On October 25, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) premiered their eight-part documentary series, Black Life: Untold Stories that reframes the rich and complex histories of Black experiences in Canada spanning more than 400 years. 

The series features Dr. Christopher Stuart Taylor, associate vice-president of the office of Equity Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-racism (EDI-R) and professor in the Department of History at the University of Waterloo, whose contribution to the Migrations episode delves into the important conversation on why the single story of how Black people came to Canada is wrong. 

“Canada wasn’t this promise land, it was another step in a journey for freedom,” says Dr. Taylor, in the trailer video for Black Life: Untold Stories

The series will explore the untold stories of Canadian history, while viewers learn about the truth of the rich and complex histories of Black experiences in Canada. Each of the eight hour-long episodes will dive into the unique perspectives, testimonies and archival materials, to tell the different stories of enslavement, Black empowerment, hip-hop, immigration, art and literature, sports, policing and settlements.  

In an article promoting the CBC documentary series, Dr. Taylor explains how Canadian history has created this space where the stories of Black life in Canada have only fit into the narrative of the Underground Railroads — Black people seeking refuge to escape the horrors of enslavement and anti-Black racism in the United States in the 1800s — and the idea that Black people should be grateful to be in Canada. 

Dr. Taylor sees this single story as a dangerous narrative that not only “neglects, erases and silences generations of dark-skinned voices”, but also fails to include the important parts of Canadian history around the relationship between settler colonialism and Black and Indigenous liberation movements. 

The Migrations episode will touch on this truth of how Canadian history fails to mention the countless stories of Black agricultural workers to the arrival of Black health-care professionals and educators, or the history of Black women who faced physical, sexual and psychological abuse when emigrating to Canada.  

“We live in a moment of time where it is critically important for us to understand our diachronic realities,” Dr. Taylor says. “How history influenced, and continues to influence, the way we live, how we engage with ‘difference,’ and how we see the world around us.”  

As part of the documentary series, Waterloo PhD political science student Aaron Francis, offered photos from his Vintage Black Canada archives to be used as part of the storytelling. Francis’ late grandfather, Roy Francis, was a welder and professional photographer in Ontario, who left hundreds of images capturing memories and the everyday experience of Black life in Canada for six decades. 

Francis founded the Vintage Black Canada to honour his family legacy and to pay homage to his late grandfather by sharing the collection of photos that hold positive stories of the Black experience on social media and have already reached people across the world. 

“While my grandfather Roy was a Waterloo-based photographer, his images have resonated across the African diaspora through a shared cultural heritage that transcends not only geographical boundaries but also generations,” Francis says. 

Black Life: Untold Stories aims to reframe how Canadians view the country’s history by creating space for Black creators to eliminate commonly accepted myths and celebrate the many contributions of generations of Black people in Canada.  

After the release of the eight-part documentary series, Black Life: Untold Stories, the producers plan to amplify and expand the impact of the documentary series by leveraging it as a tool to strengthen communities and improve structures and systems. 

CBC’s Black Life: Untold Stories originally premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. The television series premiered on October 25 with each episode premiering every Wednesday on the CBC channel. The first four episodes, including Migrations, are available now on CBC Gem. 

Banner photo credits: Duane Cole Photography 

A portrait from a scene in Haven, But No Heaven, the first episode of CBC's documentary series Black Life: Untold Stories