Canada will mark Emancipation Day on Sunday August 1st, the day in 1834 when slavery was officially abolished across the British Empire, and Canadians are being invited to reflect on the historical significance of this day and celebrate the strength and perseverance of Black communities in Canada.
An official commemoration event will be broadcast live on social media (Canadian Heritage | Facebook) from 2 pm EDT and special guests featured in the event include Prime Minister, the Rt. Honourable Justin Trudeau, Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, the Honourable Bardish Chagger, Senators Wanda Thomas Bernard and Rosemary Moodie, Dr. Afua Cooper, Historian and Professor of Black Studies, Dalhousie University, Webster, Quebec-based historian and rapper and Rosemary Sadlier, Historian and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consultant.
Canadian cities, institutions and faith groups are also planning events to mark the day.
People of all faith backgrounds are encouraged to join in a virtual ecumenical celebration of Emancipation Day by the Canadian Council of Churches on Sunday (a downloadable video resource to use in local contexts is provided: View here). Meanwhile, Canadian mosques will be acknowledging the day during the Friday sermon on July 30th.
Canadians are not always aware that Black and Indigenous Peoples were once enslaved on the land that is now Canada.
History texts tend to focus on the underground railroad, the network of routes and safe houses used to smuggle slaves from the U.S. to freedom in Canada and they gloss over Canada’s history of importing, owning and buying enslaved people.
The transatlantic slave trade caused the deaths of millions of African people and their descendants. Many lost their lives as resistance fighters, during long treks to slave ships, or from mistreatment and malnourishment during the journey across the Atlantic.
It is estimated that over 2 million African people died during that journey. In the end, most of the 12.5 million African captives were transported to Latin America and the Caribbean, while 6% were brought to North America.
Once landed in North America, enslaved Africans and their descendants were forced to work in fields, do manual labour and do domestic work in homes. They were forced to change their names, abandon their faiths, reject their cultures, and stop speaking their native tongues. The enslaved Africans were exposed to the most brutal forms of torture and abuse, all enforced by law.
Emancipation Day is about learning and understanding the history of slavery in Canada, reflecting on the present-day struggle for equality and preparing for a better future for all of us.