Unwritten Histories

The Unwritten Rules of History

A Guide to Online Resources for Teaching and Learning about Black History in Canada

Black History in Canada

Africville Church (est. 1849) – rebuilt as part of the Africville Apology. Photo  by Hantsheroes. Wikimedia Commons. CC By 3.0

I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to all of those who helped me assemble this guide, including, but not limited to, Georgia Sitara, Elizabeth Vibert, Sarah Van Vugt, Melissa N. Shaw, Catherine Ulmer, Merle Massie, Kesia Kvill, Nancy Janovicek, Kevin Brushett, James Opp, Joanna L. Pearce, Clare Dale, Tina Loo, Elliot Worsfold, Steve Marti, and the Nova Scotia Archives. We are fortunate to have such a wonderful online community of Canadian historians.

 

We’re back with another guide to online sources for teaching and learning Canadian history! This guide focuses specifically on Black History in Canada.* While I am obviously writing this blog post now since it is Black History Month, it’s important that we recognize that Black history in Canada is not a subject that should only be discussed once a year; instead, is an integral part of Canadian history as a whole. After all, Black history is Canadian history. My hope is that you will use this guide not only during February, but also to inform your teaching year round. Historians have a obligation to ensure that the history that we teach is truly representative of the experiences of all Canadians.

Before I begin, I would like to make two quick notes. The first is in regards to my selection process. As in my previous guide, I have stuck to sources that are produced by institutions, museums, archives, and historical societies. This is again to ensure that the sources presented are authentic and their provenance clear. In order to keep this guide to a manageable size, I have excluded websites that are narrative-based, meaning they focus on telling the history of Black Canadians rather than providing primary sources and/or learning tools. At the same time, I have tried to keep to mostly Canadian sources. But it is important to recognize that many Black Canadians can trace their origins back to Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States. As a result, you will notice that I have included some transnational sources, particularly with respect to the subject of slavery.

Second, it is important that we take a moment to note the kinds of history that are represented here. History is always political, and certain aspects of history are often highlighted at the expense of others. That is why you will notice that many of the links below deal principally with two topics: the Underground Railroad and the Black Loyalists. The preponderance of these sources is directly related to the popularity of their subjects. Much of this is because Canada and Canadians like to think of themselves as a safe haven, especially when compared to the United States. While many African-Americans were able to escape slavery by fleeing to Canada, that didn’t mean that everything was sunshine and rainbows. The reality was far different. Slavery was an integral part of Canadian society, and while it was officially abolished in 1833, stipulations in the Act to Abolish Slavery were such that only a small percentage of slaves in Canada were actually able to secure their freedom. Furthermore, Black Canadians were, and continue to be, subject to racial discrimination, both personally and institutionally.

While it is important that we remember the Underground Railroad and the Black Loyalists, it is equally important that we remember all of the Black men and women who worked as porters or domestics, those who fought for the right to enlist in WW1, those who sought better job opportunities by migrating southward, the highly educated women who immigrated to Canada as part of the “domestic scheme,” and the growing community of Somali-Canadians. We must continue to reflect on our behaviour and fight against racism in its varied forms, and recognize and dismantle the ways in which Black Canadians continue to be marginalized in Canadian society. I hope that this blog post can be a small part of this work.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge that this guide would never have been possible without the tireless work of Afua Cooper, Natasha Henry, and Charmaine Nelson. Many of these collections and lesson plans were either created by or in collaboration with these three incredible women. I am merely standing on the shoulders of giants.

As was the case in my previous guide, each link will be listed by title, then institution. I have included a short description of each link, and which sections will be of particular interest or use to educators, particularly those at the university or college-level. This blog post is not intended to be comprehensive, but to instead offer the best resources available.

Since this blog post is a bit of a monster, you can simply click on each one of those headings below to navigate to a specific section of this page. Each section is organized roughly in chronological order, with ones that cover multiple time periods at the bottom. To return to the top of the page, click on the link that says “Back to the Top,” located at the bottom of each section. Here’s how the blog post is arranged:

*I use the term Black Canadians here rather than African-Canadian or African-American in recognition of the diverse nature of the Black community in Canada today. My terminology is inspired by Melissa Shaw’s detailed discussion of the subject in the first footnote to her article, Melissa N. Shaw, “‘Most Anxious to Serve their King and Country:’ Black Canadians’ Fight to Enlist in WW1 and Emerging Race Consciousness in Ontario, 1914-1919,” Histoire Sociale 49 no. 199 (November 2016): 542-580.

