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

Cloverdale robbery suspect. (Surrey RCMP photo)
Man charged in relation to four separate robberies in Cloverdale

Jake Eric Henderson allegedly committed four gas station robberies in January

A memorial to Hudson Brooks grew quickly outside the South Surrey RCMP detachment following his July 2015 death at the hands of police. (File photo)
Inquest yields ‘sliver of justice’ for South Surrey’s Hudson Brooks: brother

Beau Brooks says he’s not optimistic call for increased RCMP training will bear fruit

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Tribunal to hear transgender inmate’s human rights complaint against Surrey Pretrial

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Saulteaux Cree – Saskatchewan hide and rabbit moccasins by Edith Cyr (1914-2000). (Shared with permission by Diane Jubinville)
Delta students to ‘Roc their Mocs’ March 11

Event to “teach about diversity, identity of different cultures around the world”

An eagle sits in trees overlooking 1001 Steps in South Surrey, January 2021. The City of Surrey has received international recognition as a ‘tree city’ but an environmental group calls it an ‘empty accolade.’ (Tracy Holmes photo)
Environment organization calls Surrey’s ‘tree city’ designation ‘empty accolade’

Committee chair Allison Patton says international recognition is encouraging and sets a trend

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. top doctor has power to restrict access to a place during health hazard: lawyer

Under B.C.’s Public Health Act, Jacqueline Hughes says, Henry can restrict or prevent entry to a place

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
B.C. dentists and bus drivers want newly-approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine

BC Dental Association says dentists and their teams cannot treat patients remotely

President of the BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) Teri Mooring is calling for teachers to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by summer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Why it’s ‘urgent’ B.C. teachers get vaccinated from COVID-19 before summer

President Teri Mooring says not enough is being done to prevent virus transmission in schools

Most Read