Skip to content Skip to navigation Skip to search

Slavery in Canada

While not a slave, Mathieu Da Costa is believed to have been the first African to come to Canada circa 1605. Contracted by Samuel de Champlain for his expedition from France to Port Royal, he worked as an interpreter, translating Mi'kmaq to French. Many other Africans who came to Canada after this date, however, were slaves. The idea that slavery existed only in the United States is a common misconception. Canada may not have been a slave society like the United States, but it was a society with slaves.

The first recorded instance of African enslavement in Canada concerns Olivier Le Jeune, a young boy from Madagascar whose African name is unknown. He arrived in Québec in 1628 and was sold by his owner to a clerk of the colony, thus becoming the first recorded slave sold in New France. After again being sold, he received his education at a school run by Jesuit priest Father Le Jeune. He continued to live in New France until his death at about 30 years of age in 1654.

After 1628, slavery was expanded and institutionalized under the French and British regimes. During and after the American Revolution (1776-1783), many white Loyalists moved to what is now Ontario bringing with them the practice of slavery. An imperial statute in 1790 allowed Loyalists to enter the country from the United States without paying duty on their slaves, if they obtained a licence from the Lieutenant Governor. The purpose of the statute was mainly to attract Loyalists to Upper Canada, but it also increased the number of slaves residing in the province.

During this period, many slaves in the United States left their owners and fought on the side of the British in the Revolution. When the war was over, a number of free Black Loyalists moved to British North America. While the majority settled in Nova Scotia, a small number made their homes in the Kingston, Niagara and Windsor regions of Upper Canada. Both free and enslaved Blacks were therefore living in the province concurrently in the late 18th century.

Come to the cabin!

Come to the cabin!

Learn about Josiah Henson, recognized for his contributions to the abolition movement and for his work in the Underground Railroad, at Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site in Dresden
Online exhibits

Online exhibits

Ontario’s stories are compelling and informative. Explore some of them through our online exhibits