From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/African Canadians/Ames W. St. G. Walker
There is no single African-Canadian culture, for peoples of African origin represent a cultural mosaic as diverse as any in the world. Africa itself has always been pluralistic and most African Canadians have come through a variety of New World experiences since their ancestors left their continent of origin, adding innumerable infusions from European and other cultures. African-Canadian cultural characteristics are in dynamic relationship with each other, with non-black cultures in Canada, and with the physical reality of life in a modern, industrial, urban society. Canadian regionalism itself has supplied influences and evoked innovations productive of immense variations over time and space. African-Canadian culture, like every other, is a process, and in Canada it is producing something new and unique in response to Canadian conditions.
Yet it is possible to trace a Canadian pattern in black cultural evolution, illustrating the transmission of African elements, the impact of enslavement, and the continuing influences of a Canadian context characterized by racial restriction. The barriers erected by racism encouraged black people to look to their own communities and institutions, permitting the growth and protection of cultural distinctions and generating a conscious black identity. At the same time, there was the constant goal to destroy the barriers altogether, and this quest for equality gave the evolving black culture an inescapably political tone and shaped its institutional development.
The process began with the arrival of the earliest former American slaves, the black Loyalists. The half-century before the American Revolution was the most creative period for shaping black American culture and, more specifically, for adapting it to the condition of slavery. While this process was at its most critical phase, the American colonies received their largest direct importation of slaves and hence a renewed infusion of African influences. The American Revolution did not end the development of black culture, but the black Loyalists were removed from one essential context: slavery. They were a self-selected group, convinced that they deserved and could obtain full equality as British subjects, and they brought this determination into the cultural dynamic that would continue in Canada. The defining characteristic of African-Canadian culture was a belief in the equality of black people and a determination to have it recognized. As new waves of black immigrants arrived, whether runaway slaves or free black people seeking equality, this fundamental orientation was confirmed. One consequence, recognizable at every stage of African-Canadian history, has been an insistence on the respect owed to black people as citizens. This was not a demand for “social respectability” but a much deeper political commitment to equal treatment.
The rejection of the black Loyalists’ claims for equality lent a direction to their subsequent development. Economic dependence produced obvious limitations, but in most other areas of life black people were forced to rely on their own resources. In terms of religious life, for example, very few of the blacks had openly belonged to churches while in slavery; in Canada they developed new religious styles, adapting the message of their white mentors to their experiences in slavery and their African heritage. In church there grew not only a unique religious blend but a positive sense of worth and identity. According to African criteria, the presence of the spirit could be felt and demonstrated, and this presence was more apparent in the blacks’ churches than in the whites’. Black preachers often relied on visions and dreams for their inspiration; congregations participated experientially in what they recognized as a spiritual visitation. Their notion of being a “Chosen People,” initially derived from the historical parallel with the Israelites, reflected as well a conviction that their Christianity was especially “sanctified” by the creator. Thus could the political vision be articulated in religious terms, as church and community were melded in a common source of identity.
The separate black churches lent institutional support to the preservation and transmission of black culture, so that particular features that were not essentially religious would often bear religious motifs. Music, dance, folklore, even daily speech became imbued with biblical imagery. Africa supplied the call-and-response rhythms that slaves applied as work songs during gang labour. When masters disallowed drums, fearing they could be used for long-distance communication, slaves fashioned gourds and tambourines and developed clapping and dance rhythms to accompany their music. For instruments, the slaves adapted a fiddle, based on an African prototype, and introduced the banjo from Africa. On Saturday nights the slaves would “frolick,” singing, dancing, and often mocking their masters in satirical versions of marches and balls. African musical styles, tempered by slavery, clearly entered Canada very early and grew within the all-black churches to lend a particular tone to worship services. By the same process, much musical development was channelled into hymns, spirituals, and gospel songs.