 


Online Exhibitions

  • Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database (Ermory University)
    • This is an amazing source out of Emory University and its partners, which brings together information relating to nearly 36,000 slaving voyages from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries and covering all parts of the world. The only downside is that there is quite the learning curve when it comes to actually using it. Thankfully the site has a detailed guide on how to use the database, which you can find here. There is also a video, which you can access by clicking on the “Demos” tab on the right-hand side of the smaller menu. For those without the patience to learn how to use the database, there are introductory maps, images (including engravings and documents, like ship’s lists), and an African names database. But what I love most is that the website comes with a number of lesson plans. As is often the case, these are geared mostly towards high schoolers, but can easily be adapted for use in university.
  • Torture and the Truth: Angélique and the Burning of Montreal (Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History)
    • This historical mystery tells the story of Marie-Josèphe dite Angélique, a Black slave who was accused of burning major parts of the city of Montreal in the spring of 1734. This site has a ton of useful information about slavery in New France — something that is often overlooked in Canadian history — as well as the daily lives of people living in Montreal in this period, and how the New France colonial regime operated. In addition to the teacher’s guide for this mystery in both HTML and PDF formats, (which requires registration, but is free to use), there is also a great mystery quest that looks at opposition to slavery in New France. I’ve used this one myself in my pre-Confederation survey course in connection with my lecture on the history of New France.
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  • Rose Fortune (Historica Canada)
    • This 45-minute documentary and accompanying lesson plans detail the life of Rose Fortune, who was born into slavery in the US and brought to Nova Scotia by her Loyalist owners, where she eventually secured her freedom. She appointed herself policewoman for the area where she lived, and played an important role in the Underground Railroad. Some of the group projects are more appropriate for a younger audience, but the one about the Life and Times of Rose Fortune, Create a Heritage Minuet for Rose Fortune, Traditional gender Roles, and The True Meaning of Freedom would all work well in a university setting.
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  • Richard Pierpoint (Historica Canada)
    • This Heritage Minute and educational guide focus on the life of Richard Pierpoint, who came to Canada originally as a Black Loyalist. At the age of 68, he recruited an entire company of Black men called the Coloured Corps to fight in the War of 1812. The education guide contains several lesson plans which examine the transatlantic slave trade, Black Loyalists, the experiences of Black soldiers, oral traditions, and media literacy. While many of the discussion questions are aimed at a younger audience, they could easily be adapted for use in a survey class. Also check out this PDF of supplemental activities.
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  • War of 1812: We Stand on Guard for Thee (The Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on Africa and Its Diasporas)
    • This exhibit is much like their exhibit on the Underground Railroad (“Breaking the Chains” — see below), though this one focuses on the Coloured Corps, a group of Black men who served with the British during the War of 1812. The areas covered include: The Detroit River Border Area, the Niagara Peninsula, York, Lake Ontario, Lower Canada, and the Maritimes. There is also a section devoted specifically to the stories of soldiers and what life was like upon their return. This online exhibit focuses on the stories of individuals, but also includes information about places and events. Each individual story contains links to primary documents, lesson plans, a report, and an “augmented reality vignette.” (This “augmented reality” section requires specialized software called the Marker that I don’t have). This online exhibit is less well-organized than “Breaking the Chains,” and you really need to just poke around to find everything that is available.
  • Breaking the Chains: Presenting a New Narrative for Canada’s Role in the Underground Railroad (The Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on Africa and Its Diasporas)
    • This online exhibit brings together historical documents, images, maps, and oral histories to transform our existing narratives about Canada and the Underground Railroad. This resource was developed as a digital story for elementary and high school students, but has a ton of useful information for university students. The exhibit is separated into four geographic areas: the Niagara Region, Essex County, Queen’s Bush, and the Greater Toronto Area. Each one contains a basic explanatory text, with a list of names at the bottom. Clicking on those names will bring you to a site describing the history of that particular person, along with links to primary documents and lesson plans, a report, and an “augmented reality” section.
  • Underground Railroad (Historica Canada)
    •  This Heritage Minute and educational guide is particularly relevant given current political events. The educational guide’s two lessons on refugees are quite useful.
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  • Who Killed William Robinson? (Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History)
    • This historical mystery focuses on the life and death of William Robinson, a Sunday school teacher and Black American who fled California and ended up in Salt Spring Island, BC. He was murdered in 1868, one of three members of the Salt Spring community — all of them Black — to be killed in less than two years. This particular mystery reveals important information about the experiences of African-Americans in Canada, the colonial justice system, the diverse nature of settlers in British Columbia, and the relationship between settlers and Indigenous peoples in BC. Accompanying this mystery is a teacher’s guide, which includes lesson plans and classroom activities. Unlike Angélique’s case, there isn’t really a mystery quest that deals directly with the subject of the experiences of Black Canadians. However, there is one designed for 14 to 16 year-olds about whether the man who was convicted to Robinson’s murder, a local Indigenous man named Tshuanahusset, was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
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  • Black Strathcona (Creative Cultural Collaborations Society in partnership with the Vancouver Moving Theatre)
    • This is a superb interactive website about the experiences of Black Canadians in Vancouver’s historic Black community, Strathcona. The website works in two ways. First, it contains ten different stories that tell the history of Strathcona from the early 1900s until the late 1960s. They are as follows: “Vie’s Chicken and Steaks,” “Sleeping Car Porters,” “Hogan’s Alley,” “Fountain Chaplain,” “Jimi and Nora,” “Militant Mothers,” “Barbara Howard,” “Ernie King,” “Leonard Lane,” “Leona’s Kids.” Each videos is under five minutes. If you want to take this website to the next level, you can use the QR code on the website (linked here) to access the Black Strathcona walking tour. If you are lucky enough to live in Vancouver, you can literally walk the streets of Strathcona, and listen to the stories being told in situ. Finally, each story comes with a lesson plan (collected together into on PDF in the education section of the website). However, the lesson plans are not really suitable for university students.
  • Africville: Expropriating Black Nova Scotians (CBC Digital Archives)
    • You already know that I love the CBC Digital Archives. This collection contains eleven different videos all relating to Africville’s demolition. The videos range from original footage from the 1960s about the demolition and racial attitudes in Halifax, to news coverage from the years afterwards, catching up with former residents, the fight for compensation, and recognition of Africville as National Historic Site. The CBC also includes four different lesson plans for the collection, dealing with issues such as the decision on and impact of relocation, what it was like to live in Africville, the role of the media in presenting current events, and the general history of Black Canadians.
  • Under a Northern Star (LAC)
    • This website presents together seven different collections from Library and Archives Canada that document the experiences of Black Canadians. The website was developed with contributions from Afua Cooper. The seven collections include: “Reverend William King: The Elgin Settlement,” “Mary Ann Shadd Cary: Abolitionist,” “Sir James Douglas: Colonial Governor,” “Green Thurman: Runaway Slave,” “Black Loyalists: Nova Scotia,” “Africville: A Community Displaced,” and “Railways: Black Porters.” Each section contains original primary sources, including letters, printed materials, newspapers, images, and databases, along with short histories. But the real gem of this website is the section for educational resources, which contains a lesson plan entitled “Black Communities in Canada: Understanding Social Change Through People and Places,” The lesson asks students to learn about the history of Black Canadians as well as to consider the issue of human rights and the impact of the past on the present. While the lesson plan is designed for high school students, I can easily see this being adapted for use in a first year Canadian history course.

