Black History Month

Journey to the Present: A Black History Month Exhibit

Journey to the Present traces the history of peoples of African descent. This comprehensive exhibit consists of nine components, each focusing on a different era.

Journey to the Present was designed, produced and curated by Scadding Court Community Centre in 2003. This educational exhibit has been shared with community centres, schools, organizations and local businesses across Toronto.

Scadding Court Community Centre is a multi-service organization known for high quality social and recreational programming, particularly for children, youth and people with disabilities. Scadding Court Community Centre is operated by a City of Toronto Board of Management.

Learn more about the Scadding Court Community Centre.

Before the Europeans

This section illustrates life in various regions on the African continent. Illustrations include images of tools, farm life, manner of dress and ceremonies.

The King of Loango

The King of Loango, 1680s Comments

“The King hardly leaves his palace except for solemn holidays , or for some event of great importance, such as receiving ambassadors from foreign places, to appease conflicts, to hunt a leopard which has ravaged Loango…. He also appears on the first day that his own fields are cultivated, and when his vassals bring their tribute and come to pay him homage. They choose for this occasion a large place in the center of the city, where they raise his throne. It is a seat of black and white wickerwork, covered  with mats that are embellished with rare objects."

Last day of the annual customs for watering the graves of the king’s ancestors

“Last day of the annual customs for watering the graves of the king’s ancestors”

Royal Ceremony, Dahomey, 1790s

Europeans are on the platform in foreground.

Canoe Construction and use, Gold Coast, 1680s

Canoe Construction and use, Gold Coast, 1680s

Shows (right front) two Africans making a dugout canoe; several others paddling a canoe in a river (left); in background two men are crossing a bridge

Moslem of Dagombah and Salagha in their costumes of their countries, Gold Coast 1824

Moslem of Dagombah and Salagha in their costumes of their countries, Gold Coast 1824

Caravan Arriving at Timbuctoo, 1853

“Entree a Tombouctou”

Caravan Arriving at Timbuctoo, 1853

A caravan approaching the city in sept. 7, 1853; city in the distance. English editions of Barth’s book were published as Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa (London, 1857; Philadelphia, 1859).

The European Invasion

This component documents the activities of slavers. Illustrations include images of forced marches, leg irons, and published slave accounts from the 16th and 17th Century.

As European superpowers began expanding their empires in the Americas, the use of African slave labour became a fundamental component as plantation colonies developed. Britain, France, Spain, Holland, Denmark, Portugal and the United States were all major traffickers of slaves from the 1500s onward. Europeans had negative experiences in their attempts to enslave the indigenous people of the Americas. Once African slaves left the African continent; they were unable to ever return.

Captured Africans were often marched hundreds of miles across the continent to be loaded onto ships. Those unable to complete the march were often left to die. Massive European trading forts would often be the last things Africans would see before being taken away. Many Africans would drown themselves rather than live a life of slavery.

View of Fuli Town and plantations about it

“View of Fuli Town and plantations about it”

View of Full Settlement and Surrounding Garden 18th Century

Shows village, surrounding lands, livestock, various agricultural and pastoral activities

Branding a Negro Woman

“Branding a Negro Woman”

Branding A Woman

Scene on a beach, a woman on her knees being branded on her back by a white man; several African and European onlookers with a ship in background. Neither the location of the scene nor the original source are identified;

Maniere de voyager en Afrique” (mode of travelling in Africa)

“Maniere de voyager en Afrique” (mode of travelling in Africa)

Europeans being carried on litters, Gold Coast 1820

Shows Britishers being carried on litters; African in lead carries the British flag.  This hand-colored illustration is in the French translation of Hutton’s “A Voyage to Africa. Hutton was the British government’s consul to Ashanti.  

Horse-mounted warrior holding armour

Body Guard of the sheikh of Bornou, Nigeria, 1820s

Horse-mounted warrior holding armour

Colored painting; African town in foreground. Fort was founded by the Dutch in 1612; renamed Fort Nassau in 1637.

Fort Nassau (Mowri), Gold Coast, 17th cent.

Colored painting; African town in foreground. Fort was founded by the Dutch in 1612; renamed Fort Nassau in 1637.

 

Stand alone excerpt:

Africa is believed to be the ‘cradle of civilization’. The oldest skeletons of human beings as well as the first civilizations and cities were found there. During the centuries of the slave trade, the opportunities to be found in Africa captivated European imaginations. For geographical societies, “the Dark continent” was a land to be converted. For governments it was a land where fortune and power could be found. To the native African, it was the homeland where they lived in complex tribal societies, engaging in their own culture, which included tribal warfare and slavery as a natural part of their culture and lifestyle. Today, more than a century beyond the end of the enslavement of our ancestors, to those of the African Diaspora, Africa,a continent with over 50 countries is …. MOTHERLAND

By Mary Anne Shadd-Buxton

The Middle Passage

The trip from African continent to the Americas is referred to as the Middle Passage. Millions of Africans were packed on to ships like cargo for the two-month journey. Disease was rampant aboard the ships and in order to reduce the amount of financial losses to slave traders, sick slaves would be thrown overboard. If a slave drowned during the journey, insurance companies would cover losses’, they, however would not pay if a slave died of disease. With a mortality rate of 20%, millions of men, women and children perished in the hold of slave ships. The living were often chained to the dead.

Photographs of slaves on board ship, 1869

Photographs of slaves on board ship, 1869

Having been a major slaving nation, Britain became a determined abolitionist power after 1833, using the Royal Navy to stop ships suspected of being slavers. These photographers were taken about 1869, off the east coast of Africa. They form part of a Report from John Armstrong Challice, a Lieutenant in the Royal navy, working to abolish slavery in Zanzibar. Zanzibar did not abolish slavery until 1897.

African Diaspora

African Diaspora

Modern map showing major slaving routes from Africa to Old and New Worlds.

French Slave Ship, La Marie Seraphique, 1772-1773

French Slave Ship, La Marie Seraphique, 1772-1773

View of Capt Francais, St.Domingue, and slave ship. Shows purchase of slaves on deck of ship; iron barrier separating slaves from the quarter-deck; also cross-section of ship’s hull with storage quarters.

African thrown overboard from a slave ship, 19th cent.

African thrown overboard from a slave ship, 19th cent.

Europeans throwing an African from the deck of a ship, the original source of this image remains uncertain although it may be derived from the zong case. The slave ship zong, bound from West Africa to Jamaica in 1781, had a serious epidemic on board, and the captain over a period of three days threw overboard 131 weakened and sick slaves; the incident provoked a controversy in England.

Revolt aboard Slave Ship, 19th Century

Revolt aboard Slave Ship, 19th Century

Africans and Europeans fighting with weapons on top deck.

Africans forced to dance on deck of slave ship mid 19th Century

Africans forced to dance on deck of slave ship mid 19th Century

African in the hold of slave ship 1827

“negres a fond de calle”

African in the hold of slave ship 1827

Shows men, women, and children below deck, with European sailors/guards.

Plan of the British slave ship “Brookes” 1789

Plan of the British slave ship “Brookes” 1789

“stowage of the British slave ship ‘Brookes’ under the Regulated slave Trade, Act of 1788”; shows each deck and cross-sections of decks and “tight packing” of captives. One of the most famous images of the transatlantic slave trade. After the 1788 Regulations Act, the Brookes was allowed to carry 454 slaves.

Slave Life

The life of a slave was a brutal one, treated with less humanity than animals; slaves would be worked from the earliest hours in the morning to late at night. The majority of slaves were put to work on the plantations, cocoa in South America and agriculture in the Americas. Those few slaves permitted to work indoors fared little better. Slaves were subject to the whims and temperaments of their masters and mistresses; the slightest provocation real or imagined, would result in a brutal whipping or worse. African women were regularly raped by their white masters, children of slaves were often sold in order to destroy any sense of family. Although slavery ended in Canada before it did in US, the life of a slave was just as harsh.

Holeing a cane-piece, on Weatherell’s Estate

“Holeing a cane-piece, on Weatherell’s Estate,”

Sugar Cane Cultivation, Antigua, West Indies ca 1820

Shows first group of slave men and women performing the most common method of preparing fields for the planting of sugar cane; black individual surpervises the work.

Sugar Works and Plantations, Pernambuco, Brazil 1635

Detail of inset on Blaeu’s map of Brazil, which shows sugar works and plantations buildings. See other image in this collections, “Sugar works and Plantation, Pernambuco, Brazil, 1662.”

Advertisement for slave sale, Charleston, south Carolina, late 18th century

Advertisement for slave sale, Charleston, south Carolina, late 18th century

“To be sold on board the ship Bance-Island”. Advertisement in Charleston newspaper announcing forthcoming sale of Africans from the Windward Coast; stresses their knowledge of rice culture and freedom from smallpox. The Library of Congress assigns a possible date ‘from the 1780s (?)”; also published in Daniel Mannix (Black Cargoes (New York, 1962), after p. 146) with an assigned date of 1766.