The persistence of African influences was evident in other areas. In slavery, mother-tongue communication was often forbidden by masters or in any case was difficult where many African languages were represented. Instead slaves developed pidgins, combining European vocabulary terms with African grammatical structures and speech patterns. To this was added African folk speech, a proverbial way of speaking using a saying or a tale to make a point. Often those would be animal tales or “tall tales” which were meant to lend special significance through exaggeration or humour or immediately recognizable metaphors. The early Canadian use of “black English” has been demonstrated through analysis of black Loyalist letters and petitions written shortly after their arrival in Sierra Leone. African influences have also been discerned in slave housing designs. The small plantation cabin was built by slaves themselves, using local materials according to familiar African patterns. These designs were carried into Canada and survived in all-black settlements well into the twentieth century. Similarly, African-inspired crafts and decorative arts, such as basketry, quilting, and needlework, were preserved in Canada for many generations and often provided commercial opportunities for black women. Family and community structures, including in particular an independent role for women, were equally the product of African models reshaped by slavery and adapted to Canadian circumstances. Although specific memories of Africa were lost or blended in generic legacies, Africa-consciousness was not extinguished. Use of the term “African” in many black organizations, including the African Baptist and African Methodist churches, echoes a pride of origin, and in their anti-slavery utterances nineteenth-century black Canadians articulated an awareness of belonging to an international family of African descent.
The cultural process launched in the eighteenth-century colonies continued in the independent United States as well, but there were significant differences between the American experience and the Canadian. In the United States, the slave trade, conduit for African influence, lasted another quarter-century, there was protracted experience of slavery itself, and the huge urban ghetto emerged as a defining feature of African-American life. Black American numbers and formal segregation policies facilitated the emergence of a fully parallel society, with a range of institutions, social classes, and cultural opportunities quite unavailable in Canada. Historical experience and geographical setting influenced black American language, food, and religious expression, and there was even a post-emancipation urban shift in musical instrumentation from the African-based banjo and violin to horns and the piano. In 1925 the African-American anthropologist Arthur Huff Fauset visited Nova Scotia to examine black folklore and, finding it different from his own experience, concluded that there was no black culture in Canada. He was shocked to discover that the Uncle Remus stories were unknown in Canada, yet he did not recognize the cultural imperative in the Nova Scotians’ refusal to tell stories that were beneath their dignity or might suggest a “minstrel” role. Without conscious irony Fauset recorded black tales, noted African-Canadian religious distinctiveness, and described the houses in Preston as identical to those of their southern progenitors, but because certain ingredients were missing he did not connect them as valid cultural expressions of black history in Canada. More recent anthropologists and sociologists, sharing Fauset’s external definition of black culture, have come to similarly faulty conclusions.
Besides petitions and appeals to government, the earliest literary records of the black Canadian experience were autobiographical narratives. Three of the most influential black Loyalist preachers, David George, Boston King, and John Marrant, wrote or dictated accounts of their lives in slavery, their escape to the British during the American Revolution, and, above all, their religious development. As historical records they contain details unavailable anywhere else; as expressions of the fledgling black Canadian community they encapsulate the values and concerns of the people and demonstrate the dominating quest for equality in an environment of restriction. In nineteenth-century Upper Canada, autobiography was also the most typical literary form for black fugitives. Leaders of three black settlements, Austin Steward of Wilberforce, Josiah Henson of Dawn, and Henry Bibb of the Refugee Home, among many others, participated in that popular genre, the fugitive slave narrative. John William Robertson wrote the only example of the slave narrative published in the Maritimes. Osborne Perry Anderson, Canadian-born employee of the Provincial Freeman (Windsor, Toronto, Chatham, 1853–60?) in Chatham, accompanied John Brown on the famous raid of October 1859; his personal account, prepared with the assistance of Mary Ann Shadd, shares many of the same features. All are redolent with the struggle against injustice and the conviction that equality would be won, and the liberal use of biblical quotation revealed the implicit combination of religious and political principles.
Still the most prolific and sustained literary record came through the black press, reflecting at different times the predominating priorities of the African-Canadian community. The first successful black newspaper was the Voice of the Fugitive (Sandwich, 1851–54) in Upper Canada, edited by Henry Bibb and his schoolteacher wife, Mary. The Voice was challenged by the Provincial Freeman, at first nominally edited by Samuel Ringgold Ward and then by William P. Newman. The effective force behind the paper was always Mary Ann Shadd, though she was only listed as editor from 1856 to 1859, the first female editor in Canada and the first black female editor in North America. The two papers differed profoundly on several important issues, most particularly the wisdom of establishing separate black communities, yet both resonated with the same fundamental concerns: land ownership, self-reliance, antislavery, temperance, education, and Christian values. The BME church produced The True Royalist and Weekly Intelligencer (Windsor, 1860–61), its title reflecting another constant black theme – loyalty to Britain and the monarchy. The British Lion (Hamilton, 1881–92) was edited by Charles A. Johnson. The only Maritime journal of the era was Neith (Saint John, 1903–04), published by lawyer Abraham B. Walker. Dedicated to “Canadian principles of Liberty and Equity,” Neith praised British civilization and denounced American-style racism. Its intellectual successor was the Canadian Observor (Toronto, 1914–19). Editor J.R.B. Whitney crusaded against imported American influences, such as the film Birth of a Nation, and epitomized his editorial ideology with a long and successful campaign for the enlistment of blacks in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. If young black men “did their bit” for king and Empire, Whitney taught, the entire black community would be “elevated” to equal citizenship. The Dawn of Tomorrow(London, 1923–66), founded by James F. Jenkins of London and associate editor Robert Edwards of Toronto, proclaimed its loyalty to “One King, One Flag, One Empire” while extolling black equality and exposing instances of racial discrimination. Until Jenkins’s death in 1931, the Dawn was the official organ of the Canadian League for the Advancement of Colored People; thereafter it appeared occasionally, published by members of the Jenkins family. The Free Lance: Afro-Canadian Weekly (Montreal, 1934–41), published by E.H. Packwood and William Trott, vigorously promoted black community causes, reaching a peak circulation of 5,000 copies as it rallied support for Haile Selassie in Ethiopia and Fred Christie at home. A new Maritime journal appeared in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, in 1946; edited by Carrie Best, it was known as the Clarion until 1949 and then the Negro Citizen until 1956. Another example of social activism, with a masthead dedication “For Church and Community,” the Clarion broke the Viola Desmond story in its first issue and it continued to publicize racial injustice in Nova Scotia and as far away as Dresden, Ontario. Meanwhile, original editors Roy Greenidge and Donald Carty gave the Canadian Negro (Toronto, 1953–56) the motto “Long Live the Queen!,” but successors John White and Jean Daniels, both from Nova Scotia, injected a more radical line than this would imply. They joined Donald Moore’s campaign for immigration reform, effectively making their paper the official organ for the Negro Citizenship Association, picked up the Dresden story, and promoted the movement to have Little Black Sambo removed from Toronto schools.
Most of these newspapers were aimed deliberately at the black community itself, as was most black music in the same period. Often regarded as the quintessential expression of black culture, African-Canadian music tended to celebrate religious themes. The Reverend Wellington States compiled Hymns Sung at Services (1903), including traditional songs sung in folk and country style as well as explicit church music. Spirituals and country music, especially gospel, were virtually black folk music in the Maritimes where the link to African stringed instruments was never broken. More elaborate were the mass choirs, usually church-based, such as the Jubilee Singers founded in Halifax by J. O’Banyoun in 1860 and the Hawkins Singers founded in Chatham in 1869. Black choirs were regular participants at emancipation day festivities and civic celebrations as well as religious occasions. At the same time, black Canadians were drawn into African-American musical movements. Shelton Brooks from Amherstburg, Ontario, who wrote “Darktown Strutters’ Ball,” and Nathaniel Dett from Niagara Falls were acclaimed ragtime composers in the United States. Jazz also took talented Canadians to the United States, often returning them for a professional career in Canada as black dance bands became popular. After achieving American success, Lou Hooper of North Buxton toured Ontario and Quebec in the 1930s with Myron Sutton’s Canadian Ambassadors, settling in 1935 in Montreal where he founded a black male choir, the Hooper Southern Singers, and played in local jazz clubs. Trumpeter Louis Metcalf and his International Band played hotels and dance halls, as did the Harlem Aces (later Harlem Knights) led by “Chas” Winn and Harry Lucas, and the Cy McLean Orchestra, with its roots in Sydney, Nova Scotia. The popularity of dance bands peaked in the 1930s, but black musicians continued to entertain in cities across Canada. Eleanor Collins from Edmonton began singing with dance bands there, and then in 1938 she moved to the west coast where she remained Vancouver’s leading jazz singer into the 1950s. Phyllis Marshall from Barrie, Ontario, began her jazz and blues career singing with Toronto dance bands. The most famous Canadian jazz musician, Oscar Peterson, studied with Lou Hooper and played in Montreal clubs and dance bands before his 1949 Carnegie Hall debut launched his international career. Black musicians did not play black music exclusively: Truro-born contralto Portia White won international renown as a concert soloist, singing the European classics as well as traditional black songs.
Until the 1940s black musicians were not permitted to play in some Canadian hotels and resorts, and in others blacks could play but not sit in the audience. This kind of discrimination was also true of sports. All-black baseball teams existed in every Canadian region, sometimes limited to exhibition games against white teams. Most famous were the Chatham Coloured All Stars and the Halifax Coloured Rangers, who achieved provincial renown in the 1930s and 1940s. Although discrimination existed in boxing as well, it did not completely exclude blacks from professional opportunities. George Dixon, history’s first black world title-holder, was born in Africville and held the bantamweight and featherweight championships simultaneously through the 1890s. Sam Langford from Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia, never won a title because he was never granted a title match, but he defeated most of those who did. Known as the “uncrowned champion of the world” at his peak before World War I, on his induction into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1955 Langford was honoured as the best heavyweight fighter ever. Canadian titles were held by Larry Gains of Toronto, Roy Mitchell of Halifax, and Flash Bailey and Vern Escoe of Edmonton.
Track and field also offered opportunities to black athletes, success coming most notably to sprinter Phil Edwards of Montreal who ran in the 1928, 1932, and 1936 Olympics, winning a bronze in the 100-yard dash in the latter, and in 1937 he was the first recipient of the Lou Marsh trophy as Canada’s most outstanding athlete. His Olympic team-mate Sammy Richardson won a gold in the broad jump at the Empire Games in 1934 and in 1935 set a Canadian record that remained unbroken for thirty years. After World War II, black Americans began migrating to Canadian professional sport. Herb Trawick was the first black American professional football player in Canada, in 1946, the same year that Jackie Robinson joined the Montreal Royals baseball team en route to the Brooklyn Dodgers where, in 1947, he broke the colour line in American professional ball. They were followed by hundreds more.
The appearance of numbers of African-American athletes was only one aspect of a transformation in Canada’s black cultural scene. West Indian immigrants, representing a wide spectrum of class and territorial backgrounds, lent critical mass to the black population as well as new heights of cultural enrichment. African-American influence exceeded their personal presence, for the styles and symbols of black resurgence in the 1960s and 1970s easily penetrated the border to capture the imagination of young Canadian blacks. Out of the politico-cultural cauldron of the 1960s there emerged a much enhanced diversity in black self-expression and self-identification, and black artists and performers began occupying a more central position in Canadian culture generally, especially youth culture. Since the 1960s there has been a more deliberate adoption of African themes and a much greater awareness of historical experiences in Canada. The historic pattern in black cultural development was reconstructed rather than abandoned, and it continued to set the directions of African Canadians’ growth as a conscious community.
