Parliament designates Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day in Canada

Published On April 26, 2021 | By Naima Nur | News

Canadian MPs agreed in a 335-to-zero vote in the House to declare Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day to celebrate the end of slavery in the country in 1834.

The day is important in Canada because Britain’s Parliament abolished slavery throughout the empire on Aug. 1, 1834, and the act freed enslaved peoples in Canada.

The enslavement of Black people was practiced by European colonists, dating back to the early 1600s.

During that two century period, what would eventually be Canada was involved in the transatlantic slave trade, and was further linked to enslavement by international trade.

Slave-produced goods such as rum, molasses, and sugar was exchanged with salted cod and timber to slave colonies in the Caribbean.

The day also acknowledges the achievements of the Underground Railroad in helping African Americans escape slavery to free states and for some into Canada.

The Underground Railroad was the largest anti-slavery freedom movement in North America where between 30,000 and 40,000 fugitives were brought to British North America.

Liberal MP Majid Jowhari who introduced the Emancipation Day motion in the House of Commons. Photo credit: Courtesy of: @MajidJowhari

Today in Canada, there are four surviving slave cemeteries in St-Armand, Que., Shelburne, N.S., and in Priceville and Dresden in Ontario.

The motion was introduced by Majid Jowhari, the Liberal MP for Richmond Hill, who “hopes that this motion will be the first step in acknowledging the gaps in our education system.

“The history of Emancipation Day goes beyond the abolition of the slave trade,” he said. “It should highlight the work of numerous Black scholars, activists and change-makers.

“We specifically want to acknowledge historic events like the Underground Railroad, where tens of thousands of African Canadians and African Americans bravely escaped slavery in the South and sought refuge in Canada from 1850 to 1860,” Jowhari said.

He introduced the private members’ bill on Dec. 8, 2020, and it was adopted March 24.

“We want to recognize the influential Black Canadian abolitionists and cultural leaders like Mary Ann Shadd, the first female newspaper publisher in Canada and first Black female publisher in North America,” Jowhari said.

He received support for the bill from Alex Ruff, the Conservative MP for Owen Sound, Ont., where Emancipation Day was celebrated since before Confederation in Canada.

The Green Party of Canada was also supportive of the private member’s bill.

“I’m very pleased that there has been overwhelming support in the House to proclaim Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day in Canada,” Green Party Leader Annamie Paul said.

She said declaring Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day provides Black and Indigenous communities an opportunity to come together to celebrate their achievements, cultures, traditions, innovation, and leadership through artistic expression.

“We hope that we will be able to celebrate the first official Emancipation Day on Aug. 1, 2021, from coast-to-coast-to-coast,” Paul said.

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