Emancipation Day comes to Canada

There’s so much happening in our little corner of Canada this weekend.

You might say that in New Brunswick we are being emancipated from the emergency restrictions put in place to combat COVID.  Starting yesterday, the province that cut off non-essential travel not just with Maine but also with all provinces west of here way back in March of last year, is now fully open to Canadians from across the country, with no border checks, registration requirements, or COVID tests.  Yikes, that will be a bit unnerving.  Masking and social distancing will now be up to individual establishments and individual citizens to determine.  That will take some figuring out.  One day in, most people are wearing their masks in most indoor places. Personally, I hope it stays that way.


Tomorrow is New Brunswick Day, a statutory provincial holiday when we all get a summer day off to appreciate how lucky we are to live in this beautiful, relatively peaceful place.  As the only officially bilingual province – and the lobster capital of the world – we have much to be thankful for!

But today, August 1, is also a special day.  A very special day.  Today is a newly proclaimed day of recognition in Canada, Emancipation Day.  I just wish there had been more news coverage of this impending Day in advance so more of us could participate in events.  But we will do a better job of that next year now that we know.  We should all be glad Emancipation Day has arrived.


The history behind Emancipation Day in Canada is worth sharing.  Some version of this history exists everywhere, and recognition of this history is critical, as is proactively overcoming the continuing injustices and discrimination stemming from this history.

In March of this year, Canada’s Parliament unanimously voted to recognize August 1 as Emancipation Day, the day on which in 1833 the British Parliament voted to make slavery illegal and which came into effect on August 1, 1834.  Several other countries that were part of the British Empire at that time have recognized Emancipation Day for several years; it is reassuring that Canada has come on board.  My guess is that Black Lives Matters deserves a lot of credit for this recognition becoming a reality.

Having Emancipation Day does not preclude the need to focus on being proactive in teaching the experiences of Black people in Canada from the early days and especially to work hard at eradicating systemic racism.  These actions need to be everyday occurrences, with Emancipation Day being an annual day to celebrate successes toward that end and also the many contributions of Black Canadians to our multicultural society.

A few Canadians will be aware that some of the United Empire Loyalists who fled the American colonies during the Revolutionary War because of their allegiance to the King, arriving in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and also southern Ontario, brought their slaves with them.  More Canadians would probably be shocked by this.  In fact, according to some historians, upwards to 4200 people were enslaved in New France, which is now Quebec, and then in Lower and Upper Canada (Quebec and Ontario) between the early 1670s and 1834.  In other words, long before the fleeing United Empire Loyalists arrived in the 1780s, slavery was well established in what is now Canada.  In those early days, undoubtedly some Indigenous people were enslaved as well as Black people.

Historical descriptions have a tendency to minimize the brutal reality for the enslaved through their detached wording.  It is of course true that for many, many people around the world both then and now, their lives aren’t far off enslavement.  They may work for factory owners or owners of mines who keep them literally on “slave” wages, so that they can barely stay alive, but staying alive requires them to be bonded to a life of terrible hardship.  This is should be criminal everywhere, but sadly it isn’t.

But slavery means more than this.  Slaves are considered chattel – goods owned by someone else.  The well-off of the United Empire Loyalists would have brought their slaves just as they brought their furniture and other belongings.  And if they wanted to sell them – or their spouses or children – they could and would do so.  If they wanted to punish them or abuse them in any way, that went with the territory.  Certainly there must have been some kind slave owners, just as there were undoubtedly a few kind nuns in some of the more than one hundred residential schools, but don’t kid yourself, for most people in these heinous situations, being enslaved was – and is – wretched, degrading, and inhumane.


The saddest part of all is that when the campaigns for abolition were finally won in Britain and its colonies, instead of people realizing that the wrongs that had been done to Black people needed to be corrected and atoned for, the attitude towards those who had been formerly enslaved did not die with emancipation.  They may have become freemen and women, but that didn’t include anything resembling respect, desegregation, or equal opportunities, not for a very, very long time.

And it is this long, long, inexcusable period of time in which Black people in Canada have continued to endure racism in so many avenues of society that has to change.  From the assumption on the part of some police that a Black man is guilty until proven otherwise to being passed over for positions for which they are clearly qualified, systemic racism is a scourge that has gone on for too long.

I hope and trust that this first ever Emancipation Day in Canada is the beginning of serious societal changes for the better.  Changes that come from action, bringing about a fully just and fair society where everyone is respected for who they can be.  Here’s to Canada’s first Emancipation Day.

Image source: CBC

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34 Responses to Emancipation Day comes to Canada

  1. Pingback: Emancipation Day comes to Canada – Nelsapy

  2. Re-blogged this on chopkins2x3 … so well written and a must read for Canadians who think slavery was more or less something that happened in other countries but not here. When I learned of this fact I was rather shocked. Canada has, by and large, kept this a secret. It is part of our past that, like residential schools, is a shameful part of Canadian history. Thanks for bringing awareness to a seldom recognized fact of life.