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Primary Sources

General/Various:

  • Slavery, Abolition and Social Justice, 1490-2007 (Sage)
    • This online database is a collection of digitized primary sources on the subjects of transatlantic slavery and the abolitionist movement from all over the world. Some of the types of sources include manuscripts, pamphlets, paintings, maps, diaries, and images. If you can think of it, it’s probably here. However — and it’s a big however — this website is only available through subscription. So unless you are lucky enough to have an institution that subscribes or are willing to pay out of pocket (which will not be cheap), this one may be out of reach. Which is a shame, and why I really hate all of these damn paywalls.
  • Remembering Black Loyalists: Black Communities in Nova Scotia (Nova Scotia Archives and the Virtual Museum of Canada)
    • This website collects information, material objects, and documents that deal with the experiences of Black Canadians in Nova Scotia from 1750 onwards. I’ve linked to the home page above, but I would recommend that users rely on the sitemap instead, since the website navigation mechanisms are really old and messy. While the explanatory texts are not terribly helpful, the website does contain some great images of archaeological artefacts as well as well as digitized engravings and documents.
  • Canadian Black History Virtual Museum (Citizenship and Immigration Canada)
    • This is a neat little project that was developed by the federal government in collaboration with a number of museums and historical societies. Visitors are invited to view a virtual museum of Black History in Canada, using either flash or html. Viewers are presented with a series of digitized primary sources as well as images of material objects that showcase the experiences of Black Canadians from the 1780s until the War of 1812.
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  • The Anti-Slavery Movement in Canada (LAC)
    • This archived website was developed by Library and Archives Canada back in 2001. It focuses on the experiences of fugitive slaves who escaped to Canada as well as abolitionists’ efforts in Canada from the 1780s until the American Civil War. As with many of the previous links in this guide, this website consists of explanatory texts accompanied by digitized historical documents. And again, it is the documents that will primarily be of interest to educators. This is one of the smaller LAC historical websites.
  • The Black Loyalists in New Brunswick (Atlantic Canada Virtual Archives – University of New Brunswick)
    • This is an archived website which contains digitized historical documents relating to the experiences of Black Loyalists after they arrived in Canada. Since this website is archived, it can no longer be searched. However, you can still browse the collection of 159 petitions by going here. There are two lesson plans included with the online collection, though the one titled “The Promise of Land” is more suitable for university students.
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  • Black Loyalists (University of Sydney – Australia)
    • I’m not sure why an Australian university has a website about the Black Loyalists, but sure, why not? This website was supposed to be part of a multi-year project, but since the last update was in 2010, I have no idea what lies in store for the future. As of this writing, this website contains biographical and demographic information concerning around 1,000 people from Norfolk, Virgina and the surrounding area who appear in “The Book of Negroes”. Information for each individual has been compiled from multiple historic documents, including the aforementioned “Book of Negroes,” but also the “Birchtown Muster of Free Blacks,” “The Washington-Carlton Correspondence,” and more. You can browse through their index of Black Loyalists, or search by “owner,” “places” and “groups.” Most of the entries are sparse, but a few contain detailed information, which are marked as “Featured.”
  •  The Black Canadian Experience in Ontario 1834-1914: Flight, Freedom, Foundation (Archives of Ontario)
    • As with several of the other online collections from the Archives of Ontario, this collection brings together high-resolution images of primary sources and explanatory texts showing how Ontario was a land of both opportunity and oppression for Black Canadians. This online collection was created in collaboration with the Ontario Black History Society. The documents and texts are organized along four themes: “And they went to Canada,” “Settlement and Community,” “Freedom Under the Lion’s Paw,” and “Community of Interest.”
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  • Hidden Histories: Black History of the Yukon (Yukon Archives)
    • Relatively small, this website is another collection of explanatory texts and digitized primary sources. But considering how little information is available on the subject of Black Canadians in the Yukon, this website can be extremely useful. The site is divided into three sections: “The Early Years,” “Building the Alaska Highway,” and “Women.” The images, in particular, are fantastic.
  • Our Stories – Remembering Niagara’s Proud Black History (Norval Johnson Heritage Centre)
    • This is one of the Community Memories sites created through the Virtual Museum of Canada. These exhibits can be a bit confusing to use, which is why I recommend that once you have entered them, you use either the Thumbnail Gallery or the Stories tabs at the top right of the frame. With the Thumbnail Gallery, you can see each of the individual items in the exhibit. If you use the Stories tab, you can see specific narratives that use many of the items from the exhibit, presenting them in context. In this section, you can navigate from one page to the next using the little arrows at the bottom of the frame. This particular exhibit has collected the stories of 15 prominent Black Canadians from the area, as well as additional stories about the Black Masonic Lodge, efforts to preserve Niagara’s Black history, and the “Coloured Corps,” which looks at Black soldiers.
