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:
- Online Exhibitions (one-stop shops)
- Primary Sources
- Lesson Plans/Teacher’s Guides
- Media (films, video, audio that are not primary sources)
- Social Media
*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.