Black History Month
Uncle Tom's Cabin, Dresden Ontario
Henson was the fugative slave upon which Uncle Tom was modelled
I couldn't let Black History Month pass without some comment. When I lived in the US. I was very involved in the Black community (I lived in the black neighbourhoods in Boston and New Haven over 10 years.) and their struggle and history. So much so, I was once interview for a church job and from my resume they assumed I was Black.
Few Americans seem to be aware of the history of Blacks in Canada. I heard Oprah express surprise when she learned that their were Black Nova Scotians. ( I hope she was just feigning ignorance for effect, if not; shame on her.)
From the beginning, there have been Blacks, even some in slavery, in Canada. Through the decades,there have been waves of immigration from the US, the Caribbean, Haiti, and Africa. Our mix of black population writes a different historical story to the Americans. In the US, the history of slavery taints all of the American Black experience. In Canada, there are other significant threads woven in the fabric of our Society.The Underground Railroad and fugative slaves coming to Canada has had its own powerful history here. http://www.africanhertour.org/story/index.html At the time, when Fugative Slave Laws saw escaping slaves hunted down in the US and returned to their masters ,Canada was a land of refuge with laws that protected Blacks rights as full citizens, owning property, having families, going to school and voting in elections. In the 1790's Lord Simcoe had made it illegal to bring slaves into Upper Canada (Ontario). Later in 1834, slavery was abolished in Canada. So prior to the American civil war, Canada was a shinning beacon of hope for fugative slaves. For a short time, they were a growing immigrant population. After the civil war many returned to the US to locate friends and relatives and participate in Reconstruction, a tribute to the pull of home and country. This was Canada's loss and Americans gain for many of these former slaves and their children, returned with significant educations and skills learned in their generational stay in Canada.
In the 1960's I read a book about one remarkable story of a black settlement in Canada, the Elgin Settlement. (Not to be confused with the settlement the Henson's were on) The book, "Look to the North Star" tells the story of a white Presbyterian Minister who inherited slaves from his wife, freed them and brought them to Canada, where the Free Presbyterian Church supported the creation of the 9ooo acre Elgin Settlement. http://collections.ic.gc.ca/OBHO/books/non-fiction/biography/lookto.html
click on picture to enlarge
The Elgin Settlement demonstrated that away from slavery Blacks could thrive and succeed.
I used to tell my American friends that this community was a model of Black Power ( in those days Black Power was debated in the US). It was a temporarily segregated community such that the residents could not sell their land to whites for at least 10 years. If it had been the model for reconstruction the racial and social tension in US history would have been much less.In the Elgin Settlement the influence of Scottish Presbyerianism shaped it. It was stricked, hard working, disciplined and sober. Families were granted land and had to work it hard. There were rules. For example, the house had to be close to the road with a porch across the front and a picket fence in front. (I imagine they looked much like the Uncle Tom's Cabin House in the picture above. There were awards for the best looking homestead.The school started by this community had a remarkable success. It was the first integrated school in Canada when local whites shut down their school and sent their children to the better Eglin school. The first six graduate of this school , former slaves, went on to higher education and made significant contributions in Canada and the US. At one time, this school of the children of former slaves even taught Greek as a subject. (Should this not be a lesson to all those who set low achievement standards for disadvantaged black youth.)The Elgin settlement grew and prospered in agriculture. It also started some industries, sawmill and brick works. http://www.ciaccess.com/~jdnewby/threshin.htm
With the outbreak of the Civil War and the formation of a Black Regiment in Michigan 70 men from the Elgin Settlement went and signed up to fight for the North and the end of slavery. http://www.geocities.com/cancivwar/USCT.htmlAt the end of the Civil War, many returned to the US. One became as legislator in Alabama and two Canadian trained doctors, started the Freedmen Hospitals in Washington and Chicago.It is a wonderful history to read about. If you read nothing else during Black History Month, read the story of the Elgin Settlement. I was so fascinated that I once went to North Buxton to visit the remnant community of this historic community. http://www.ciaccess.com/~jdnewby/black1.htm#Found%20on%20this%20page!
There are other significant Black immigrants who have come to Canada, most notibly from the Caribbean. If you want a good time come to Toronto during the Caribana Festival.
With Canada having a French official language our country is connected to f French speaking countries around the world, particularly in Africa and the Caribbean. Canada has large populations from these countries also, particularly Haiti, from where our Governor General Michaelle Jean came. (The Governor Genreral is the Queen's stand is, She is the Ceremonial head of the government and the commander-in-chief of the military)
Canada has welcomed the contributions of all the Black immigrants to the multicultural mix that is our culture.
For links to 400 sites on the history of blacks in Canada visit this Canadian government website. http://www.blackhistorycanada.ca/ Read on! It is an interesting history.