Beginning in the 1970s black Nova Scotia experienced a cultural outburst that has been labelled a “renaissance.” It followed upon the explosion in black consciousness that took place at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s and the related creation of vital political movements, and it was undoubtedly influenced by the dismissal of black culture epitomized by the demolition of Africville. As Africville had been a symbol of the African-Canadian condition, its destruction served as a call to vigilance and vigour in protecting the black heritage. The opening of the Black Cultural Centre in 1983 was both a symptom of the black revival and a facilitator for continuing creative impulses. The renaissance has been defined by poets – George Elliott Clarke, Maxine Tynes, George Borden, David Woods – and expressed through a variety of forms including the plays of George Boyd and Walter Borden, the novels of Fred Ward, and the films of Sylvia Hamilton. Characteristic of the Nova Scotian renaissance, and justifying the term, has been a striking resurrection of historical themes and personalities, a recognition that the black identity has been asserted historically through the pilgrimage towards justice and liberty, and styles of expression laced with biblical imagery and voices speaking “black English.” Because black English is most recognizable orally, consisting in rhythms as much as in grammar, there has been an emphasis on public presentation and performance. In symbolic recognition of its communal roots, black literature is being carried physically into the community in plays, films, songs, and poetry recitals.
Nova Scotia did not have significant West Indian or African immigration; the audiences and most of the artists have themselves been products of the Nova Scotian black community. In the rest of Canada the situation has been quite different, so that the immense flowering of artistic expression in recent years has been dominated numerically by immigrants. The unquestioned dean of black Canadian literature is Barbados-born writer Austin Clarke, whose humorous style and poignant imagery captures the experience of West Indian migrants in short stories and most notably in a trilogy of novels depicting a domestic servant and her circle of friends, The Meeting Point (1967), Storm of Fortune (1973), and The Bigger Light (1975). Thematically, the new black literature includes Caribbean reminiscences and there is considerable attention to the trauma and excitement of immigrant adaptation, but interestingly there is also a recovery of specifically Canadian historical material. Poetry has flourished outside Nova Scotia as well, as represented in the anthologies listed at the end of this entry and by the francophone poets Joel Des Rosiers and Alix Renaud. Black newspapers have been an additional forum for discussion of artistic themes while reflecting the social concerns of an evolving black community. Contrast (Toronto, 1969–85), founded by Al Hamilton, opened with the Sir George Williams story and paid regular attention to the National Black Coalition of Canada and political affairs. Bromley Armstrong introduced the Islander (Toronto) in 1973 to keep West Indians in closer touch with events in the Caribbean. Contrast’s absorption of the Islander in 1977 seemed symbolic of the multiple roots and interests of black Canadians, and it was matched by the appearance of a new journal, Share (Toronto, 1978– ), founded by Arnold Auguste, which has included news from the diaspora and lessons from the Canadian past along with current Canadian events. Michelle Lee Williams launched the Afro-Caribbean Newsletter (Vancouver, 1986– ), and Darryl Gray, the Provincial Monitor (Halifax, 1990– ).
Even more than literature or journalism, black music has been embraced by the Canadian mainstream, especially youth. In Montreal, jazz, once the preserve of St Antoine Street clubs, is now celebrated at a ten-day international festival, one of Canada’s major cultural events. Also indicative of the current popularity of black jazz is the career of Oscar Peterson, who, having emerged from the dance bands of the 1940s, has received every available music award as well as honorary academic degrees and appointment as chancellor of York University. There are other examples, too. After forty years in jazz Lou Hooper was “discovered” by Montreal jazz enthusiasts in the 1960s, and veterans Phyllis Marshall and Sonny Greenwich won new audiences. Toronto native Dan Hill became one of Canada’s bestselling pop musicians in the 1970s; Salome Bey in Toronto and Leon Bibb in Vancouver both wrote and performed musicals dedicated to black historical themes in the 1970s and 1980s. In the Maritimes the groups Four the Moment and the Gospel Heirs carried traditional black musical styles to the broader Canadian community. The black Canadian choir tradition has been maintained into the 1980s and 1990s by the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir and the Nova Scotia Mass Choir. Meanwhile Caribbean musical fashions had been introduced. Canada’s foremost calypso group was the Tradewinds, founded in Toronto in 1967, and the reggae group Roots Revival became one of Canada’s most popular bands in the 1970s. Radio stations have aired daily programs of West Indian music since the 1970s, and, beginning in 1978, the Société de Recherche et de Diffusion de la Musique Haitienne has sponsored concerts in Montreal. During the 1980s American rap music dominated the air waves, introducing an encounter with black music into almost every Canadian home. The proliferation of black musical styles in Canada was recognized with the creation by the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of separate categories in the Juno awards – granted in honour of Canadian musical achievement – for calypso, rap, and reggae.
