A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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BREAKING THE ICE: The Mary Ann Shadd Story
Immigration History

In 1851 Mary Ann Shadd embarked on a journey to Canada. She had been invited to teach school to escaped American slaves. Mary Ann hadn't fled the United States; she and her brother who would follow, along with the entire Shadd family did not come from a background of slavery. They had always been free and had been, as much as possible, part of mainstream American society.

But the Shadds were unusual. Between 1763 and 1865, most Blacks migrating to Canada were fleeing the shackles of slavery in the United States(1). When the American colonies won independence from Britain in 1783, many Blacks who had sided with the Loyalists fled America for the safety of British territories. Canada was one place of refuge. Thousands of Black Loyalists flooded across the border. A small number moved to Upper Canada, which later became the province of Ontario, but by far the largest number, approximately 3,500, settled in the Maritimes, particularly in Nova Scotia(2).

During the War of 1812, another wave of Black immigrants, almost two thousand, came to Canada. Again, many of them had taken sides with the British over the Americans. They were lured by promises that their loyalty would be rewarded with freedom and land grants. In fact, the land was often rocky, if it existed at all. Some refugees had to wait until as late as the 1840's for their land.

The largest number of American Blacks arrived in Canada independent of any promises. They came along a network of secret routes known as the Underground Railway. This secret passage started operating in the 1780s. It is estimated that by the end of the American Civil War as many as 30,000 slaves had escaped along the Underground Railroad to find freedom on their way to Canada(3)

When American slavery ended in 1865 , many thousands of Canadian Blacks returned to the US. But Black Americans continued to come to Canada in small numbers over the next century, mostly in response to the legal and social inequalities of Blacks in American society(4).

Endnotes

1,3,4 - The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1998).

2 - The Black Canadians, Their History and Contribution
by Velma Carter and Levero Carter (Edmonton: Reidmore Books Inc., 1989).

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