  • The Souls of Black Folk: Hamilton’s Stewart Memorial Community (Workers Arts and Heriage Centre)
    • Another Community Memories site, this online exhibit is focused on the experiences of Black Canadians in Hamilton. The same suggestions from the previous link with respect to navigation apply. The Stories in this exhibit will take you from the beginning of the Black community in Hamilton in the 1860s right up to the present day.
  • Black Canadians in Uniform – A Proud Tradition (Veterans Affairs Canada)
    • While is relatively sparse information here, the site does contain some information about WW1. It includes an essay on Black soldiers in WW1 in the History section, and the Profiles of Courage section includes profiles about two men — Curley Christian and Jeremiah “Jerry” Jones. There are also some neat photos in the gallery.
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  • World War I (African Canadian Community – Windsor Mosaic)
    • This is a community website devoted to showcasing the diverse nature of Windsor, Ontario’s history. It contains perhaps the most detailed information about the service of Black Canadians during WW1, including some primary sources.
  • No. 2 Construction Battalion (Historica Canada)
    • This website from Historica Canada contains a general overview of the No. 2 Construction Battalion, which has become known as “Canada’s Black Battalion.” Also included is a list of links to additional information , including links to some primary sources.
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  • The Freedom Seeker: The Life and Times of Daniel G. HilL (Archives of Ontario)
    • Like their McCurdy online exhibit, this collection of materials from the Archives of Ontario centres around the life of Dr. Daniel G. Hill III, a prominent lecturer, writer, businessman, and human rights activist. He might be more familiar to you as the father of Lawrence Hill, the author of the novel, The Book of Negroes. This collection was created in collaboration with the Hill family and is based on Hill’s archival collection. This online collection is again organized into several themes, specifically “Introduction,” “Family Life,” “The War Years,” “Coming to Canada,” “The Children,” “Work at the Ontario Human Rights Commission,” “Black History in Canada,” “Canada’s First Human Rights Consulting Firm,” “Ombudsman of Ontario,” and “Conclusion.” This online collection consists of high-resolution images of primary sources alongside explanatory texts.
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  • The Jean Augustine Political Button Collection (York University Archives)
    • Jean Augustine was the first African-Canadian woman elected as an MP in Canada. This website contains selections from her collection of political buttons, alongside interviews with Augustine about their history. While the buttons cover a number of different political areas, there is an entire section of this website devoted to the “Black and African-Caribbean Community in Canada,” which contains pictures of buttons from the Canadian Negro Women’s Association, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the Jamaican-Canadian Association, the National Black Coalition of Canada, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and the Congress of Black Women in Canada.
  • Journey to the Present: A Black History Month Exhibit
    • This is yet another online collection of explanatory texts accompanied by digitized primary sources. Produced by the Scadding Court Community Centre, this website has nine different themes: “Before European Contact,” “The European Invasion,” “The Middle Passage,” “Slave Life,” “Steal Away,” “Abolitionist,” “Emancipation,” “The 20th Century,” and “Our Achievements.” While the texts aren’t really that helpful, the images, particularly those in the first few sections, are really great.
  • Black/African Canadian History (Brock University, James A. Gibson Library Special Collections and Archives)
    • Back in 2011, Brock University received a significant collection of material documenting the lives of the Bell and Sloman families, former slaves and their descendants who came to St. Catherines and London in the late 1860s. This collection includes marriage certificates, church documents, and amazing images beginning around the 1840s and continuing up to the 1950s. It’s an amazing archive of family history.
  • Freedom City: Uncovering Toronto’s Black History (Toronto Public Library)
    • This is an actual exhibit that was transformed into an online collection of sources relating to the experiences of Black Canadians in Toronto. There are several sections, including “Freedom-Seekers,” “Faith and Freedom,” “Education and Freedom,” “Defending Freedom,” and “Uncovering the Stories of Freedom,” which look at escape from slavery, religion, education, the War of 1812 and WW1, and life in 19th century Toronto. Two additional sections containing only primary sources are also included: one on videos (which includes interviews with archivists and historians) and one that lists the Toronto Public Library’s online collection of slave narratives. These slave narratives are available in PDF format for free, and do not require any registration. Also on this last page are some tips for finding more online content on the experiences of Black Canadians from the TPL.
  • Black History in Canada (LAC)
    • This is an online guide produced by Libraries and Archives Canada about documents relating to Black Canadian history in their collection, in published sources, and elsewhere. While I have listed their databases above, there is additional information provided here about individual documents that can be found as part of various fonds, such as materials relating to William King, a Scottish abolitionist who came to Canada and established the Elgin Settlment, various documents relating to Blacks in Nova Scotia that are part of the Great Britain Treasure Office collection, and information on searching LAC’s collection in general.
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Textual Documents

