trade is rarely considered. Black people were rarely in a position to write their own stories, so often those stories went untold. This owes to a complex set of factors including racism and limited access to literacy. Black people are also not the focus of many historical documents. However, historians have identified several Black fur traders working in different roles, and even an entire family of Black fur traders who left their mark on history.

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Black History in Canada until 1900

Black people have lived in Canada since the beginnings of transatlantic settlement. Although historically very few arrived directly from their ancestral homeland in Africa, the term "African Canadian" is used to identify all descendants of Africa regardless of their place of birth. “Black Canadian” is also used as a more general term. The earliest arrivals were enslaved people brought from New England or the West Indies. Between 1763 and 1900, most Black migrants to Canada were fleeing enslavement in the US. (See also Black Enslavement in Canada.)

See also Black History in Canada: 1900–1960 and Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present.

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Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present

Black people have lived in Canada since the 17th century. Some of the earliest arrivals were enslaved persons brought from what we now call the United States of America and from the Caribbean. (See Black Canadians; Caribbean Canadians.) From the 18th century to the 1960s, most Black immigrants to Canada were fleeing enslavement and/or discrimination in the United States. Since then, changes to Canadian immigration policy have led to an influx of immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa. (See African Canadians.) In the 2016 Canadian census, 1.2 million people (3.5 per cent of the Canadian population) reported being Black.. Despite ongoing challenges, including discrimination and systemic racism, Black Canadians have excelled in sectors and industries across the country.

See also Black History in Canada until 1900 and Black History in Canada: 1900–1960.

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Black Lives Matter-Canada

Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a decentralized movement to end anti-Black racism. It was founded as an online community in the United States in 2013 in response to the acquittal of the man who killed Black teenager Trayvon Martin. Its stated mission is to end white supremacy and state-sanctioned violence and to liberate Black people and communities. The Black Lives Matter hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) has been used to bring attention to discrimination and violence faced by Black people. BLM has chapters in the United States and around the world. There are five chapters in Canada: Toronto (BLM-TO), Vancouver (BLM-VAN), Waterloo Region, Edmonton, and New Brunswick.

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Black Volunteers in the First World War

Archivist Barbara M. Wilson explores the significance of a letter sent to Sir Sam Hughes by George Morton, a letter carrier, barber and civil rights advocate from Hamilton, Ontario. In his letter, dated 7 September 1915, Morton asked the minister of militia and defence why members of the Black community were being turned away when trying to enlist for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War.

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Black Voting Rights in Canada

The history of Black Canadian voting rights is marked by contrasting shifts. Enslaved during the period 1600–1834, Black persons could not vote. Emancipated, they were entitled to the rights, freedoms and privileges enjoyed by British subjects, including the franchise; however, racial discrimination did at times impede Black Canadians’ right to vote. The rights and freedoms of Black women were further restricted by virtue of their sex.

Black communities in Canada represent an array of experiences, below are some that relate to the right to vote.

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Blackfoot Confederacy

The Blackfoot Confederacy, sometimes referred to as the Blackfoot Nation or Siksikaitsitapi, is comprised of three Indigenous nations, the Kainai, Piikani and Siksika. People of the Blackfoot Nation refer to themselves as Niitsitapi, meaning “the real people,” a generic term for all Indigenous people, or Siksikaitsitapi, meaning “Blackfoot-speaking real people.” The Confederacy’s traditional territory spans parts of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as northern Montana. In the 2016 census, 22,490 people identified as having Blackfoot ancestry.

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Brent Carver

Brent Christopher Carver, actor (born 17 November 1951 in Cranbrook, BC; died 4 August 2020 in Cranbrook). Brent Carver was one of Canada’s most versatile and soulful actors. He tackled the classics at the Stratford Festival (1980–87) and gave critically acclaimed performances in musical theatre, cabaret and film. The New York Times described him as “sensitive, soft-spoken yet nakedly emotional.” His performance in the 1993 Broadway production of Kiss of the Spider Woman earned him a Tony Award. Associated with Robin Phillips, who directed him both at Stratford and at Theatre London (1983–84), Carver also worked closely with John Neville at Edmonton's Citadel Theatre. Carver received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2014.

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Brethren in Christ

Brethren in Christ (identified as "Tunkers" in Canada in the 19th century) were a group of Christians who shared the Anabaptist belief in adult baptism.

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Brothers of the Christian Schools

The Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools is a Catholic religious order founded by Jean-Baptiste de La Salle in France in 1680. In Canada, members are generally referred to as Christian Brothers or De La Salle Brothers. They are not to be confused with the Congregation of Christian Brothers who were founded by Edmund Rice in Ireland in 1802 and whose members in Canada were also called Christian Brothers or Irish Christian Brothers. The Brothers of the Christian Schools were a major force in Catholic education in Canada, especially in Quebec. They first arrived in Montreal in 1837, then experienced numeric growth, geographic expansion and a solid reputation over the next 125 years. The Brothers underwent a significant exodus and decline in vocations with the dramatic religious and social changes spawned by the Second Vatican Council and the Quiet Revolution.

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Byelorussian Canadians

Byelorussian Canadians (Byelarussians, Belarusians) originate from Belarus and are considered an eastern Slavic people. In 2016, 20,710 Canadians reported themselves as being mainly or partly Byelorussian.

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Cabbagetown

Cabbagetown, a district in east-central Toronto, the general boundaries of which are the Don River on the east, Parliament St on the west, Gerrard St on the north, and Queen St on the south.

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Cambodian or Khmer Canadians

Immigration of Cambodians to Canada is relatively recent. From 1980 to 1992, Canada welcomed more than 18,000 Cambodia refugees who were fleeing the Khmer Rouge regime. They settled in Canada’s major urban areas. In the 2016 Census, 38,490 people reported being of Cambodian ethnic origin. Over the years since Cambodians began immigrating to Canada, many Cambodian Canadians have become distinguished in their fields; examples include actress Ellen Wong, journalist Chan Tep and graffiti artist FONKi.