The Role of Slavery in Canadian History
Canada is further linked to the institution of enslavement through its history of international trade. Products such as salted cod and timber were exchanged for slave-produced goods such as rum, molasses, tobacco and sugar from slaveholding colonies in the Caribbean.
After the conquest of Canada, which turned New France into Quebec, slavery expanded, with British-American colonists settling in Canada with their slaves.
Just as importantly, Europeans viewed slavery in racial terms, with Indigenous and African people serving and white people ruling as masters. The transatlantic slave trade helped shape the presence and role of slavery in Canadian history. With the increasing use of African enslaved people in North America, a pattern of trade emerged that has since been called the “trade triangle.” European merchants would leave Europe for Africa, travelling in ships laden with goods. In Africa, they would exchange their goods for enslaved people and then transport them to the Americas, often in cramped and inhumane conditions. In the Americas, the surviving enslaved people would be sold and then goods produced by slave labour would be carried back to Europe for sale. Slavers saw their trade from a purely economic standpoint and viewed enslaved people as just another set of “goods” they could transport and sell. With this mentality, slavers denied the fundamental human rights of millions of African men and women (Charles G. Roland). Slavery continued after the British conquest of New France in 1763. The territory was eventually renamed British North America, and Black enslaved people came to replace Indigenous enslaved people. Compared to the United States, enslaved people made up a much smaller proportion of the population in British North America. This means that some of the worst traits of slavery in America, such as the employment of overseers and the horrible practice of forcing enslaved people to reproduce, did not happen in what is now Canada. It would be wrong, however, to suggest that enslaved people in British North America were well‐treated. The very nature of slavery meant that its victims were stripped of their basic human rights and exploited. Most wills from the time treated enslaved people as nothing more than property, passing on ownership of human beings the same as they would furniture, cattle or land (James A. Rawley, 2005). Defiant or troublesome enslaved people were often severely punished. Physical and sexual abuse was always a very real threat.
Their children were taken away to residential schools and/or given to white families for decades after that.
Charles G. Roland, “Slavery” in the Oxford Companion to Canadian History, 585.
Robin Winks, The Blacks in Canada: A History, second edition (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997), 9.
Canadian Museum of History, Virtual Museum of New France, Population, Slavery- will open in a new tab (accessed 22 August 2018).
James A. Rawley, The Translatlantic Slave Trade: A History, revised edition (Dexter, MI: Thomson‐Shore Inc., 2005), 7.
Ken Alexander and Avis Glaze, Towards Freedom: The African‐Canadian Experience (Toronto: Umbrella Press, 1996), 29.