  • Freedom on the Move: A Database of Fugitives from North American Slavery (Cornell University)
    • This is an absolutely amazing initiative out of Cornell to create an online and searchable database of more than 100,000 fugitive slave ads from the 18th and 19th centuries. But they also went further and invited members of the public to help accurately transcribe these documents. This site is so awesome, there are no words. It hasn’t fully launched yet, and I have no idea what their timeline is, but this is one to keep an eye on. You can follow their Twitter account for more updates, as well as regular tweets of images of some of the ads that will be in their database.
  • Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery (Villanova University)
    • This online database collects together “Information Wanted” ads that were placed in American, Canadian, and West Indian newspapers by former slaves searching for lost family members. The ads date from 1863 to the 20th century. They can be searched by name, location, circumstances of separation, military regiments, and events. This project is especially important because it is a crowd-sourced initiative. Members of the public are invited to help transcribe these ads, in the hopes that this database will enable families all over the world to be reunited after decades of separation.
  • African Nova Scotian Diaspora: Selected Government Records of Black Settlement, 1791-1839 (Nova Scotia Archives)
    • This is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. The Nova Scotia Archives have brought together and digitized over 500 documents from government archives relating to Black Nova Scotians from 1791 to 1839. While the link above is for the front page, which allows you to do a keyword search, you can see a list of all of the documents here.
  • Black Loyalist Refugees, 1782-1807 Port Roseway Associates (LAC)
    • This is an online database containing nearly 1,500 individual references to the Muster Book of Free Blacks, listing all those who settled in Birchtown, Nova Scotia.. You can search by name, and clicking on one of the resulting entries will bring up a digitized image of the page containing information about that individual. Some entries are more complete than others. To access the database itself, click on the tab marked “Search: Database: on the left-hand side of the screen.
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  • Loyalists in the Maritimes – Ward Chipman Muster Master’s Office, 1777-1785 (LAC)
    • This is another online database containing information about individual Black Loyalists who settled in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI. The database contains more than 19,000 references to individuals from the Muster Master’s office. Most of the entries refer to soldiers, but you will also find information about other people. You can search this database by name, place, or group/regiment. As in the previous case, clicking on search results will bring up a digitized image of the original document. Some entries are more complete than others. To access the database itself, click on the tab marked “Search: Database” on the left-hand side of the screen.
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  • No. 2 Construction Battalion: Nominal Roll (Nova Scotia Archives)
    • The Nova Scotia Archives have fully digitized this 13-page list of men who served in the No. 2 Construction Battalion, including biographical and family information. Each man’s Regimental Number is also included, which can be looked up on LAC’s Personnel Records of the First World War database to find out even more information. This is an absolutely amazing resource. Click here to go directly to the nominal roll.
  • The Clarion (Nova Scotia Archives)
    • The Nova Scotia Archives have gone above and beyond by digitizing their entire collection of The Clarion, Nova Scotia’s first Black-owned newspaper. Established by Carrie Best in 1946, this newspaper is best known for being the first to report on Viola Desmond’s arrest. This website contains digitized issues from 1946 to 1949, and the originals are likely the only surviving copies of the newspaper. However, if you do have copies of The Clarion, the Nova Scotia Archives would like to know! For your convenience, the archives have provided some tips on reading digitized newspapers.
  • Viola Irene Desmond (Nova Scotia Archives)
    • This online collection was created for Nova Scotia’s first Heritage Day and public holiday back in 2015. The collection contains digitized documents regarding her trial. There are court case documents as well as newspaper clippings of the trial. Unlike in previous exhibits, the court documents are listed by name and identifying information, and all you need to do is click on a title to see the actual document.
  •  Immigrants to Canada, Porters and Domestics, 1899-1949 (LAC)
    • This database contains entries pulled from several different fonds, providing the names of more than 8,600 individuals who immigrated to Canada as domestic servants or porters. The database is searchable by keyword or name. Clicking on search results will bring up transcribed information about each individual. You can trace the digitized documents in some cases, but it’s mostly an exercise in frustration. Some entries are more complete than others. To access the database itself, click on the tab marked “Search: Database” on the left-hand side of the screen. With respect to Black Canadians, this database contains information about over 4,800 African-Americans who came to work as porters for the Canadian Pacific Railway, as well as a list of 107 women from Guadeloupe who were hired by Montreal families to serve as domestic servants. Try searching for “Canadian Pacific Railway” and “Guadeloupe” as keywords to find these entries.
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  • African Nova Scotians in the Age of Slavery and Abolition (Nova Scotia Archives)
    • Have I mentioned how much I love the Nova Scotia Archives? As in the previous source, this is an online collection of documents relating to African-Nova Scotians, arranged into several themes. They are as follows: “Slavery and Freedom, 1749-1782,” “Black Loyalists, 1783-1792” (Includes “The Book of Negroes”), “The Decline and Disappearance of Slavery, 1793-1812)” “Black Refugees, 1813-1834,” and “Descendants and Settlements: A Community Album, ca. 1879-1955.” A section called “Access to Language” provides additional information about the sources in this collection and how to search their documents. This is a veritable treasure trove.

