Emancipation Day

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Celebrating Emancipation Day at UWaterloo

A Message from Dr. Christopher S. Taylor, AVP, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-racism

Emancipation Day August 1 and the Emancipation month (August) is a significant occasion for members of Black communities. The day commemorates the abolition of slavery and symbolizes our ongoing struggles for freedom, equality and justice. Canada's acknowledgment of Emancipation Day and Month aligns with the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, which emphasizes the promotion and protection of the human rights of approximately 200 million individuals of African descent in the Americas.

Emancipation Day is not just a date on the calendar. It is an opportunity for us to reflect on the history of enslavement in Canada. The Slavery Abolition Act came into effect on August 1, 1834, abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire, including what is now Canada. The Act made enslavement officially illegal in all provinces and freed the last remaining enslaved people in Canada.

The remnants of hundreds of years of enslavement means the racism is still pervasive in present day societies. To make progress in eradicating anti-Black racism, and all other forms of racism and oppression, it is our responsibility to engage in a process of learning and unlearning. This will enable us to uncover the truths surrounding Canada's role in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Emancipation. By acquiring knowledge, we can break down the barriers that hinder our understanding of how anti-Black racism persists and impacts the lives of Black communities today.

As we commemorate Emancipation Day and Month, let us not only celebrate the strength and resilience of Black communities, but also confront the often-overlooked history of slavery and anti-Black racism in Canada by educating ourselves. We need to understand the physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual violence inflicted upon Black communities. We must confront the fact that Black people were dehumanized, subjected to unimaginable conditions, confined, abused and tortured on Canadian soil for hundreds of years. We need to listen to the voices of those around us demanding change. We need to do better.

As members of the UWaterloo community, we are united in our commitment to fostering a society that upholds equity and inclusivity for all individuals. Together, we strive to create an environment where everyone can flourish, knowing they are valued, protected, and respected. 

Any behaviour or actions that undermine these principles, including discrimination, harassment, or exclusion will be addressed promptly and appropriately. We encourage open dialogue, understanding and empathy among all members of the Waterloo community to ensure a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone.

We have recently experienced violence on campus motivated by intolerance and hate. This incident shows us the importance of building a community where everyone feels safe to challenge ideas, speak up and ask questions to gain understanding. 

This year Emancipation Day is a reminder to all of us that it's time to engage in meaningful and uncomfortable conversations that force us all to take a closer look at policies, procedures, and actions that continue to hinder Black communities. This Emancipation Day, we challenge you to delve into the history of our nation by exploring the resources below.

If you are experiencing or have experienced anti-Black racism, you can find resources and support here.

Web Resources

Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery  

Use this resource to investigate if your family (and you, by extension) benefitted from enslavement. Search their database with your family surnames to learn more.  

Chloe Cooley and the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada  

Chloe Cooley was an enslaved women in Upper Canada whose resistance against her owners ultimately led to the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada in 1793, which was the first legislation in the British colonies to restrict the slave trade. Learn more about Chloe Cooley.

Colonial Canada Had Slavery For More Than 200 Years. And Yes, It Still Matters Today   

“Slavery was the dominant condition of life for Black people in this country for well over 200 years … so we have been enslaved for longer than we have been free.” Read this article by Joshua Ostroff to learn about the realities of slavery that took place in what is now Canada. 

Emancipation Day (Video)

Learn about Emancipation and Black settlement within Waterloo-Region through this video, created by the Waterloo Region Museum

McGill University Examining its Connections to Slavery and Colonialism  

Read this article to learn more about the new assignment researched by Joana Joachim, who is pursuing a PhD in Art History, Criticism & Conservation, and Melissa Shaw, who is completing her doctorate in History, examining McGill’s connection to the Transatlantic Slave Trade and relationship to Indigenous communities and colonialism.  

Books & Articles

  • Emancipation Day: Celebrating Freedom in Canada by Natasha L. Henry (available at the UW Library)  
  • Henry Dundas’ Substance of the argument of the Right Honourable Henry Dundas, on the slave trade, April 23, 1792 (available at the UW Library)  
  • Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to Present by Robyn Maynard (available at the UW Library) 
  • Until We are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in Canada by Rodney Diverlus, Sandy Hudson, and Syrus Marcus Ware (available at the UW Library)  
  • Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History by Sidney W. Mintz (available at the UW Library)  
  • The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James (read online here) 

People/Groups to Follow

Afua Cooper
Aina-Nia Ayo’dele
Anthony N. Morgan  
Black Faculty Collective UW  
Charmaine Nelson  
Christopher Taylor  
Claudine Bonner  
Confronting Anti-Black Racism – City of Toronto  
Harvey Amani Whitfield  
Natasha Henry  
Wendell Nii Laryea Adjetey  

Sources Used