Plantation dance, Virginia (?) ca. 1790-1800

Plantation dance, Virginia (?) ca. 1790-1800

Watercolor by unidentified artist, depicting plantation slaves dancing and playing musical instruments; banjo player and drummer at right.

Treadmill, Jamaica 1837

“an interior View of a Jamaica House of correction,”

Treadmill, Jamaica 1837

This illustration shows a scene during the Apprenticeship Period (1834-38); man on left being flogged, in center at bottom, a woman has her hair cut off. This engraving (a copy of which is held by the national library of Jamaica) was first published by British abolitionists in 1837 and distributed separately; it was also bound in to some editions of james Williams, A Narrative of Events (London and Glasgow, 1837 and other editions) which described many of the conditions shown in the illustration

Steal Away

At the onset of the Atlantic slave trade, captured Africans resisted slavery. In Saint-Dominique (modern day Haiti) slaves overthrew their French masters and established a free society in 1804. In Jamaica, free slaves became known as Maroons and eventually forced concessions from the British. However, once peace was achieved, 600 Maroons were exiled to Nova Scotia in 1796. Unhappy with their situation in 1800, they voluntarily re-settled in Sierra Leone, West Africa. In the United States, a network of escape routes developed. Known as the Underground Railroad, tens of thousands of African slaves escaped North to Cannan (Canada). Travelling from safe house to safe house, slaves would be guided and helped by other Africans and sympathetic whites. Those who led escaped slaves North were known as conductors, the most famous of them being Harriet Tubman, also known as Moses.

 

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman (far left)with some of her charges.

Henry “Box” Brown

Henry “Box” Brown

Henry Box Brown was shipped from slavery to freedom in a packing crate.

running away

“running away”

Escaping slavery, U.S. South, 1850s

Fugitives trying to elude white captors. The Fugitive Save Act (1850) authorized slave catchers to track down runaway slaves.

Advertisement for fugitive slave, Maryland 19th century

Advertisement for fugitive slave, Maryland 19th century

Broadside, offering $100 reward for the return of a runaway “Negro boy.’

Slaves escaping the U.S. South, 1864

“Negroes leaving their home”

Slaves escaping the U.S. South, 1864

Family escaping North for the Union line, houses/cabins in background.

The Abolitionist

Perhaps Simcoe’s most important achievement as lieutenant-governor was the limitation of slavery in the province. Initially, Simcoe proposed the outright abolition of slavery. However, the Legislative Assembly opposed this proposal because many Loyalists brought enslaved people with them to Upper Canada after the American Revolution. As a compromise, Simcoe passed legislation that allowed for gradual abolition: slaves already in the province would remain enslaved until death, no new slaves could be brought into Upper Canada, and children born to female slaves would be freed at age 25. This act was the first to limit slavery in the British Empire and remained in force until 1833 when the Emancipation Act abolished slavery in all British holdings, including Ontario.

The St. Lawrence Hall

The St. Lawrence Hall

The St. Lawrence Hall was originally constructed in 1849. Soon after its construction the St. Lawrence Hall became a central meeting place for the anti-slavery (Abolitionist) movement in Toronto. In 1851 some 1,200 people attended speeches by Abolitionist, most notable, American Fredrick Douglass. (6.7)

Fredrick Douglas

Fredrick Douglas

American Fredrick Douglas is probably the most widely know of the abolitionists. In Canada some of the most vocal abolitionists were Henry & Mary Bibb who published The Voice of the Fugitive in 1851.

Mary Anne Shadd

Mary Anne Shadd

Mary Anne Shadd in 1853 became the first woman in North American to publish and edit a newspaper. Called the Provincial Freeman, the paper concerned itself with the Black community in Canada and the abolition movement in the United States

Olaudah Equiano or Ottobah Cugoano, late 18th cent.

Olaudah Equiano or Ottobah Cugoano, late 18th cent.   

Oil portrait by unidentified painter is hanging in the Royal Albert Museum, Exeter, Devon, England. The museum identifies the subject as Olaudah Equiano, although he may be, in fact, Ottobah Cugoano.

George Brown

George Brown

Another Canadian involved in the anti-slavery movement was newspaper publisher George Brown. Like Shadd, Brown used his newspaper the Globe to denounce slavery. Everyday citizens also took up the abolitionist cause;

William Lyon Mackenzie

William Lyon Mackenzie

The noted publisher, journalist, politician and radical reformer, William Lyon Mackenzie was a strong supporter of abolitionism. Through his many newspapers, including The Constitution and Mackenzie condemned slavery and promoted equality for the Black population.

