12 Reasons Why We’re Honouring Juneteenth in Canada, Too

Why are we marching for Juneteenth, or “Emancipation Day” in America, here? 

1. Black enslavement was and is not just an American thing— it happened in Canada, and to ignore that is to ignore years of history and trauma that our current systems are built on.

2. Enslavement in Canada existed before the European colonizers arrived, but the Europeans made it about race and property.

3. The enslavement of Black people in Canada began in the early 1600s and “officially” ended in 1834—that’s two hundred years.

4. Enslaved people in Canada were not treated better than enslaved people in the United States (also, being “better than America” is really not the point).

5. Outside of enslaving people within our borders, Canada also supported enslavement by trading goods like cod and timber for rum, tobacco and sugar produced by enslaved people in the Caribbean.

6. Canada didn’t even end enslavement itself. It was abolished by Britain across the empire in 1834 (so, Canada was included by extension).

7. In 1858, James Douglas became the governor of British Columbia. He was born in what is now Guyana and was “the son of a Scottish merchant with commercial interests in sugar plantations, and a ‘free woman of colour.’” He was biracial, and aware of the discrimination and racial tension the Black people in California were facing. That same year, Sir James Douglas invited 800 Black people from the United States (where they were not considered American citizens) to B.C., where they were promised land and the right to vote. They settled in Victoria.

8. But the black settlers faced discrimination in Victoria, so they moved to Vancouver; many moved to Hogan’s Alley.

9. The community in Hogan’s Alley wasn’t all Black (there were lots of Italian and Chinese people living and working there, too) but it was a very important place for the Black community. This video collab between the Hogan’s Alley Society and Telus has more details about the history of the vibrant cultural space.

10. The Black Community in Hogan’s Alley was driven out by the city of Vancouver under the guise of “improvement.” It was portrayed as a space of poverty, crime and immorality in the media. The immigrant enclave was dispersed by the construction of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.

11. A lack of Black history curriculum in Vancouver schools means that many students don’t learn the above, which feeds into the myth that there is no anti-Black racism in Canada. 

In protest of this history and to express community values and solidarity with Black folks in the states, Black Vancouver is holding a Juneteenth March this Friday, June 19. You can read more about Juneteenth here; our local march begins at 4 p.m. at Jack Poole Plaza. Participants are encouraged to wear a mask and stay six feet apart, and to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms in the two weeks following.