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Ethno-Cultural and Aboriginal Groups


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There has been a steady stream of migration of Blacks into Canada via Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States since the 17th century. The first recorded Black person to arrive in Canada was an African named Mathieu de Coste who arrived in 1608 to serve as interpreter of the Micmacs to the governor of Acadia. A few thousand Africans arrived in Canada in the 17th and 18th centuries as slaves. After the American Revolution, the British gave passage to over 3000 slaves and free Blacks who had remained loyal to the Crown. These Black loyalists joined the many other United Empire Loyalists in settlements across the Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Other Black slaves joined their Loyalist slave owners when they migrated to Canada.

In 1793, the Upper Canada legislature passed an act that granted gradual abolition and any slave arriving in the province was automatically declared free. Fearing for their safety in the United States after the passage of the first Fugitive Slave Law in 1793, over 30,000 slaves came to Canada via the Underground Railroad until the end of the American Civil War in 1865. They settled mostly in southern Ontario but some also settled in Quebec and Nova Scotia. Many returned to the United States to fight in the Civil War and rejoin their families after its end.

Other migrations of Blacks from the United States occurred during the War of 1812 when over 2000 refugees came to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Another group of over 800 free Blacks from California migrated to Vancouver Island between 1858 and 1860. Many Blacks migrated to Canada in search of work and became porters with the railroad companies in Ontario, Quebec, and the Western provinces or worked in mines in the Maritimes. Between 1909 and 1911 over 1500 migrated from Oklahoma as farmers and moved to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.

In 1910 the government of Canada implemented a new Immigration Act that barred immigrants into Canada from races deemed undesirable and very few Blacks entered Canada during the next few decades. In 1955, the West Indian Domestic Scheme permitted single women aged 18 to 35 and in good health to work in Canada as domestics for one year before being granted immigrant status. Over 2600 women were admitted under this scheme. In 1967, the government of Canada dropped the racially discriminatory immigration system; therefore Black immigration rose dramatically.

Research at Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada holds many fonds relating to Black people. The major documents and fonds are listed below.

Port Roseway Associates, Muster Book of Free Blacks, Settlement of Birchtown, 1784 (MG 9 B9-14)

During the American Revolution, the British and Loyalist forces evacuated New York in 1783. Hundreds of Loyalist refugees joined together to form the Port Roseway Associates with the intention of finding new homes and creating a new settlement in Nova Scotia. These Loyalists, with their families, servants and slaves, founded the community of Port Roseway, shortly thereafter renamed Shelburne. The free Blacks amongst the Loyalists formed a separate enclave known as Birchtown. The Muster Book of Free Blacks who settled in Birchtown has been digitized and is available online. The use of this digitized database is facilitated by a name index.

Port Roseway Associates, Muster Book of Free Blacks, Settlement of Birchtown, 1784

Ward Chipman, Muster Master's Office (1777-1785) (MG 23 D1)

Volumes 24 to 27 (microfilm reel C-9818) contain some muster rolls of Loyalists and their families belonging to regiments that were disbanded and settled in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Those volumes have been digitized and are available online. The use of this digitized database is facilitated by a name index. It also contains a list of Blacks, whether slave or free, who came with the Loyalist regiments.

Ward Chipman, Muster Master's Office (1777-1785)

Book of Negroes

The Sir Guy Carleton branch [] has indexed the Book of Negroes, contained within the British Headquarters Papers (MG 23 B1). It gives information such as:

  • names of the black Loyalists;
  • sex;
  • health;
  • distinguishing marks;
  • status (free or slave);
  • origins;
  • names of their white associates; and
  • names of ships used to carry them.

The full text of the Book of Negroes is presented on the Black Loyalist: Our History, Our People [ blackloyalists/index.htm], Web site. Once on that site, click on Documents then on Official Documents and Proclamations.

The records of the British Treasury Office (MG 15 T28) contain the following references to Blacks in Nova Scotia:

A letter of 28 October 1818 from S.R. Lushington to the Storekeeper General stating that articles of clothing for Blacks stated to have shipped aboard the Britannica transport, had not arrived in Halifax (vol. 73, p. 335)

A letter of G. Harrison to the Storekeeper General of 10 July 1816 concerning the disposition of stores delivered at Halifax for the use of Black refugees at Melville Island (vol. 14, p. 222)

A letter from G. Harrison to the Commissioners of the Navy of 9 June 1821 concerning the removal of Black refugees from Halifax to Trinidad (vol. 19, p. 225)

A letter from G. Harrison to the Commissioners of the Navy of 4 July 1821 stating that plans for the removal of Black refugees from Halifax to Trinidad have been approved (vol. 19, p. 279).

William King Collection (MG 24 J14)

Born in Scotland, William King came to Canada as a Free Church missionary and was active in the abolition struggle. He established the Elgin Settlement, designed for escaped slaves from the United States. He also assisted with the organization of a Black community near Chatham, Ontario.

