It was not until 1833, that the British government passed a law outlawing slavery in their colonies. It would be a further 32 years and a bloody civil war that finally ended slavery in the United States. The early Black settlers to Canada experienced, not only the hardships which other immigrants faced - harsh climate, soul wrenching poverty - but they had to deal with the racism and prejudice which was blatant in Canada. The first Blacks who came to Canada came in chains. The first wave of Blacks who arrived on their own were Black Loyalist following the American Revolution. Unlike their White counterparts, these Blacks did not receive huge land grants in return for their loyalty. Many did not receive a grant at all, and those who did, received on average 34 acres of poor land.
Blacks were not allowed to worship in the same church as the Whites. This resulted in them forming their own branch of the Baptist or Methodist churches. They were encouraged to send their children to segregated schools. The Black education system was underfunded, the buildings in disrepair and the teachers were often not qualified.
Blacks who came to Canada either as United Empire Loyalists, War of 1812 veterans or via the underground railroad, settled in rural Black communities. Collectively, they were able to better combat racial road blocks. These communities were centered around the church.
In 1911, the Canadian Government passed a series of discriminatory adaptions to the Immigration Act with the aim of preventing Blacks from emigrating to Canada. The basis behind these changes were that the Black race would not be able to adapt to the harsh Canadian climate. The irony behind this was that there had been Blacks living in Canada since the 1600's. There certainly was no concern for the well-being of the Blacks brought to Canada in chains. The policies which prevented Blacks from emigrating to Canada were not lifted until after World War II.
Black Canadians have proven their loyalty to the British over and over again - The American Revolution; The War of 1812; rebellion of 1837, and during the Fenian raids. When war broke out in 1914, young Black men, like their White counterparts, flocked to enlist. They were not allowed to serve. The feeling was that this was a White man's war and that the Blacks had no business fighting in it.
Wanting to their bit, the Blacks formed their own battalion, No. 2 Construction Battalion of Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1916. This was a 600 member segregated labour battalion which spent the last two years of the war building and repairing the railways of France. The officers of this Battalion were all White with one exception, Reverend William White. Rev. White was the only Black officer in the British Army, and Chaplain for Canada's segregated regiment.
After the Immigration Act was changed in 1911, there was very little in the way of new emigration. Black communities, located mainly in the Maritimes and Ontario, were largely self- contained. The education system within these communities was poor, therefore, they tended to be poorly educated and unskilled. They were disproportionally represented in jobs like railway porters and maids.
Canada went to war again in 1939. This time, Blacks were allowed to join the army. At the conclusion of the war, shaken by the brutality of the Third Reich, Canada moved to get rid of existing racial and religious barriers, making it against the law to prevent entry or employment to a person because of skin colour or religious affiliation. In 1965, the last segregated school in Ontario was closed.
The Immigration Department lifted the restrictions which had been preventing Blacks from immigrating to Canada. As a result between 1950 and 1965, 300,000 immigrants from the West Indies and approximately 150,000 immigrants from Africa arrived in Canada. They were better educated and more skilled than the existing Black Canadians. The immigrants tended to settle in the cities of Canada. They had come to Canada seeking a better life, and worked towards knocking down racial barriers.
Today, there are three main groups of Blacks living in Canada. The old Black families who have been here for generations, the new immigrants, and the children of the new immigrants. While the new immigrants and their children are educated and often qualified lawyers, doctors and engineers, the Blacks who have been here for generations still tend to be under-represented in these fields.