Image of the Black Liberation flag
The Black Liberation flag was raised at Toronto City Hall to mark Emancipation Month.

Emancipation Month recognizes the struggle for human rights and the rich contributions made by people of African descent. Recognizing Emancipation Month in August acknowledges an abhorrent period in our history and our ongoing commitment to eliminate discrimination in all forms.

John Tory Mayor of Toronto - Proclamation

Emancipation Month

August 2020

WHEREAS Emancipation Month recognizes the struggle for human rights made by freedom-seeking Canadians of African descent. The month is an opportunity to acknowledge the legacy and history of slavery in Canada while celebrating the rich contributions that people of African descent have made to our city and country.

By recognizing Emancipation Day on August 1 and Emancipation Month during August, we acknowledge an unforgiving period within our history and the importance of our ongoing commitment to eliminate discrimination in all its forms. The month of August marks many significant milestones in the struggles and successes faced by people of African descent on a journey that led to the abolition of slavery.

For over 400 years, more than 15 million men, women, and children of African descent were the victims of the transatlantic slave trade – one of history’s darkest chapters. The enslavement of African people occurred on these lands until 1834.  We also recognize that there are legacies of slavery that continue to impact the lives of people of African descent around the world and in our own City, that we need to collectively address.

The campaign to abolish the slave trade began when Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe legally restricted the cross-border trading of slaves in Upper Canada, achieved through the passage for the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada, on July 9, 1793. All slavery was formally abolished within British colonies under the Slavery Abolition Act on August 28, 1833.

Toronto City Council and the people of Toronto are working hard to establish a caring and compassionate society in which all its members, regardless of race or ethnic origin, have the right to live in conditions of good health, safety, dignity, respect and peace.

NOW THEREFORE, I, Mayor John Tory, on behalf of Toronto City Council, do hereby proclaim August 2020 as “Emancipation Month” in the City of Toronto.

The month of August marks many significant milestones in the struggles and successes faced by people of African descent on a journey that led to the abolition of slavery.

  • 1608 – First Black person in Canada
    The first Black person thought to have set foot on land now referred to as Canada, was Mathieu Da Costa, a free man who was hired as an interpreter for Samuel de Champlain’s 1605 excursion.


  • 1628 – First known enslaved person recorded in historical records
    Olivier LeJeune, who was 6 years old, was the first recorded enslaved person, from the country now known as Madagascar.


  • 1689 – Louis XIV authorizes slavery in New France
    King Louis XIV formally authorized slavery in New France.


  • Spring 1734 – Marie-Joseph Angelique is tortured and hanged
    Enslaved Black woman Marie- Josephe Angélique was accused of setting fire to the house of her “owner” in Montréal. Although it remains unclear whether Angélique actually set the fire, she was tortured and hanged for her “crime.”


  • 1776 – Black Loyalists reach Nova Scotia
    The British promised freedom, land and rights to slaves and free Black people who settle in Nova Scotia, in exchange for service during the American Revolution, 1775–1783.


  • July 26-27, 1784 – Canada’s first race riot rocks Nova Scotia
    The Black Loyalists were among the first settlers in Shelburne, Nova Scotia. They established their own community, Birchtown. Hundreds of White, disbanded soldiers started a riot when they found themselves competing for jobs with Black neighbours who were paid less for the same work.


  • 1790 – Imperial Statute
    The Imperial Statute of 1790 effectively allowed settlers to bring enslaved persons to Upper Canada. Under the statute, those enslaved only needed to be fed and clothed.


  • January 15, 1792 – The Black Loyalist exodus
    In the face of widespread discrimination and due to difficulty in supporting themselves, almost 1,200 Black Loyalists left Halifax and relocated to Africa (Sierra Leone).


  • June 19, 1793 – Upper Canada’s Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe’s Anti-Slave Trade Bill
    Attorney General White introduced Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe’s anti-slavery measure and it passed. While the bill did not ban slavery completely, it marked its gradual prohibition.


  • 1794 – The Petition of Free Negroes
    Richard Pierpoint and other Black veterans petitioned the government of Upper Canada to grant them land adjacent to each other rather than disperse it amongst White settlers. The Petition of Free Negroes, as it was known, aimed to create a Black community where members would help and support each other. The petition was rejected for unknown reasons.


  • July 22, 1796 – The Maroons land at Halifax
    A group of almost 600 freedom fighters called Maroons landed in Halifax. They came from the Jamaican community of escaped enslaved people, who guarded their freedom for more than a century and fought off countless attempts to re-enslave them. Once in Nova Scotia, they helped build Citadel Hill, were part of a militia unit, cleared woods for roads, and were employed as general labourers.


  • 1800 – Canada’s second Back to Africa Movement
    After several years of neglect, poor conditions and intolerance, several hundred Jamaican Maroons abandoned Nova Scotia and set sail for Freetown, Sierra Leone.


  • 1812-1815 – The “Coloured Troops’ and the War of 1812
    Thousands of Black volunteers fought for the British during the War of 1812.


  • 1825 – Prince Edward Island abolishes slavery


  • 1815-1860 – The Underground Railroad
    Canada’s reputation as a safe haven for Black people grew during and after the War of 1812. Between 1815 and 1860, tens of thousands of African- Americans bravely sought refuge in Canada via the legendary Underground Railroad.


  • August 28, 1833 – British Parliament abolishes slavery
    Slavery was abolished throughout the British colonies by an Imperial Act that took effect on August 1, 1834. Many Canadians continue to celebrate August 1 as Emancipation Day.


