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ARCHIVED - The Anti-Slavery Movement in Canada

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Stamp of Josiah Henson, 1983


In 2001, at the invitation of the J'Nikira Dinqinesh Education Centre, the National Archives of Canada and the National Library of Canada, now Library and Archives Canada, commemorated the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada in 1851 with this exhibition based on the collections of the two institutions.

The Anti-Slavery Society of Canada was the last of several short-lived anti-slavery societies in Canada. These societies were part of an international abolitionist movement supported by leading moral thinkers of the day in Britain, Europe and the United States. This 1851 Society was founded by the Honourable George Brown, later a Father of Confederation, his family and associates on February 26, 1851 in Toronto. The Reverend Dr. Michael Willis, Principal of Knox College and Senator of the University of Toronto, who was President of the Society, opened the proceedings. The anti-slavery speeches, commentaries and announcements were published in George Brown's newspaper The Globe.

The focus of the Society's attention was the United States since in Canada slavery had been in decline from 1793 and was formally abolished in 1834. In 1793, under the leadership of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, a bill had been passed by the Legislature of Upper Canada making it illegal to bring a person into the colony to be enslaved. Slavery formally ended in Canada in 1834 after the British Parliament passed an act abolishing the institution throughout the Empire. When the Anti-Slavery Society was founded in 1851, slavery was still being practised in the southern United States.

The strength of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada can be attributed to the fact that it brought together leading abolitionists, both Black and White, from churches including the Congregationalist and Free Presbyterian, as well as from the business, professional and political elite. The anti-slavery movement included representatives from the "Underground Railroad" refugee community, American intellectuals and orators such as Frederick Douglass and Reverend Bishop Jermain Logeum, and others who were agents of the Society.