Slavery in Canada

While in Quebec City, we visited a museum — the Musee des Beaux Arts — that features Inuit works from across Canada (stunning) and well-known Quebec artists such as Jean-Paul Riopelle, Alfred Pellan and others.

One exhibit – Devenir or Becoming – grabbed my attention. Not only did it include a collection of paintings – primarily portraits – from the 18th and 19th centuries, but it also included a series of drawings of runaway slaves alongside advertisements seeking their whereabouts that had been posted in Quebec newspapers.

In my naivety, I thought slaves running away from the US sought refuge in Canada.

While this is true, it seems that slavery was practiced by our indigenous people (usually as a result of wars with other tribes) and also by some who came from France and Britain to colonize Canada and acquired slaves in part to deal with the shortage of labour in the new land. Another source of slaves occurred when America declared its independence from Britain and many of those loyal to the crown moved to Canada and brought slaves with them.

The drawing above is one artist’s depiction of Bell, a slave who had runaway and whose owner advertised for her return in the Quebec Gazette in August 1778 (shown below).


Definitely a tragedy and a shameful period in Canada’s history. My writer brain is already imagining a story.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website

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6 Responses

  1. Yes, slavery existed in Upper and Lower Canada––more so with the British since they brought their slaves with them when they moved to Canada because of their opposition to the war of Independence. Since there were no great plantations like those that existed down south, there was no financial justification for having swarms of slaves, but they existed none-the-less. Native slaves were cheaper and were more equipped for the Canadian winters. All sad, but true, although there was no mention of that in our history books in school.

  2. I’ve joined a book club that is reading books designed to encourage us to explore our racial identity. As a result I’m learning a LOT about the racial history of the United States – things I’m embarrassed, even horrified, to admit I hadn’t any idea of before. The legacy is deep and painful and not easily rectified. But if we don’t face our history honestly, there’s no way we can really move ahead.

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