A Negro Theatre Guild was founded in Montreal in 1942, but black theatre really began to emerge from amateur and festival circles only at the end of the 1960s. A black acting company, the Sepia Players, was founded in Vancouver in 1969 and renamed Black Theatre West in 1982. In Toronto, Black Theatre Canada and Theatre Fountainhead both appeared in 1973, concentrating on works by black playwrights. Winnipeg had the Caribbean Theatre Workshop, and in Halifax actor-playwright Walter Borden organized the black theatre company Kwacha in 1984. In the later 1980s there existed several theatre and dance groups in Toronto and Montreal, and Raymond Lindstrom’s Artczar Galleries in Toronto and Halifax displayed black artistic works. Film became an especially lively art form, encouraged by the Black Film and Video Network and the National Film Board. Black filmmakers in the 1980s and 1990s expressed themes similar to those established in black Canadian literature, as exemplified in the works of Jennifer Hodge, Sylvia Hamilton, Roger McTair, Claire Prieto, Dionne Brand, and Almeta Speaks.
In the 1960s track and field was ruled by Canadian-born black athletes, particulary Vancouver’s Harry Jerome (originally from Saskatchewan) and Abigail Hoffman from Toronto. Jerome participated in the 1960, 1964, and 1968 Olympics, taking the 100-metre bronze in 1964 and the Pan American gold in the same event in 1967, and was the only person ever to hold the 100-yard and 100-metre world records simultaneously; Hoffman ran in every Olympics between 1964 and 1976 and won gold medals twice at the Pan American games and once at the Commonwealth games in the 880-yard race. By the 1980s West Indians dominated Canadian track and field, epitomized by Jamaica-born sprinters Angella Issajenko and, until his 1988 Olympic disqualification, Ben Johnson. Michael Smith won a Commonwealth gold in the decathalon in 1990, and Mark McCoy took the Olympic gold in the hurdles in 1992. Curtis Hibbert won a silver medal at the World Gymnastics Tournament in 1987, the highest achievement ever for a black gymnast. At least a dozen black Canadian boxers have held national and world titles since 1960. The first to box at the Olympics was middleweight Bryan Gibson, a Nova Scotian, in 1976; then, in the 1988 Olympics, Jamaica-born Lennox Lewis won the heavyweight gold while Ray Downey of Halifax won the light-middleweight bronze medal. Professional baseball and football continued to be overwhelmed by American imports, though Canada has sent professional athletes in the other direction as well. The pre-eminent athletic export was pitcher Ferguson Jerkins, born in Chatham, Ontario, who became one of the finest baseball players in the United States and won the Lou Marsh Award in 1974 as Canada’s outstanding athlete.
