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

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 80+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

The Majagaleehl Gali Aks Elementary School in Hazelton is being shut down for a week by the Gitanmaax Band Council following a confirmation of a COVID-19 exposure there on Feb. 26. (Black Press Media File Photo)
COVID-19 exposure notice shuts down Hazelton school

Closure to last for one week and school is to be sanitized

Dave Livesey, right, has been elected as Telkwa councillor defeating Klaus Kraft (middle) and Erik Jacobsen. (Interior News composite photo)
Dave Livesey elected to Telkwa council

Livesey received 60 votes to Klaus Kraft’s 51 and Erik Jacobsen’s 34 in preliminary results

Smithers Local Health Area reported just one new case of COVID-19 from Feb. 14-20. (BC CDC graphic)
Local weekly COVID infections drop to one

The Smithers Local Health Area (Houston to Witset) reported a single case between Feb. 14 and20

A health care worker prepares to test a Coastal GasLink field worker for COVID-19. (Coastal GasLink photo)
Coastal GasLink begins COVID screening of pipeline workers

Construction is once again ramping up following Northern Health approval of COVID management plan

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
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

Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

(Black Press file photo)
Child in critical condition, homicide investigators probe incident near Agassiz

The child was transported to hospital but is not expected to survive

Sewage plant in Lower Mainland, operated by Metro Vancouver. (Metro Vancouver screenshot)
‘Poop tracker’ launches as researchers test Lower Mainland sewage water for COVID-19

‘Studying the virus in wastewater allows researchers to look at an entire population…’

(Pxhere)
Compensation fund opens for B.C. students negatively affected by incorrect exam marks

Marks for 2019 provincial exams were incorrectly tabulated

Most Read