Select Page

History of Slavery

Transatlantic Slave Trade

The Transatlantic Slave Trade made it so that many Black people could only travel as slaves. Therefore, many Black people did not come to Canada for opportunities, but were originally brought to Canada as slaves.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade was a global slave trade that transported between 10 million and 12 million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas from the 16th to the 19th century. This was a three-way trading system where weapons, ammunition, textiles, and wine were shipped from Europe to Africa. Slaves were shipped from Africa to the Americas. Sugar and coffee were shipped from the Americas to Europe.

An illustrated enslaved African Canadian man stands still while working as a butler for the family he Is owned by.

Slaves were used to run households with positions such as butlers, cooks, or nannies. Many others worked in fields under terrible conditions.

During the early years of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the Portuguese purchased Africans who had been taken as slaves during tribal wars. As the demand for these slaves grew in the Americas, the Portuguese, British, Spanish, French, Dutch, and Danish entered Africa to forcibly take slaves. The slave trade had devastating effects in Africa that still impact the world today.

Two illustrated female slaves work with spades in a field.

Slaves also worked in fields and gardens. Slaves had no rights and were owned by White people.

There were financial incentives for warlords and tribes to participate in the slave trade and this created lawlessness and violence in Africa. Many of the people being taken captive were young women and men, leaving behind elderly, disabled people, and children – all of these groups could not look after themselves. Africa’s population dropped due to the slave trade and people lived in fear of being taken.

An illustration of a slave being traded with his hands tied behind his back. There are four other men talking beside him. There’s a sail ship in the background.

Slaves were taken against their will and traded to people in America.

Slavery in Canada

The first recorded Black person in Canada was an African named Mathieu da Costa who arrived in 1608 to serve as a translator in Nova Scotia. From 1628 until the early 1800s, Black slavery existed in Eastern Canada. Immigrants moving to Canada from the United States, where slavery was more common, would bring slaves with them. This was a terrible time in Canada’s history.

An illustration of Mathieu DaCosta wearing period clothing from the 1600s is shown with a sailboat in the background.

Mathieu DaCosta was the first recorded Black person in Canada and he arrived in 1608.

Underground Railway

Canada’s government agreed to ban slavery in 1793. The Black slaves that still lived in the United States began to view Canada as a place of freedom. The Underground Railway was a secret network of people that wanted to end slavery. People involved in this network helped Black slaves escape from the United States and come to Canada as refugees.

Four illustrated silhouettes are shown escaping in the Underground Railway. They are shown as dark shadows because they have to be discreet and secretive to escape.

The secret network of people in the Underground Railway helped slaves escape slavery in the United States and come to Canada as refugees.

Over 30,000 Black slaves came to Canada between 1830 and 1865 seeking freedom through the Underground Railway. In December of 1865, slavery was made illegal in the United States. At that point, many Black people that came to Canada for freedom chose to move back to the United States to reunite with family members and friends that had been left behind.

An Illustrated Black family stands next to their car that they have packed full with all of their belongings.

Once slavery ended, many Black families moved to safer regions to try to escape poverty, racism, segregation, and turmoil.

The people who helped to free slaves through the Underground Railway were heroes.


Despite many difficulties that Black people have faced, they created tight communities throughout Nova Scotia. One of the most famous of these communities was the community called ‘Africville’ that was formed within Halifax, Nova Scotia. These communities gave Black families a way to maintain their culture, connect with other Black people, and to escape the poor treatment and racism that Black people received by society.

A number of small houses are shown on a hillside. There’s a wooden well with a sign next to it that reads, ‘Please boil this water before drinking and cooking’.

Africville was a community in Halifax, Nova Scotia where African Canadians could maintain their culture.

Africville was a home to many Black Canadians and yet it was not properly maintained by the city to give people electricity, sewer systems, running water, and paved roads.