Black Canadian

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The term Black Canadian refers to Canadian citizens who are of African descent. Black Canadians for the most part have recent origins in the Caribbean region, and to a lesser extent Africa and even Latin America. Some Black Canadians, like those in Nova Scotia, trace their ancestry to freed black American slaves who fled to Canada seeking refuge from American slavery and institutional racism.

Some people may also refer to black Canadians as Afro-Canadian or African-Canadian, although this term is not as prevalent as African-American in the United States. Caribbean-Canadian may also be used to refer to black Canadians of Caribbean birth or heritage, who form a much larger proportion of the black population in Canada than in the United States — in fact, over a third of Canada's black population is of Jamaican origin alone. Many Caribbean-Canadians strongly object to "African-Canadian" as obscuring their own culture and history, which partially accounts for the term's less prevalent use in Canada. More specific national terms such as Jamaican-Canadian, Haitian-Canadian or Nigerian-Canadian may also be used.

To date, however, there is no widely-used alternative to "black Canadian" which is accepted by both the African-Canadian and Caribbean-Canadian communities as an umbrella term for the group as a whole. A black Canadian, however, should never be referred to as "African-American".

According to the 2001 census, 662,215 Canadians identified themselves as black (of which 70 000 are mixed with other races), approximately two per cent of the entire Canadian population (Statistics Canada). The majority of black Canadians live in five major Canadian cities. As of 2001, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Halifax were home to approximately 78.4 percent of all black Canadians.

Many black Canadians still face challenges. According to the Ethnic Diversity Survey that was released in September 2003, nearly one-third (32%) of blacks said that they had experienced some form of racial discrimination or unfair treatment sometimes or often in the five years prior to 2003.

On September 27, 2005, former broadcaster Michaëlle Jean was installed as Canada's newest Governor General. Jean, a Canadian citizen of Haitian origin and birth, is the first black person in Canadian history appointed to the position.

Black immigration

Black people arrived in Canada in several waves of immigration. The first of these was a large group who came to Nova Scotia after the American War of Independence. About 2000 of these were the slaves of white United Empire Loyalists. A larger group, about 3500, were freemen, many just recently freed by British authorities.

Canada was not suited to the large-scale agricultural slavery practiced in the United States and slavery became increasingly uncommon. In 1793, in one of the first acts of the new Upper Canada colonial parliament, slavery was abolished. It was all but abolished throughout the other British North American colonies by 1800, and was completely illegal throughout the British Empire after 1834. This made Canada an attractive destination for those fleeing slavery in the United States. From the 1830s until the American Civil War began in 1861 the Underground Railroad brought tens of thousands of fleeing slaves to Canada, while many of these returned to the United States after emancipation a significant population remained, largely in Southern Ontario. A wave of black immigration to British Columbia coincided with that colony's gold rush of 1858, when half of the black population of San Francisco migrated to and settled in Victoria.

The next important period of migration was part of a general movement of Americans into the Canadian west in the early twentieth century. This included a significant number of blacks known as the Exodusters. At this point in Canada there were strong concerns about non-white immigration and the government attempted to limit black migration.

Restrictions on immigration remained until 1962 when racial rules were eliminated from the immigration laws. This coincided with the dissolution of the British Empire in the Caribbean, and over the next decades several hundred thousand blacks came from that region to Canada.

In the last couple of decades an increasing number of immigrants from Africa have been coming to Canada, as is the case with the U.S and Europe. This includes large numbers of refugees, but also many skilled workers pursuing better economic conditions. Today's black Canadians are largely of Caribbean origin, some of African origin (especially, but not exclusively, from Somalia) and smaller numbers from Latin American countries, but a sizable number of black Canadians descended from freed American slaves can still be found in the province of Nova Scotia and parts of Southwestern Ontario. However some descendants from the freed American black slaves, have mixed into the white Canadian community and have mostly lost their identity.

Where Canadian blacks come from:

Canada's blacks are diverse in religious belief. The vast majority of them are Christian, mostly African United Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal, and Roman Catholic.

Notable Black Canadians, past and present

Actors and directors



Politicians, public servants and soldiers

Writers, journalists and broadcasters

Other historical figures

Multiracial Canadians

Multiracial refers to people who are of mixed racial heritage.

There are a number of famous Canadians who are of mixed African/Caucasian or African/Asian descent.

Author Lawrence Hill published a bestselling memoir of his experiences as a multiracial Canadian, Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada, in 2001.

See also