British Columbia's Black History - One Story at a Time
The arrival of the Black Pioneers to B.C. in 1858 was designated as a National Historic Event on September 22, 1997. This plaque was commissioned by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board and was unveiled on February 20, 2000 at the Shady Creek United Church located at 7176 East Saanich Road. The plaque cites but a few of the earliest black pioneers who came to British Columbia in 1858. Since the mid-19th century, many other blacks have arrived and contributed substantially to this province.
Migration of Blacks to Canada
There has been a steady stream of migration of Blacks into Canada via Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States since the 17th century.
The first recorded Black person to arrive in Canada was an African named Mathieu de Coste who arrived in 1608 to serve as interpreter of the Mi’kmaq language to the governor of Acadia.
17th and 18th Century: A few thousand Africans arrived in Canada in the 17th and 18th centuries as slaves. After the American Revolution, the British gave passage to over 3000 slaves and free Blacks who had remained loyal to the Crown. These Black Loyalists joined the many other United Empire Loyalists in settlements across the Maritime Provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Other Black slaves joined their Loyalist slave owners when they migrated to Canada.
In 1793, the Upper Canada legislature passed an act that granted gradual abolition and any slave arriving in the province was automatically declared free. Fearing for their safety in the United States after the passage of the first Fugitive Slave Law in 1793, over 30,000 slaves came to Canada via the Underground Railroad until the end of the American Civil War in 1865. They settled mostly in southern Ontario, but some also settled in Quebec and Nova Scotia. Many returned to the United States to fight in the Civil War and rejoin their families after its end.
Other migrations of Blacks from the United States occurred during the War of 1812, when over 2000 refugees came to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Another group of over 800 free Blacks from California migrated to Vancouver Island between 1858 and 1860.
Many Blacks migrated to Canada in search of work and became porters with the railroad companies in Ontario, Quebec, and the Western provinces or worked in mines in the Maritimes.
Between 1909 and 1911 over 1500 migrated from Oklahoma as farmers and moved to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.
In 1910 the government of Canada implemented a new Immigration Act that barred immigrants into Canada from races deemed undesirable and very few Blacks entered Canada during the next few decades.
In 1955, the West Indian Domestic Scheme permitted single women aged 18 to 35 and in good health to work in Canada as domestics for one year before being granted immigrant status. Over 2600 women were admitted under this scheme.
In 1967, the government of Canada dropped the racially discriminatory immigration system, after which Black immigration rose dramatically.