History of Blacks in Canada
The Underground Railroad (UGRR) is directly linked to the history of Blacks in Canada and
the role of Canada in the movement to abolish slavery and emancipate enslaved Africans. As
the history of the UGRR demonstrates, the Canadian heritage includes its role in the
shaping of the African diaspora.
In welcoming fugitives who were oppressed by the injustices of slavery and racism in the
United States, Canadian society grappled with one of its first refugee populations and
demonstrated an early commitment to humanitarianism, as reflected through contemporary
public policy. An estimated 20,000 immigrants arrived in Ontario (known then as Upper
Canada, and administratively as Canada West, after 1850) in the 1840s and 1850s, and as a
result African Canadians contributed significantly to the settlement and development of
the province, both at the time and continuing after the end of the American Civil War in
1865 and Canadian Confederation in 1867. The role of Canadians in the fight against
slavery underscores the significance of resistance and struggle in the dispersion of
Africans through enslavement, and moreover, highlights the vitality of a black Canadian
On Tuesday March 6 2001 a workshop focusing on the Underground Railroad was held at York
University, under the sponsorship of the York/UNESCO/SSHRCC Nigerian Hinterland Project.
The participants included representatives from York University, the Buxton National
Site and Museum, and Parks Canada. The object of this initiative was to enhance the
collaborative research being undertaken by community-university-government ventures
focusing on the Underground Railroad. One of the goals of this collaboration is the
designation of an appropriate site to commemorate the history of the routes of resistance
against slavery according to the mandate of the UNESCO Slave Route Project, as well as
advancing research on individuals who came to Canada to achieve and sustain their freedom.
Under the sponsorship of the Canada Research Chair on the African Diaspora, a text-based
biographical database is being constructed at the Harriet Tubman Centre for Research on
the African Diaspora (Senate approval pending). Research on the Underground Railroad is
being done in collaboration with the Buxton Museum, Parks Canada, and various
The UGRR Project is intended to enhance public awareness about the role of the Underground
Railroad in Canada, promote historical and cultural tourism, facilitate the dissemination
of knowledge about these issues, and inform the public on cultural and educational levels.