Oral History

Photographs and Images

  • Images of Black History: Exploring the Alvin McCurdy Collection
    • Presented by the Archives of Ontario, the online collection contains images of some of the records from Alvin McCurdy, a Black Canadian from Essex County who worked as a carpenter, was an active member of his local Baptist Church, and an anti-discrimination activist. The collection designed to illustrate what life was like for Black Canadians in Ontario from the 1740s onwards. The online materials are organized into several themes, including “Slavery to Emancipation,” “Economy and Education,” “Community and Social Life,” “Geneaology in the McCurdy Collection,” and “The Enduring Value of the McCurdy Collection.” Each one brings together high-resolution images of primary sources (photos, letters, government documents, newspapers) and short explanatory texts. While not an extensive or comprehensive collection, the primary sources alone make this a resource worth considering.
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  • Gone but Never Forgotten: Bob Brooks’ Photographic Portrait of Africville in the 1960s (Nova Scotia Archives)
    • Bob Brooks was a photojournalist who documented the demolition of Africville in the 1960s. This online collection contains 58 of the images he took, most of them from 1965. These photos are stunning and evocative. You can search the collection by keyword, or just look at the listing of every image here.

Audio-Visual

  • Dresden Story (NFB)
    • This is a film from the 1950s where Black and white citizens of Dresden, Ontario talk about racism in a panel format. My friend Catherine Ulmer has shown this one in class several times, and always gets a fantastic response.

