Slavery Ends but Discrimination Continues

The black population now liberated from slavery continued to encounter racism and discrimination. All across Canada, African-Canadians were excluded from the majority of positions and worked chiefly as servants or railway porters.

By the end of the 1920s, over ten thousand Canadians were active in various local chapters of the Ku Klux Klan. These white supremacists were concerned that the purity of the Anglo-Saxon race was being threatened by new immigrants and would attempt, among other things, to prohibit interracial marriages.

Despite the fact that Canada has never practiced legal segregation, it was “understood” that African-Canadians only resided in certain neighbourhoods, their children only attended certain schools, and they practiced their religion only in specific churches. This was the reality that created the district of Little Burgundy in Montreal, the birthplace of the great jazzman, Oscar Peterson.

African-Canadians were not allowed access to any professional organizations (sports and manufacturing associations, trade unions). Only the baggage porters would manage to establish a powerful union that ensured them better working conditions. All across Canada, employers refused to hire African-Canadians in shops and restaurants. They were banned from theatres and skating rinks and denied hotel rooms, regardless of their reputation or popularity.

Their communities received fewer services in the city; while in the country, African-Canadians occupied the least fertile land. They often had difficulty finding employment, and even when they did manage to land jobs, their salaries were invariably lower than Whites who performed exactly the same tasks.

It was only in the late 1950s that school segregation ended in Nova Scotia (1954), Ontario (1965) and then in Quebec. In the 1960s, The Civil Rights Movement in the United States would influence Canada’s approach to the treatment of its black minority.