The Miscellaneous papers, 1836-1895, include his autobiography; correspondence, birth and death certificates, obituaries, wills, school records, copies of speeches, bills of sale for slaves; and other documents relating to the Buxton Mission and Elgin Association. (microfilm C-2223)

Other documents or fonds

List of Black chaplains enlisted in the Canadian Army, 1942-1944. (RG 25 A3b, vol. 5733, file part 1, no.: 10(s))

General registry of Black troops employed at U.S. military installations in Canada, 1942/11/11-1959/09/09. (RG 25 G2, vol. 3328, file part: 1, file no.: 11681-40)

Canadian Pacific Railways lists of Black Porters, 1930 to 1953 (RG 76 IA1, file no. 816222)

1930-1944: microfilm C-10652
1944-1953: microfilm C-10653

Colored Domestics from Guadeloupe, 1910-1928 (RG 76 IA1, vol. 475, file no. 731832)

This file contains a list of over 100 domestics who arrived in Canada in 1911. (Microfilm C-10411).

Jamaican Canadian Association

The Jamaican Canadian Association, incorporated in 1962, provides social and cultural programs for the Toronto community. They offer a wide range of services to support the diverse needs of the Jamaican, Caribbean and African-Canadian communities in Toronto.

Research in Published Sources

Newspapers often contained advertisements for slaves. Library and Archives Canada has many Canadian newspapers on microform. Newspapers should be consulted for the period preceding abolition in 1834.

Family secrets: crossing the colour line, by Catherine Slaney, 2003.

Black genealogy, by Charles L. Blockson

Jamaican Ancestry: how to find out more, by Madeleine E. Mitchell

Black genesis: a resources book for African-American genealogy, by James Rose

A genealogist's guide to discovering your African-American ancestor: how to find and record your unique heritage, by Franklin Carter Smith

Finding your African American ancestors: a beginner's guide, by David T. Thackery

African American genealogy: a bibliography and guide to sources, by Curt Bryan Witcher

Black Roots: a Beginner's guide to Tracing the African American Family Tree, by Tony Burroughs, 2001.

Consult our Bibliography for further information on this topic.

Search for books on Blacks in AMICUS, using authors, titles or subject terms such as:

  • Negro/Negroes
  • Colored
  • Slave/Slavery
  • African/African-Canadian
  • Black/Black Canadian

Research at Other Institutions

The Archives of Ontario [] has the following two online exhibits about Blacks in the province.

The Black Canadian Experience in Ontario, 1834-1914: Flight, Freedom, Foundation [] includes primary sources on Black settlements in Ontario.

The following is a selected list of resources pertaining to Black Canadians at the Archives of Ontario:

  • Alvin D. McCurdy fonds (F 2076)
  • Daniel G. Hill fonds (F 2130)
  • Blacks - Escaped Slaves fonds (RG 17-20)
  • Mackenzie - Lindsey family fonds, selective correspondence (F 37)

The virtual exhibit African Nova Scotians in the Age of Slavery and Abolition [] from the Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management is a good starting point for researching Black Canadian genealogy in that province. The following are also good genealogical resources:

  • Refugee Negroes. Records relating to Black immigration and settlement in Nova Scotia from 1783 to 1838. Also includes the book of Negroes. (RG 1 vol. 419-423)
  • John Clarkson fonds. Includes information on the Blacks who migrated to Sierra Leone. (MG 1 vol. 219)

The Chatham-Kent Public Library [] has many genealogical resources located in the McKeough Local History Room. The collection includes local newspapers from 1841 with birth, marriage, and death notices indexed to 1997. The library also holds census returns for Kent County from 1851 to 1901, a Black History collection, city and county directories, and cemetery transcriptions.

The Toronto Public Library [] has a collection geared to the Black and Caribbean historical and cultural experience. The Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection contains over 16,000 published and audiovisual material. This collection can be accessed from the Cedarbrae, Maria A. Shchuka, Parkdale, and York Woods branches. Other branches of the library may have smaller collections.

The Halifax Public Libraries [] have a suggested reading list for those interested in African heritage in Nova Scotia. "African Nova Scotians" contains a list of books and websites including some which would be of interest to genealogical research.

The New Brunswick Public Library Service [] has a list of virtual references for Black History.

The Vancouver Public Library [] has a research guide for researching Black History at that library. There is also a research guide for Black History Month which has links to other websites.

Research Online

African Canadian Online - Pioneers

African Nova Scotians in the Age of Slavery and Abolition


Anti-slavery Issues in Canada, 1830-1870 A Selective Bibliography (bilingual)

Black Culture Centre for Nova Scotia

Black Historical and Cultural Society of British Columbia

Black History Canada

Black History in Guelph and Wellington County.

Black History in Owen Sound, Ontario

Black Loyalist Heritage Society

Buxton National Historic Site & Museum

Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society

Chronological Overview of Black Canadian History

DaCosta400 Black Canadian Heritage Society

Documenting the American South - Henry Bibb

John Freeman Walls Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum

OBHS Online: Ontario Black History Society Archives. Canada's Digital Collections

Ontario Heritage Trust - Mary Ann Shadd Cary 1823-1893

Remembering Black Loyalists, Black Communities in Nova Scotia

Shiloh Baptist church cemetery, Saskatchewan

ARCHIVED - The Anti-Slavery Movement in Canada

The CaribbeanGenWeb Project

The Underground Railroad Years: Canada in the International Arena.

The Underground Railroad: Finding Freedom in the Niagara Region.

ARCHIVED - Under the Northern Star