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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada


Extracts of Matters of Historical Interest from "The Huissier, News For and About the Fortress of Louisbourg Heritage Presentation Staff" By The Fortress of Louisbourg Heritage Presentation Staff


(July 6, 2005)

Slavery in Canada

By Ken Donovan, Staff Historian

Before Europeans arrived, hundreds of people were enslaved by aboriginals along the northwest coast. Slaves were usually, though not always, captured in war. Valued for their labour and as items of exchange, slaves were central to the hunting and fishing cultures of the northwest. Aboriginal slavery continued in the northwest until the 1880's.

Slave holding in Canada after European contact was part of a broader phenomenon that began in the sixteenth century when the first slaves were brought from Africa to America. The French enslaved the first blacks in Canada as early as 1608. By 1759, the end of the French regime, there were 3604 slaves in Canada, 1132 of whom were black. The majority of the slaves were Panis. The term Panis, derived from the Caddoan tribes of the Great Plains, included slaves from more than twenty aboriginal societies such as the Fox, Sioux, Iowa, Kansa, Chickasaw, Blackfoot and Comanche. The French name Panis had become a generic term for aboriginal slave by 1750. There is little evidence that slavery in Canada during and after the French regime differed much from that in New England and the Middle Atlantic Colonies of British North America. Throughout the northern colonies of British America, unlike the plantation economies of the south, living conditions mitigated the harshest aspects of slavery. Employed on farms throughout the countryside, and working as house servants in the towns, slaves lived in close proximity to whites. Owning only one or two slaves, most slave holders remained confident of their hegemony, and hence slaves were allowed a certain degree of autonomy. Slaves in Canada represented less than one per cent of the population and thus Canada was a society with slaves, not a slave society.

During the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) black slaves in the American colonies were offered refuge by the British if they left their rebel owners. Some 3, 550 black people eventually emigrated from the American colonies to Nova Scotia. Loyalists who emigrated to Nova Scotia also took their slaves so that 1232 black people, 34 percent of the total black emigrants, remained slaves in Nova Scotia. During the late eighteenth century practically every town and village in mainland Nova Scotia had slaves and this story remains to be told. Recent research has also revealed there were more than 400 slaves in Cape Breton during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hundreds of slaves were also brought to Ontario and Quebec with their white Loyalist owners. Although legislative and judicial measures had restricted its development, slavery remained technically legal in British North America until abolished by the Imperial Parliament in 1833.