A History Exposed: The Enslavement of Black People in Canada

August 1, 2024 to January 5, 2025

For many, Canada’s connection to slavery is the Underground Railroad. Little-known by Canadians is what happened before the Underground Railroad when, for over two centuries, the majority of Black people in Canada were slaves. Slavery played a significant role in the early settlement of Canada and its legacy can be seen and felt today.

Opening on Emancipation Day, discover the experiences of enslaved Black people in Canada through individual biographies and archival records. Learn how slavery came to be in Canada and find out who were Canada’s enslavers.

Created with guest curator Dr. Afua Cooper and in partnership with the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia.

Supported by Scotiabank.

An old newspaper advertisement with black type describing a woman and boy to be sold.
Advertisement for the sale of a woman and her son in York (now Toronto), 1806.
Upper Canada Gazette, February 22, 1806, Archives of Ontario
A painting of two Black women using gardening tools while a white man watches over them and smokes.
Enslaved women clearing land for gardens in Maryland, 1798, typical of the enslaved labour sought for the colonies that would become Canada.
Maryland Center for History and Culture, 1960.
A painting of a Black woman dressed in long skirts and a shawl, carrying a torch at nighttime.
Marie-Josèphe Angélique (1705-1734) depicted by artist Marilyn Carr-Harris.
Courtesy of Dr. Afua Cooper
Two heavy iron rings joined by heavy chain.
Shackles like this reproduction, created by a blacksmith at Port Greville, Nova Scotia, were used on enslaved peoples in Canada.
Courtesy of Dr. Afua Cooper
An old newspaper advertisement with black type on yellowed paper describing a girl to be sold.
Royal Gazette, June 24, 1800, Nova Scotia Archives