  • 1850 – Fugitive Slave Act
    The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was enacted by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850. It greatly influenced the migration of African- Americans into Canada. It was repealed on June 28, 1864.


  • February 26, 1851 – Formation of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada
    The number of abolitionist sympathizers grew in Canada in the 1850s–1860s. The Anti- Slavery Society of Canada was formed “to aid in the extinction of Slavery all over the world.”


  • 1861 – The Victoria Pioneer Rifles
    In 1851, James Douglas became the first appointed Black politician in Canada and then took over as governor of the colony of British Columbia. He invited African-Americans to emigrate from California to Victoria to establish Canada’s first and only all-Black police force.


  • 1911 – Anti-Black Campaign
    By 1909, hundreds of Black people from Oklahoma moved to the Canadian Prairies, where they were met with severe discrimination. In 1911, a few newspapers in Winnipeg even predicted that the Dominion government would move to exclude “Negro immigrants.”


  • 1914-1918 – Black Canadian involvement in the First World War
    In 1916, military officials authorized the creation of the No. 2 Construction Battalion. This battalion made up exclusively Black soldiers was not permitted to fight. Instead, they served in France with the Canadian Forestry Corps.


  • 1939-1945 – Black Canadian involvement in the Second World War
    The Canadian military initially rejected Black volunteers, but many were later accepted into the Regular Army and officer corps. On the home front, the all-Black Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was one of the greatest success stories of the war years.


  • March 14, 1944 – Ontario passes Racial Discrimination Act
    Ontario was the first province to respond to the battle against oppression when it passed the Racial Discrimination Act of 1944. It was landmark legislation prohibiting the publication and display of any symbol, sign, or notice that expressed ethnic, racial, or religious discrimination. On April 1 1947, The Saskatchewan Bill of Rights Act passed under Tommy Douglas, marking Canada’s first general law prohibiting discrimination.


  • April 6, 1954 – Ontario Government passes Fair Accommodation Practices Act
    The Act declared, “no one can deny to any person or class of persons the accommodation, services or facilities usually available to members of the public.” The Act also precluded anyone from posting discriminatory signs.


  • January 19, 1962 – Fairclough Dismantles Discriminatory Policy
    Ellen Fairclough served as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and radically reformed the country’s “White Canada” immigration policy, helping to reduce racial discrimination in Canada’s policies.


  • September 25, 1963 – First Black Person Elected to a Canadian Parliament
    Leonard Braithwaite became the first Black person in a provincial legislature when he was elected the Liberal member for Etobicoke, Ontario, in 1963. In 1964, Braithwaite introduced legislation to remove the law that allowed segregated schools to exist.


  • October 1971 – Prime Minister Trudeau introduces Canada’s Multicultural Policy
    Canada’s multiculturalism policy grew partly in reaction to the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.


  • 1993 – The first Black Woman is elected to Parliament
    Jean Augustine was the first Black woman to be elected to the House of Commons in a federal Cabinet.


  • 1995 – Canadian Sprinter becomes the “World’s fastest Human”
    Donovan Bailey assumed the title of “World’s Fastest Human” by winning the 100-metre sprint at the World Track Championships in Göteborg, Sweden.


  • February 24, 2010 – Reparations paid following demolition of Africville
    In 1962, the City of Halifax decided to demolish Africville, the historic Black neighbourhood of Halifax. Anti-Black racism combined with a drive for “urban renewal” led the city to threaten eviction of the neighbourhood’s property-owning Black residents if they did not voluntarily sell their properties and relocate. In 2010, the mayor of Halifax apologized for the destruction of Africville and provided compensation, on behalf of the City of Halifax.


  • 2014 – Lincoln Alexander Day celebrated annually throughout Canada on January 21
    Lincoln Alexander was elected Canada’s first Black MP representing Hamilton West, Ontario, from 1968 to 1980. In 1979, he was appointed Minister of Labour, becoming the country’s first Black federal Cabinet minister. Lincoln Alexander made history again by becoming the province’s first Black Lieutenant-Governor, serving from 1985 to 1991.


  • April 2016 – Launch of the City of Toronto’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism initiatives The City of Toronto’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism initiatives is launched, following protests of Black Lives Matter Toronto and responding to decades of organizing, advocacy and government reports on anti-Black racism’s impacts on the well-being of Black Torontonians.


  • December 5, 2017 – Toronto City Council votes unanimously to adopt the Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism


  • May 2018 – The Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit’s first staff members begin working for the City to support the City of Toronto in implementing the Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism.


  • September 2018 – The City of Toronto launches the Black Staff Network which seeks to promote an inclusive workplace that provides professional development and mentorship for Black City staff, forums for members to meet and share knowledge, and provide coaching and networking opportunities.


  • March 25, 2019 – The City of Toronto declares official recognition of the United Nations’ International Decade for People of African Descent.


  • March 2020 – The City of Toronto declares the first Monday in March Black Mental Health Day. This serves as an annual day to confront the effects and legacies of trauma from anti-Black racism on the mental health of Black communities.


  • June 2020 – The Toronto Board of Health recognizes anti-Black racism as a public health crisis.
    The TBH aaffirms its commitment to continuing to address the social determinants of health by supporting policies and programs that address the inequities that marginalized groups continue to face, with a focus on Black communities and residents, including in the following areas: employment, education, housing, child care, policing and law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and access to health and mental health services.

Source: Historica Canada