Accompanying the artistic flowering of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s was a grass-roots renaissance of community interest in black history and culture. In 1978, as mentioned earlier, the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) was founded by Daniel G. Hill. It has a downtown Toronto headquarters and resource centre, conducts an oral-history program recording reminiscences of black seniors, runs tours to historic sites in Toronto and around the province, collects and preserves documentation, mounts workshops and displays, publishes a newsletter, and stimulates research and writing in black Ontario history. In Halifax, W.P. Oliver first proposed the formation of the Society for the Protection and Preservation of Black Culture in Nova Scotia in 1976, on the principle that to achieve self-determination black people had to understand their communal roots. Under its first president, Donald Oliver, the society moved to establish the Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia, which opened in 1983 at the site of the old Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children. The centre has a modern research facility and reference library, hosts concerts, special displays, and a prestigious annual lecture series, and has produced an impressive list of original publications. Like the OBHS, the Black Cultural Centre engages in community outreach, both making presentations and gathering oral evidence, documents, and artifacts. Organizations have appeared in other provinces dedicated to promoting awareness of black history and culture: the Alberta Black Cultural Research Society; in New Brunswick, PRUDE (Pride of Race, Unity and Dignity through Education) and the Black Loyalists of New Brunswick Association; and, in British Columbia, the Black Historical and Cultural Society.
In recent years, the historic presence of black people in Canada and their contribution to Canadian society has won increasing recognition. Plaques or monuments have been raised to commemorate the No. 2 Construction Battalion, military hero William Hall, and boxer Sam Langford, all in Nova Scotia; the Underground Railroad at the international tunnel in Windsor; and, in Victoria, the landing of the ship Commodore in 1858 bearing the original black pioneers. First Baptist Church in Chatham, where John Brown held meetings with local blacks preparatory to his raid on Harper’s Ferry, is recognized as a historic site, as is the BME church in St Catharines honouring Harriet Tubman, who led over 300 fugitives to Canada during nineteen separate trips back into slave territory, and the Nathaniel Dett Memorial Chapel in the BME church in Niagara Falls, named for the composer and musician. Shiloh Baptist Church in Maidstone, Saskatchewan, and John Ware’s cabin, relocated to Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta, have been declared historic sites. The site of Thornton and Lucie Blackburn’s Toronto home has been the subject of an archaeological examination and accompanying film telling the story of their escape and the attempt to extradite them in 1833. There are several elaborate historic sites and museums located in Ontario, with original artifacts and documents, reconstructions, and educational programs: in Dresden, the Uncle Tom’s Cabin Museum where Josiah Henson’s home and the Dawn Institute are preserved; at North Buxton, the Raleigh Township Centennial Museum and adjacent schoolhouse; in Maidstone Township, the John Freeman Walls Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum, part of the Refugee Home settlement; and, at Amherstburg, the North American Black Historical Museum and Cultural Centre. An international site commemorating the Underground Railroad is being developed by the United States National Parks Service, with Canadian participation.
In the 1991 census black people in Canada designated their own ethnicity in a variety of fashions, some by continent or region such as Africa or the West Indies, some by country of origin such as Ghana or Jamaica. Yet the largest number listed themselves as black Canadian, and when age group is combined with ethnic identification it becomes apparent that younger people, many of them born in Canada, are most likely to identify themselves in this way. Their immigrant parents, too, are beginning at least to include black Canadian in a multiple response. Common experience in Canada is encouraging a sense of shared destiny, and, as the existence of a black community of interest is recognized, the history of blacks in Canada is being explored for the communal experiences that led to this moment. And the acculturation process is reciprocal, so that cultural attributes brought by immigrants are being shared widely throughout the black population. As a result an entirely new black culture is emerging in Canada in the 1990s, essentially Canadian with features from all points in the black diaspora and with an especial respect for Africa itself. Kwanzaa, a seven-day holiday beginning 26 December, was fashioned in the United States as a synthesis of African agricultural festivals and is celebrated in many Canadian homes as a means of stimulating pride in the African heritage. Toronto’s annual Caribana carnival, Montreal’s Carifête, and similar festivals in many Canadian cities have become an amalgamation of components from the Caribbean and elsewhere, and participation is not exclusive to West Indians. Immigrant, regional, and linguistic distinctions remain powerful in Canada, among blacks as among non-blacks, but boundaries are becoming blurred as the historic process, begun with the slave trade, continues to produce an indigenous community of African Canadians with a culture and identity appropriate to Canadian conditions, a realm of the spirit that African-American writer Bell hooks has called “homeplace.”