The Anti-Slavery Act of 1793

The Anti-Slavery Act of 1793

John Graves Simcoe played a leading role, along with many refugees and clergy in establishing the Anti-Slavery Act of 1793. The Canadian anti-slavery movement included abolitionists in England, Ireland and Scotland.

Emancipation

Emancipation came in gradual steps for African people living in British controlled colonies and territories. In 1793 Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe passed a law in Upper Canada barring the importing of slaves and slaves who were over 25 years old were freed. Upper Canada became the first British colony to pass legislation against slavery. In response, the US passed laws allowing for the return of runaway slaves resulting in more escaped slaves moving into Canada. Slavery officially came to an end in all British territories at midnight on July 31st 1834. August 1 became know as Emancipation Day and celebrations were held throughout Black communities. Slavery continued in the United States and several court cases involving escaped slaves went before the courts. Canadian courts continually denied requests to return escaped slaves to their former masters. Slavery in the US finally came to an end in 1865.

Emancipation monument, Barbados

Emancipation monument, Barbados

Larger than life size statue of unknown slave, with broken shackles. Named “slave in Revolt” by its creator, the Barbadian sculptor Karl Broodhagen, this statue was commissioned by the government of Barbados to commemorate the 150th anniversary of slave emancipation in the British colonies; it was unveiled in March 1985.

Celebration of Emancipation

Celebration of Emancipation

Thomas Nast’s depiction of emancipation at the end of the Civil War envisions the future of free blacks in the U.S. and contrasts it with various cruelties of the institution of slavery.

Commemoration of Slave Emancipation in the British Empire, 1834

Commemoration of Slave Emancipation in the British Empire, 1834

Text below reads: “A glorious and happy era on the first of August, bursts; upon the Western World; England strikes the manacle from the slave, and bids the bond go free.

Emancipated Slaves, North Carolina, 1863

“The Effects of the Proclamation—Freed Negroes coming into Our Lines at Newbern, North Carolina, 1863”

Emancipated Slaves, North Carolina, 1863

Men, women, and children, accompanied by troops of the Union Army. These ex-slaves were “contrabands” who choose to relocate after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Celebrating Emancipation, Barbados, 19th century

“an emancipation festival in Barbados.”

Celebrating Emancipation, Barbados, 19th century

Slaves in Barbados and throughout the British Empire were emancipated in 1834-38

Black soldiers of Union army liberating slaves, North Carolina, 1864

“colored Troops under General wild, liberating slaves in North California.”

Black soldiers of Union army liberating slaves, North Carolina, 1864

Some of wild’s battalion freed slaves from the Terrebee plantation; these slaves were accused of taking valuable animals from the farm.

Victorious Soldiers Return

Victorious Soldiers Return

Alfred Waud’s drawing captures the exuberance of the Little Rock, Arkansas, African American community as the US colored troops returned home at the end of the Civil War.

The 20th Century

By the beginning of the 20th century, there were Blacks living in all parts of Canada. Black farmers from the US settled in the prairies. Wishing to limit the number of Blacks in Canada, the government developed immigration policies that restricted the immigration of Blacks from the US and the Caribbean. This policy lasted up until the 1960’s when the point system paved the way for increased migration. Facing discrimination from white businesses, Blacks opened their own shops and services to meet the needs of the community.

Members of Toronto’s Grant African Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1890s

Members of Toronto’s Grant African Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1890s

John Ware (Texas Cowboy) and his pioneering family in Alberta, 1896

John Ware (Texas Cowboy) and his pioneering family in Alberta, 1896

James Robinson Johnston

James Robinson Johnston

Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, James Robinson Johnston graduated from Dalhousie University and became the first Black Canadian in Nova Scotia to became a lawyer.
The James Robinson Johnston chair in Black Canadian studies at Dalhousie is the first chair and program dedicated to the study of Black Canadian perspectives.
Frederick H.A. Davis was the son of the first Black lawyer in Canada, and was himself a renowned civil and criminal lawyer who practiced in the Amherstburg area between 1900 and 1926.

A farming family in Vulcan, Alberta, c.1903

A farming family in Vulcan, Alberta, c.1903

Farmers of African descent helped settle the West.

Charles and Chestina Duval with their children about 1900.

