- Pre 17th Century
c. 1-1067 AD
Ancient Ghana, 400 miles (644 km) north of modern-day Ghana, becomes a major trading empire, deriving its power and wealth from gold.
Sundiata Keita comes to power and rules over the Empire of Mali. The city of Timbuktu is transformed into a major city of trade and scholarship. The gold and salt trades formed the economic basis of the Empire.
Mansa Musa, a successor of Sundiata, rules Mali at its height and makes a famous pilgrimage to Mecca, bringing a huge entourage and so much gold that it plummets on the world market.
1464- c. 1550
With the decline of Mali, the Songhay Empire rises to prominence. King Sunni Ali Ber comes to power and he and his successor, Askia Mohammed Toure, extend their rule over an area more vast than Mali or Ghana. Songhay reaches its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The state of Great Zimbabwe flourishes in southern Africa. Its people build the largest medieval stone structure south of the Sahara Desert. It is the centre of a vast international commercial system and covers a huge area between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers.
The European slave trade begins.
Portuguese explorers enslave 50 Amerindian men and women in Labrador or Newfoundland.
- 17th century
Mathieu Da Costa, an African translator hired by Samuel de Champlain for his expedition from France to Port Royal, is the first Black person to arrive in Canada.
Slavery begins in North America with the arrival in Jamestown, Virginia of a Dutch slave trading ship carrying 20 Africans.
A six-year-old boy from Madagascar is the first Black person to appear in records as being brought directly from Africa and sold as a slave in New France for 50 crowns. He is later baptized and given the name Olivier Le Jeune.
King Louis XIV of France gives limited approval for the importation of slaves into New France in order to fill a shortage of available servants and agricultural workers.
- 18th century
King Louis XIV formally authorizes slavery in New France, thus laying the legal foundation for slavery in the colony.
Marie-Joseph Angélique, a slave born in Portugal, is tortured and hanged in June for causing the fire that burned down a substantial portion of the city of Montreal.
The Thirteen Colonies wage the American War of Independence against Britain and form a new country called the United States of America (1776).
The American Revolution ends and United Empire Loyalists – both white and Black – who wish to remain loyal to Britain move to Canada.
An imperial statute allows Loyalists to enter Upper Canada from the United States without paying duty on their slaves if they obtain a licence from the Lieutenant Governor.
Chloe Cooley, an enslaved woman in Upper Canada, is forced to cross the Niagara River when she is sold to a new owner in New York state. Her resistance leads to the passage of the 1793 Act limiting slavery in Upper Canada that prevents the importation of slaves and allows for the gradual emancipation of children of slaves born after this date.
The first Fugitive Slave Law is passed in the United States, providing for the capture and return of runaway slaves.
- 19th century
After the passage of the 1793 Act to limit slavery in Upper Canada,
enslaved African Americans flee to Canada. By the 1840s, an organized
system of underground assistance evolves – which eventually becomes
known as the Underground Railroad. It is run by abolitionists and
Quakers and is a loosely constructed network of escape routes that
originates in the southern United States, winding its way to the less
restrictive North, and eventually to Canada.
Britain abolishes the transatlantic slave trade.
The United States Congress passes a law prohibiting the importation of slaves from Africa.
Black volunteers fight under the British flag in a separate "Colored
Corps" in the War of 1812 to defend their home in Canada and prevent a
return to slavery.
The Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada offers land grants in Oro
Township to Black veterans of the War of 1812, creating an early Black
settlement in the province.
The Amherstburg First African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) is erected.
The enforcement of oppressive Black Codes in Ohio leads former
residents of Cincinnati to found the Wilberforce Settlement near
present-day Lucan, Ontario.
Josiah Henson escapes Kentucky with his wife and four children and
settled near Fort Erie, Ontario. Henson goes on to become a leading
Black abolitionist and important community leader.
Nat Turner, an enslaved preacher, leads the most significant slave
revolt in American history. Dozens of whites are murdered and Turner is
captured and hanged. In response, Virginia enacts even more oppressive
laws against Blacks.
Upper Canada refuses to extradite the fugitive slaves Thornton and
Lucie Blackburn. The case serves as a precedent in the extradition of
fugitive slaves from Upper Canada. The Blackburns are allowed to remain
in Canada because to return them would ensure their re-enslavement.
Slavery is officially abolished throughout the British Empire on
August 1. Emancipation Day celebrations begin to take place in Black
communities across Ontario and are still observed today.
An escaped slave, Solomon Moseby, is arrested in Niagara for stealing
a horse to affect his getaway. During his transportation back to
Kentucky, one of the first race riots in Canada breaks out in
opposition to his extradition. Two men are killed and Moseby escapes.
The 1837 Rebellion breaks out in Upper Canada, led by William Lyon
Mackenzie. Black volunteers, including Josiah Henson, form a number of
"Colored Corps" to defend the government and support Black rights in
Thornton Blackburn starts the first cab company in Toronto, a red and yellow carriage drawn by a single horse.
The Dawn Settlement near Dresden, Ontario is founded by Josiah Henson and Hiram Wilson.
The British American Institute opens at the Dawn Settlement. It attracts hundreds of Blacks who settle in the area.
The Elgin Settlement and Buxton Mission are founded by Rev. William
King on 9,000 acres (3,642 hectares) in Kent County. The settlement is
an important terminus of the Underground Railroad that attracts
hundreds of free Blacks.
Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery and repeatedly returns to the
southern United States to assist enslaved people in their escape to
Josiah Henson publishes his biography The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself.
The second Fugitive Slave Law is enacted by United States Congress.
The severity of the new law results in a flood of enslaved and free
Blacks escaping to the safety of Canada.
The Common Schools Act, enacted by Egerton Ryerson, forces Black
children to attend segregated schools in many communities across the
Henry and Mary Bibb begin publication of the first Black Canadian anti-slavery newspaper – the Voice of the Fugitive – out of Sandwich (Windsor) in Canada West.
The Anti-Slavery Society of Canada is formed in Toronto.
A North American convention is held at St. Lawrence Hall in Toronto
with anti-slavery leaders from across the United States and Canada
West to discuss emigration and other related issues.
Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin is published and becomes an international bestseller, drawing attention from all over the world to the horrors of slavery.
The Provincial Freeman, an abolitionist newspaper, is
established by Mary Ann and Isaac Shadd. Mary Ann Shadd becomes the
first Black woman to own and publish a newspaper in North America.
The British Methodist Episcopal Church is founded in Canada West when
some AME branches choose to separate from their parent body. The name
change is partially an expression of acknowledgement and gratitude for
the freedom found in the British colony.
The ruling in the Dred Scott case in Missouri states that enslaved
people in the United States are not humans but property and that
Congress does not have the right to ban slavery in states.
John Brown holds a convention in Chatham to form a constitution and
lay plans to overthrow slavery in the United States, building on
secret meetings held in various centres in Canada West to recruit
followers to join his cause.
John Brown and 21 followers, including Osborne Anderson from Chatham,
raid and capture the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
Brown's attempt to overthrow slavery in the United States fails and he
is tried and hanged.
John Anderson (from the Brantford area) is arrested seven years
after he fled from Missouri, where he had killed a man who tried to
prevent his escape. There is international interest in the case as the
United States seeks to have him extradited. The case is dismissed on a
The American Civil War begins. After the ban on Black soldiers is
rescinded in 1862, nearly 1,000 African Canadian men join the Union
Army in different Black regiments.
The Emancipation Proclamation is issued by President Abraham Lincoln, declaring all slaves to be free.
The United States Freemen's Inquiry Commission tours Black
settlements throughout Ontario to conduct interviews and to make
recommendations to assist in planning for the transition from slavery to
The Civil War ends and President Lincoln is assassinated.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution officially abolishes slavery in the United States.
Josiah Henson dies on May 5.
Chatham schools are finally desegregated following a well-organized campaign led by the Kent County Civil Rights League.
R. Nathaniel Dett becomes the organist at the British Methodist
Episcopal Church, now the Nathaniel Dett Memorial Chapel, in his
hometown of Niagara Falls, Ontario. He goes on to become an
award-winning composer, scholar and choral director.
- 20th century
Talented musician, vaudevillian and prolific composer, Shelton
Brooks, moves from his hometown of Amherstburg, Ontario to the United
States, where he goes on to write hit songs such as "Dark Town
Strutter's Ball" and "Some of these Days." The latter song was
popularized in the 1970s television show "All in the Family."
Hattie Rhue Hatchett, a teacher and composer from North Buxton,
writes "That Sacred Spot." It becomes the Canadian military's official
marching song for the troops during the First World War.
The segregated No. 2 Construction Battalion is formed for Black men
who want to serve during the First World War. Over 600 men join from
across Canada and the United States.
Black volunteers are accepted into the Canadian forces during the
Second World War and hundreds serve alongside whites on the
battlefields of Europe.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is organized in Canada. In
1945, it becomes the first all-Black union to sign a collective
agreement with Canadian Pacific Rail.
Hugh Burnett and fellow Blacks from Dresden, Chatham and Buxton
organize the National Unity Association to combat discrimination in
employment, housing and public accommodation.
The Government of Ontario passes the Fair Employment Practices Act
that outlaws discrimination in employment based on race, creed or
The Government of Ontario passes the Fair Accommodations Practices Act making discrimination in public facilities illegal.
In an act of resistance, Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a
bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama. Her arrest leads to a
year-long bus boycott by the Black community. Buses are desegregated in
December 1956. Rev. Martin Luther King, one of the leaders of the
boycott, emerges as a national civil rights leader in the United
The Ontario Human Rights Commission is established to administer the
Ontario Human Rights Code. Dr. Daniel Hill – a noted Canadian
sociologist, civil servant, human rights specialist and Black Canadian
historian – becomes its first director.
The Ontario Human Rights Code is enacted, the first of its kind in Canada.
Leonard Braithwaite is the first Black Canadian to be elected to a provincial legislature as the member for Etobicoke, Ontario.
Canadian immigration policy is liberalized with the points system
that allows un-sponsored immigrants to enter Canada based on their
skills and education. Hundreds of thousands of Blacks immigrate to
Canada from the Caribbean, Africa and other regions over the next 30
Lincoln Alexander is the first Black Canadian to be elected to the
House of Commons in Ottawa, representing Hamilton West. He later
becomes the federal Minister of Labour in 1979.
The National Black Coalition of Canada is formed in Toronto at a meeting of 28 organizations.
The first national Congress of Black Women is held in Toronto, hosted by the Canadian Negro Women's Association.
Rosemary Brown, Member of the Legislative Assembly in British
Columbia and the first Black woman to be elected to a Canadian
legislature in 1972, becomes the first woman to compete for the
leadership of a national political party (New Democrat Party); she
comes second in a tight race. She later serves as Chief Commissioner of
the Ontario Human Rights Commission from 1993 to 1996.
Stanley Grizzle becomes the first appointed Black Canadian judge in the Canadian Court of Citizenship.
Lincoln Alexander is sworn in as Ontario's Lieutenant Governor. He is
the first Black Canadian to be appointed to this vice-regal position.
Jean Augustine becomes the first Black woman in Canada to be elected
to the House of Commons. She is elected in the Etobicoke-Lakeshore
riding and later serves in Cabinet as Minister of State and as
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister.
- 21st century
Michaëlle Jean is sworn in as Canada's first Black Governor General.