Special events and Programming
Many communities in Ontario began celebrating Emancipation Day after the Abolition of Slavery Act became law on August 1, 1834. The day was especially popular in places where freedom seekers from plantations in the United States settled – most notably Sandwich (now Windsor), Toronto, Hamilton and Owen Sound. And, of course, the Dawn Settlement in Dresden celebrated as well.
In the 19th century, Emancipation Day was an important expression of identity for the Black community and anti-slavery activists. It gave people the opportunity to celebrate the end of slavery in Canada and the British Empire with parades, music, food and dancing. The day also provided a vehicle to lobby for Black rights in Canada and the abolition of American slavery.
Emancipation Day continues in Ontario today. In 2010, Windsor marked its 175th Emancipation Day. Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site has revived the spirit of emancipation and continues to celebrate Emancipation Day every year.
Black History Month
Black History Month is recognized throughout Canada, providing citizens an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the contributions and achievements of Canadians of African descent.
The push for recognizing Black achievement began with American author and historian Carter G. Woodson who, in 1926, proposed an observance to honour the accomplishments of Black Americans. He called it Negro History Week, which was later renamed Black History Week. He chose the second week of February because it marks the birthdays of renowned abolitionist Frederick Douglass and United States President Abraham Lincoln, who is credited with the abolition of American slavery. In 1976, it was changed to Black History Month in the United States.
Through the efforts of the Ontario Black History Society, the House of Commons in Canada officially recognized Black History Month in 1995 when The Honourable Jean Augustine – the first Black female member of Parliament – introduced the motion. It was unanimously adopted.