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Lesson Plans/Teacher’s Guides

  • #Black History Matters (Natasha Henry for the Toronto Star)
    • This website contains four guides that provide an introduction and lesson plans to different aspects of Black Canadian History. The subjects include: “African Civilizations,” “Slavery and Freedom in Canada,” “African Canadian Life in the 20th Century,” and “Legacies, Struggles, and Contributions in the 21st century.” Each one of these guides is designed to focus on the issue of social justice and human rights. While these guides were designed to be taught in high schools, they can easily be adapted for use in universities and colleges. For instance, the second guide has an activity where students are asked to analyze 18th century slave ads, applying the principles from the Historical Thinking curriculum. Each guide also provides you with links to additional resources on related topics, though some of the links are now dead.
  • Black History in Canada Education Guide (Historica Canada)
    • This is one of the latest learning tools developed by Historica, and is focused mostly on the novel and made-for-tv movie, The Book of Negroes. The guide includes a detailed timeline of Black history in Canada, as well as a number of important themes, including slavery, human rights, and (briefly) Canadians of Caribbean descent. Each theme contains a basic explanatory text as well as a selection of discussion and research questions, many of which are fantastic and would work in any university classroom. You should also check out the accompanying website, which contains more information as well as some discussion questions.
      • Aussi disponible en Français
  •  The Black Lives Canada Syllabus (Anthony Morgan)
    • I think this one is pretty self-explantory. It has a great list of recommended sources, including scholarly books and articles as well as films.
  • Black History Canada (Historica Canada)
    • This is, as it says right on the front page, an annotated guide to resources on the experiences of Black Canadians. Though the focus is ostensibly on history, the website also contains resources relating to art, culture, politics, and activism, both historical and contemporary. The website can be a bit of a pain to use. At the top of the page is a banner with nine different tiny images along the bottom. Each image corresponds to a different topic, including “Enslavement,” “Black Settlement in Early Canada,” “Forgotten Stories,” “Caribbean and African Immigration,” “Equity and Human Rights,” “Identity and Assimilation,” “Black Contributions,” “The Arts,” and “Urban Centres.” If you navigate via these images, you will be brought to a page that describes that topic, and a image to the left. Clicking on that image will bring you to the actual annotated guide on that topic. Alternatively, you can use the text menu at the bottom of the header, which contains five topics: “Profiles,” “Events,” and “Arts and Culture,” “Timeline,” and “For Teachers.” These links will bring you to a collection of guides about specific topics (like individuals, wars, etc.) with an annotated guide to relevant links. Regardless of your navigation method, each page contains links to various websites from historical societies, encyclopedia entries, newspaper articles, and pdfs of journal articles and books. Many of these links are dead. The final two text entries, “Timeline,” and “For Teachers,” are pretty self-explanatory. However, the “For Teachers” section is pretty much empty.
      • Aussi disponible en Français
  • African Canadian: Road to Freedom (Greater Essex County District School Board)
    • This PDF document was produced to serve as a teacher’s guide to help educators in Ontario better instruct their students in the history of Black Canadians. The guide contains information and a timeline, as well as lesson plans that deal with Black history from the 18th century to the 20th century.  As in so many cases in this blog post, the lessons are aimed primarily at a younger audience. However, many of them are easily adaptable for use in university. In particular, many of the lesson plans include questions that would work well in any discussion group.
  • The African Canadian Literature Project (York University)
    • This website focuses specially on Black Canadian literature. However, their section on Teacher’s Guides will be particularly useful to university professors. The lesson plans are organized by grade, with the ones at the end being suitable for first-year university students. The lessons on code switching, the individual and the economy, and Herb Carnegie are particularly relevant.

