Recognition for Emancipation Day in Canada

Federal recognition of Emancipation Day in Canada is a fundamentally reparative act, meant to acknowledge the history of enslavement in Canada, to honour the freedom struggles of Black abolitionists and their allies in the past, and to renew a commitment to ending anti-black racism in the present.

On March 3, 2020, the Finding Christ Church project supported the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society’s community event, featuring Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, and historian and Ontario Black Historical Society President Natasha Henry. The evening called for new activism to support federal MP Majid Jowhari’s motion to recognize Emancipation Day in Canada:

Emancipation Day has been commemorated in what is now the Municipality of Chatham-Kent since the Emancipation Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1833, went into effect on the first of August, 1834, marking an end to slavery within the British colonies in Canada as elsewhere in the empire.

The Act was important, though not without controversy for its provision of financial compensation not to those who had been enslaved, but to their enslavers. Visit University College London’s Legacies of Slave Ownership Database to read more.

In Black abolitionist communities in Kent, August 1 celebrations in the years before the American Civil War were both celebratory and political, bringing antislavery and civil rights activism into public view.

After 1865, when the Civil War ended and the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution ended the institution of slavery, First of August celebrations continued to focus on community, resistance, resilience, and action.

For more on Emancipation Day celebrations in Canada, read scholar Natasha Henry’s book:

For more on Emancipation Day celebrations in the US and elsewhere, see Jeffrey Kerr-Ritchie’s book: