Monday, February 05, 2007

Black History Month

The Toronto Star's Royston James plays very fast and loose with Canadian history while decrying the lack of celebration of Black History Month.
A few errors and misleading statements, just off the top:
* the first black slave in Canada was not owned by Jesuit Paul Lejuene. He was a boy purchased by the Hebert family from English sailors occupying Quebec. Lejeune, on the return of the French, took the boy in and educated him.
* black slaves were not widely, if ever, used as field hands in Canada under either the French or British regimes. Some slaves were kept as domestic labour, although the practice was very rare. James' claim that black slaves were kept to do jobs that Canadiens would not do is simply inaccurate and unfair to Canada's French settlers, who, by insinuation, were lazy oppressors. James should spend some time examining the brutality of the fur trade and the rigours of Quebec farm life during the Iroquois Wars.
* almost all slaves held in Ontario before Emancipation came with United Empire Loyalists from the U.S. and were quite uncommom in Ontario. Iroquois chief Joseph Brant was a slave owner. However, the vast majority of blacks who settled in Canada before Emancipation were freedmen. British policy, touched on by James, was to pressure slave-owners to free their slaves.
* free black men, former slaves in the 13 Colonies who sided with the British and settled in Canada, fought alongside the British in the War of 1812, especially in the Navy.
* very, very few of the hundreds of thousands of black people in Canada are descended from slaves kept in Canada. Their descendents married into white, Native and post-emancipation black immigrants. Most lived in rural Ontario, on the edge of the frontier of the time, in the Owen Sound and Orillia areas.
* Canada was not an active participant in the slave trade, had no industries or agriculture dependent on slavery, had nothing resembling the slave markets of the U.S. South, and did not have governments that encouraged slavery.

I don't fault James for wanting some sort of recognition for African-Canadian history. It's an important part of the history of the settlement of Canada, although, until the 1960s, blacks were a relatively small percentage of the Canadian population. Africa's role in the slave trade -- a trade which has never stopped -- also needs to be recognized, as does Islam's. Royce does his cause a disservice by grossly distorting the history of the people that he claims to champion and by twisting the facts about many of the founding people of this country, of all colours.


Mark said...

Very fine points made here. Excellent.

s said...

Why should anyone be surpised by this column? It's the Star ... and the Star has an agenda with repect to all matters of colour. They tend to favour Red.