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

An architectural rendering of the five storey condo building at 201/203 Dogwood Drive. (BJK Architecture photo)
Five storey condo building proposal at Dalby’s proceeds to public hearing stage

Frank and Mike Crucil of FMC Holdings are hoping to turn Dalby’s Automotive into a five storey condo

Jimmy Seymour was recognized for his outstanding work as the solid waste operator for Stz’uminus First Nation. (Submitted photo)
‘He has a way with the community’, Jimmy Seymour recognized for his dedication to Stz’uminus First Nation

Jimmy Seymour uses his job as solid waste operator to spread kindness through Stz’uminus

LSS’s Parallel Players are hosting an online improv show. (Parallel Players photo)
Ladysmith Secondary School improv team hosts livestream performance

Perfomances will be held Thursday, March 4 and Friday March 5 at 7 p.m.

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Missing woman’s remains recovered from Ladysmith harbour

The remains of a 60 year old woman were recovered after a boat fire took her life on Feb. 27

Ladysmith Secondary School. (File photo)
Ladysmith Secondary reports another COVID-19 exposure

This makes LSS the school with the most exposure days in the Island Health region currently

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

The intersection of Melrose Street and Third Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Suspect in custody after two pedestrians struck in Port Alberni hit and run

RCMP asking for video footage, credit witnesses for quick arrest

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

Comox Valley RCMP had access to 20 Street blocked off between Cousins and Choquette avenues as they conducted a raid of a house on the block. Photo by Terry Farrell
Comox Valley RCMP raid Courtenay problem house, several arrests made

Comox Valley RCMP conducted a raid of a problem house on 20th… Continue reading

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

Most Read