Portraits of Black Canadians

Find out more about black Canadians who contributed to the building of Canada and who are making their mark every day.

From our archives

Danger, hardship, heroism and tragedy. All are features of black immigration to Canada in the nineteenth century.

The story of black immigration to Canada began 400 years ago with the arrival of the French at Port Royal. John Graves Simcoe, the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, signed the Act Against Slavery in 1793.

Many black people came to Canada by their own means. But the Underground Railroad, an informal network of people and places organized to help black people escaping slavery, was an important feature of immigration to Canada in the nineteenth century.

It’s estimated that between 20,000 and 40,000 black people arrived in Canada during the first half of the nineteenth century. Some consider that the number could be as high as 60,000.

Radio Canada International has produced a series of vignettes spotlighting some of the black Canadians that have marked the country’s past, as well as those that are marking Canada’s present.

Researchers: Nataly Lague, Audrey Flat

Editors: Suzanne Shugar, Audrey Flat

Translator: Nataly Laguë

Sound recording, sound effects, sound mixing: Angela Leblanc

Producer; casting, music selection: Suzanne Shugar

Executive Producer: Raymond Desmarteau

A Radio Canada International production

1 – Slavery Triangle
The transatlantic salve trade forced millions of black Africans into bondage.

2 – Mathieu DaCosta

The first recorded person of African origin to have set foot in Canada.

3 – Olivier Le Jeune

The first recorded black slave in Canada was a child.

4 – Slavery Laws

Laws legitimized the abuse of slaves.

5 – Slaves Rebels in America

Fuelled by their longing for freedom insurgent slaves retaliated against their owners.

6 – Africville in Nova Scotia

The heart of the African Canadian community was destroyed.

7 – Josiah Henson

The remarkable life of this slave inspired the creation of the famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

8 – Harriet Tubman

The courageous “conductor” on the Underground Railroad led hundreds of slaves to freedom in Canada

9 – Anti-Slavery Movement in Canada

Distinguished black and white activists campaigned for the abolition of slavery.

10 – The Press and the Anti- Slavery Movement

Leading Canadian publications advocated freedom from bondage.

11 – Mary Ann Shadd Cary

The first black female newspaper editor in North America.

12 – William Hall

The first black Canadian to earn the highest military distinction in the British Commonwealth.

13 – Sam langford

The formidable black boxer was also known as The Boston Terror.

14 – George Frederick Johnson

The brave young man who fought alongside Whites during World War Second.

15 – Lou Hooper

A descendant of fugitive slaves becomes a leading jazz pianist.

16 – Portia White

The classical concert signer from Nova Scotia achieved international fame World War Second.

17 – Oscar Peterson

The jazz legend’s unique technique redefined the art of playing the piano.

18 – Charlie Biddle

The beloved musician revolutionized the jazz music scene in Canada.

19 – Dr. Hervé Blanchard

The pioneer in pediatric liver transplants saved countless lives.

20 – Dany Laferrière

The author became a huge success by poking fun at racial stereotypes.

21 – Michaëlle Jean

Canada’s first black Governor General.

22 – George Elliott Clarke

The author describes the rich oral narratives and cultural traditions of Blacks in Nova Scotia.

23 – Maka Kotto

Poet, actor, stage director, and first black Afrcan elected to the Canadian Parliament.

24 – Suzette Mayr

The author spotlights issues involving race and ethnicity interethnic people.

25 – Donovan Bailey

The athlete’s meteoric rise to fame is one of Canada’s remarkable success stories.

26 – Black History Month

Every February Canadians celebrate the history of Blacks in Canada.

27 – Slavery Remembered

The abolition of slavery was commemorated in 2004.


RCI • Radio Canada International

Luc Simard – Director of Diversity and Relations. Radio-Canada


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