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


For many Blacks, Canada was considered the promised land. Mary Ann Shadd recognized the fierceness of their hope and the fragility of it. She wanted to establish an integrated school because she feared that Blacks in Canada would become ghettoized and shunted out of the mainstream of society. For Mary Ann Shadd, integration meant being as self-sufficient as you could. But also it meant working in cooperation and living with others. She thought that white folks had as much to learn about Blacks as Blacks had to learn about whites. She believed it was better that people be integrated and to know each other.

There was still prejudice and discrimination in this promised land, and resistance to the idea of integration. Most of the Loyalist Blacks who came to Canada with their freedom were, as Shadd had feared, segregated by government policy into communities on the outskirts of larger white town. In Ontario, the Underground Railroad fugitives also tended to settle in segregated communities, but more for the sake of mutual support and protection against white Canadian population that wasn't always welcoming(5).

Earlier Loyalist migrants had brought Black slaves with them to New France. And slavery existed in Canada even when it came under British rule as British North America. In 1793 John Simcoe challenged the legality of slavery in Upper Canada. It became the only colony to legislate for the abolition of slavery, although through gradual emancipation - meaning that new slaves could no longer be bought or sold, but Blacks already enslaved would remain the property of their owners. By 1800, courts in other parts of British North America had moved to eliminate slavery and in August 1833 the British Parliament passed a law abolishing slavery in all the colonies. The law went into effect August of 1834(6).

Many white Canadians opposed slavery on moral grounds and assisted refugees from the US. Others feared the influx of Black immigrants, seeing them as backward, ignorant, immoral, criminal and an economic threat(7). Blacks were treated primarily as a source of cheap labour. Poverty was a common experience of early Black settlers(8). And even following the final abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1884, Blacks faced a great deal of social prejudice(9).

Racism against Blacks in Canada has existed at both the individual and institutional level has been reflected in restrictive immigration policies and practices against nonwhite immigrants(10). The Black population in Canada did not grow to a substantial number until the 1960's when changes in the Immigration Act removed a bias against nonwhite immigrants and permitted large numbers of West Indians and Africans to enter Canada. Between 1950 and 1995 there were abut 300,000 immigrants from the West Indies and over 150,000 from Africa, including people of Asian and European descent(11)

It was the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, led by Martin Luther King Jr., that encouraged the passage of civil rights legislation prohibiting discrimination for reason of colour, race, religion or national origin in the United States. The American civil rights movement bolstered Black Canadians' self-confidence and pride in themselves that led greater social inclusion and opportunity(12). Over the past twenty-five years in particular, provincial and federal governments have implemented multicultural and human rights legislation and policies(13).


6,8,10,11,13 - The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1998).

5,7,9,12 - The Black Canadians, Their History and Contribution
by Velma Carter and Levero Carter (Edmonton: Reidmore Books Inc., 1989).

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