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Media

Films

  •  Black Hands: Trials of the Arsonist Slave
    • This film, also about Marie-Josèphe dite Angélique, is a personal favourite of mine and one that I’ve shown many times while teaching. What sets this documentary apart, at least for me, it that it is not a dramatic re-telling of Angélique’s story. Instead, it follows historian Denyse Beaugrand-Champagne as she conducts research into Angélique’s past and speaks with other historians, punctuated by theatrical reenactments of specific events performed in a very stripped-down style. I wish they did all historical documentaries like this. Not only do you come away with a very real emotional connection to Angélique, but also with a sense of how historians find documents, conduct research, and interpret historical texts.
      • Aussi disponible en Français
  • Deeply Rooted: A Black Family’s History as 7th Generation Canadians (CBC)
    • This is a CBC documentary about the Downey/Collins family, who have lived in Canada for seven generations. Cazhmere, one of their descendants, walks viewers through her family history and discusses the common misconception that there were no people of colour (aside from Indigenous people) in Canada prior to the 20th century.
  • Secret Alberta: The Former Life of Amber Valley
    • This short documentary focuses on the experiences of around 300 individuals who fled the US and settled in Amber Valley, Alberta, an all-Black community of homesteaders.
  • African Canadian History Collection (NFB)
    • This is a collection of five different films that deal with various aspects of Black history in Canada. I would draw your attention to three of them in particular: Journey to Justice, about various Black Canadians, including Viola Desmond, who fought racism through the court systems; Remember Africville, which looks at the history of the historic Black community near Halifax and its demolition in the 1960s; and Speakers for the Dead, which looks at the restoration of a long-forgotten Black cemetery in Ontario.
  • The Canadians: Biographies of a Nation (Historica Canada)
    • This video series presents 45 minute-ish long films on a variety of individuals who have contributed to Canadian history. I think this aired on TV back in the 90s, but I don’t remember seeing it. There are two that deal with Black Canadians: this one of John Ware, an African-American cowboy who lived in Alberta, and this one of Rose Fortune.
  • Heritage Minutes – Various (Historica Canada)
    • There are actually quite a few Heritage Minutes that deal with Black History in Canada. Since many of them are quite well known, I’m just going to list them here:
  • Mary Ann Shadd Revisited: Echoes from an Old House (Allison Margot Smith)
    • This film is the result of a public history project to collect and preserve letters to and from Mary Ann Shadd. Shadd, who was an African-American abolitionist who spent several years living in Canada. The letters were rediscovered in the house she lived in during its demolition in 1974. The film tells the story of Shadd through the lens of these letters. Active History spoke with Smith about the project, and you can read about it here.
  • Secret Vancouver: Return to Hogan’s Alley (Melinda Friedman) 
    • Hogan’s Alley was, as mentioned above, part of Vancouver’s historic black community. This film explores the jazz scene in Hogan’s Alley, and how the area was nearly forgotten.

Podcasts

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Blogs/Personal Websites

  • Teaching African Canadian History/Fundi Education (Natasha Henry)
    • This an absolutely amazing website developed by historian Natasha Henry that serves as a resource to anyone teaching the history of Black Canadians. I don’t think it is being updated any longer, but what is present is still remarkably useful. I would draw your attention to two particular sections: the blog, and the resources page. Henry’s blog (which hasn’t been updated since 2015) contains thematic guides to Black history in Canada, with information and resources about how to integrate the subject into your classroom. While Henry’s focus is on elementary and high school, there is still plenty here that will be of interest to university professors. Just be warned that many of the links in each blog post no longer work. You should also check the resources section on her website, which contains suggestions about books, videos, primary sources, and lesson plans. I particularly loved the Word document of slave ads in Canada, which you can see here.
  • Black Canadian Studies (Charmaine Nelson)
    • This is the personal website of Charmaine Nelson, an art historian at McGill University. This website is intended to serve as a general guide to all things relating to Black Canadian Studies. While most of the website relates to Nelson’s particular work, I would draw your attention to her page on resources. This page brings together information about Canadian and international academic programs in Black Studies, videos of Nelson’s lectures, links to historical societies and museums, and more. Although the website is continuously being updated, some of the links no longer work. But this is a fantastic resource for anyone who works in an area relating to Black Studies.
  • Black Perspectives (AAIHS)

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Social Media

Twitter

Facebook

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You made it to the end! Well done! I hope that you have found this list to be useful. If there is anything you think I should add to it, please let me know in the comments below. I debated whether or not to include a bibliography, but eventually decided against it. If you would like me to provide a bibliography of recommended sources on Black history in Canada, please let me know in the comments! If you find this post interesting or useful, please consider sharing it on the social media platform of your choice. And as always, don’t forget to check back on Sunday for another new Canadian history roundup. Have a good week!

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10 Comments

  1. Don’t forget #cdnbhm!

  2. This is a wonderfully informative resource, Andrea! Thanks for taking the time to cultivate it in such a thoughtful manner.

  3. Excellent guide, j’aurais aimé pouvoir l’utiliser bien avant ! C’est un travail colossal que vous avez fait, merci à toi Andrea et à toutes les personnes qui t’ont aidé.

    • Andrea Eidinger

      February 22, 2017 at 4:09 pm

      Aww! Merci beaucoup, Pascal! Mes collègues sont incroyables, et je suis chanceux de les avoir, vous-même inclus! J’ai complètement oublié de noter quelles ressources étaient disponibles en français, mais vous m’avez rappelé! Alors merci encore!

  4. What a thorough and thoughtful guide. Thank you.

  5. Thank you, Andrea, for a very informative guide. It will be a useful source for those seeking information on the history of Blacks in Canada.

    Charles

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