  3. Canada leads by example again. What a great thing. – Marty

  4. I appreciate the history you shared, Jane. It wasn’t something we were taught in school, and I didn’t realize slavery was so deeply entrenched in Canadian society for as long as it was. Another reason not to think of ourselves as any better than other countries. Granted, measures are being taken to do better, but is it enough?

    • Jane Fritz says:

      So much human suffering in the history of every country. We can keep getting better, but only if we know our full history so we can know where we’ve come from and how far we have to go. Let’s hope that once Emancipation Day in Canada gains traction it will be a positive step for raising awareness and action towards overcoming racism.

  5. Somehow, I was unaware that Canada has a history of slavery, as well as the US. Thank you for this post that raised my awareness.

  6. Best to all of you! The U.S. is a mess right now with the Delta variant ripping through the country. Hope it doesn’t go north. Also, excellent thoughtful post.

  7. Inkplume says:

    Thanks for this post. Emancipation Day is a step forward but we still have work to do. For example, racial profiling by police officers in Quebec is still ongoing with more black men being stopped and/or accused of things for seemingly no reason except the color of their skin.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Linda. Yes, indeed, we have miles to go to overcome systemic racism in our social institutions and discrimination more generally, and most definitely not just in Quebec! I hope having an annual Emancipation Day will keep a strong light focused on public understanding and overcoming these injustices.

  8. heimdalco says:

    A commendable forward step for Canada. It amazes me how long it has taken for the US especially to come as far as it has … which isn’t far enough. I can’t imagine what slaves must have endured … and endure with only an upgrade to current day. May we learn to appreciate each other for our gifts and diversity.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I know. It’s beyond shameful how long it takes for some human beings to treat others with the respect they deserve. Your concluding sentence says it all: May we learn to appreciate each other for our gifts and diversity.

  9. Gallivanta says:

    Thank you for this most interesting post. Like you,” I just wish there wasn’t so much need for social justice … and compassion”. Although this has little to do with Emancipation Day, you may be interested in this long overdue apology which was given in New Zealand yesterday. It is a start. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/pm-jacinda-ardern-delivers-formal-apology-on-dawn-raids-at-auckland-town-hall/5QDI3T3VV4KM5ZCOOQQ4AEUT2I/

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks so much for including this link, Gallivanta. I had seen a headline about Arden’s apology, but hadn’t read the story. We humans have such a long way to go, but at least some are headed in the right direction. Slowly, but hopefully surely.

  10. Diane Taylor says:

    Jane, I am so glad Cynthia has reposted this as we, in Canada, need to become more aware that slavery existed here and that remnants still remain. I live in Port Hope, Ontario, and a local historian has done extensive research on the first arrivals who settled here in 1790. A group of about 20 United Empire Loyalists walked from the US around the eastern end of Lake Ontario to the Ganaraska River on the north shore of Lake Ontario with their slaves. Wish I knew the exact number of slaves, but if I remember right from a talk the historian gave, it was four or five. Also, Lawrence Hill in The Book of Negroes (2007) shows copies of Halifax newspaper ads offering rewards for capturing slaves who had run away in 1772. So, this our first Emancipation Day is a good place to start for touching the truth of the past, and in turn this can lead to greater equity.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I really appreciate your comment, Diane. I thought a lot about Lawrence Hill’s Book of Negroes and also Any Known Blood when I was thinking about all the history we should be taught. Let’s hope that Emancipation Day becomes a day that gains in significance every year for the reasons you state, along with Reconciliation Day!

  11. Kudos to Canada on taking this step. Hopefully, it’s another way toward healing, atoning, and finding ways to move forward.

  12. Thanks, Jane. The fact that enslaved people in the UK, the US, Canada and the Caribbean were not allowed to own property or be paid for their work explains why there is so little generational wealth among the descendants of those enslaved Africans, versus White people in the same regions who were paid for work and allowed to own property. It’s one of the big reasons why there is still such income disparity today.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for this, Cynthia. This is really important. I’m going to think about whether to add it into this post or feature this fact in a future social justice post. I just wish there wasn’t so much need for social justice … and compassion … in the world. I hope you are well and staying safe.

      • Thanks for posting it in the first place, Jane. I appreciate the subjects you tackle and am thankful you don’t shy away from the tough stuff. I do sometimes, you know. I get tired of the fight sometimes. Bless you for being there.

        • Jane Fritz says:

          Thanks for the encouragement, Cynthia. I definitely find that I get more hits on my family and fun posts than on my social injustice and angst posts, but it helps me keep my sanity to express my angst through writing. I just wish there were more I could do.

        • Same here, so I know it happens to you too. I often think: If people get tired hearing about racism and other forms of social injustice, can they imagine what it’s like to be oppressed by it?

        • Jane Fritz says:

          I know. Despite all the other stresses people are facing these days which may make them prefer not to have to consider bad news, racism and inequality (and climate change) are too critical to stay silent about. They simply can’t be ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

  13. Blogger friend Jane Fritz shares this interesting post about Emancipation Day in Canada.

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