Charles and Chestina Duval with their children about 1900

The Sheffield brothers were successful businessmen in Collingwood. This photo was taken about 1914

The Sheffield brothers were successful businessmen in Collingwood. This photo was taken about 1914

Based in Hamilton, Ontario about the turn of the 20th century, this concert company was well noted for their performances

Based in Hamilton, Ontario about the turn of the 20th century, this concert company was well noted for their performances

Charles Duval (left and Fred Bolin) in the Barbershop established by Charles father, about 1895

Charles Duval (left and Fred Bolin) in the Barbershop established by Charles father, about 1895

The Negro Volunteer Military Company was formed in Victoria B.C. about 1860 to protect the British colony. The Hudson’s Bay company lent the volunteers muskets

The Negro Volunteer Military Company was formed in Victoria B.C. about 1860 to protect the British colony. The Hudson’s Bay company lent the volunteers muskets

Our Achievements

Throughout the history of African people in the Americas there have been hundreds of achievements that people can look back upon and be proud of. From Mathieu da Costa to the work of Mary Anne  Shadd to Reverend William White to Lincoln Alexander to Rosemary Brown, Blacks in Canada continue to make strides and achievements that all Canadians are proud of. What started as Negro History Week, an event geared towards Black children in the United States, has now grown into the month long study of the history of African people around the world. This panel display is only a small sample of the rich, diverse and important history of African people and the stories of their journeys to Canada.

Joe Halstead

Joe Halstead

Joe Halstead was the City of Toronto’s Commissioner of Economic Development, Culture and Tourism, including responsibility for Sports, Recreation and Parks from 1999 to 2005. Prior to these responsibilities, Joe enjoyed a distinguished 24 year career in the Ontario Public Service where he served in five different Provincial ministries in a broad range of management positions, rising to the distinction of Assistant Deputy Minister of the Provincial Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Recreation.

Harry Jerome

Harry Jerome

Harry Jerome of British Columbia won a medal in the 100-metre dash at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games. In 1966, Harry Jerome again confirmed his status as one of the world’s fastest humans when he struck gold at the commonwealth Games.

Donavan Bailey

Donavan Bailey

Donavan Bailey in 1996 became the fastest man in the world after winning the 100-metre sprint at the Atlanta Olympic Games. Bailey also broke the prevailing Olympic and World records.

Anne Clare Cools

Anne Clare Cools

Anne Clare Cools is a Liberal Senator from Ontario. Senator Cools has been an innovator and leader in the creation of social services to help battered women and families in crisis

Rita Cox

Rita Cox

Born in Trinidad, Rita is a teacher, librarian, author and storyteller. She was the head librarian of the Parkdale Public Library for 22 years. Rita is an award-winning, master storyteller and in 1997 was appointed a member of the order of Canada in 1997 and is a recipient of honorary degrees from York and Wilfred Laurier Universities.

Oscar Peterson [In Memoriam 1925- 2007]

Oscar Peterson [1925- 2007]

Oscar Peterson is one of jazz’s most respected and innovative musicians. Peterson’s career has spanned over fifty years. Probably best known for his work with the trios he has led over the years, he has also accompanied such jazz greats as Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie and Bille Holiday and made a major impact as a solo artist. Despite suffering a stroke in 1993, he continued to perform and was active  in jazz education and as an advocate for racial equality.

Leonard Austin Braithwaite

Leonard Austin Braithwaite [1923-2012]

Leonard Austin Braithwaite, a successful laywer, was the first Black bencher elected to the Governing Council of the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1999. During his lifetime he fought for racial and gender equity within the education system and provinical government. Braithwaite was instrumental in abolishing the "old race law" which segregated many schools in Ontario until 1964. He was also elected as a Member of Provincial Parliament in 1963, becoming the first Black person in Canada to hold this position and to serve for the Departments of Labour and Welfare.

Zanana Akande

Zanana Akande

Born in 1937, Ms. Akande was raised in Toronto and is a graduate of the university of Toronto and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).
Appointed Minister of Community and Social Services in the first New Democratic government cabinet, Ms. Akande was the first Black women member of provincial Parliament to serve in the Ontario government. She was also the first Black women cabinet minister.

Alvin Curling

Alvin Curling

Alvin Curling was a Member of Provincial Parliament for the riding of Scarborough-Rough River from 1999 to 2005. Under the David Peterson government, Alvin served as Minister of Housing (1985 to 1987), and Minister of Skills Development with special responsibility for Literacy (1987 to 1989). Most recently, he was honoured by the Government of Jamaica, awarding him the Order of Distinction, in the Rank of Commander.