When I was a child, Black history month consisted of the traditional lecture on Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, because heaven forbid we actually admit that as an English colony, Canada had slavery [too]. Many Canadians grow to adulthood and never realize this historical truth. Because the underground railroad has become such a fixation, it has allowed many to have the false belief, that unlike our American cousins, that we were far to civilized to engage in this great crime against humanity. Instead, we will focus on the fact that Harriet Tubman’s church still stands in St. Catherine’s. We don’t want to talk about the fact that White Supremacist Canada was hardly welcoming to escaped slaves, or that our Prime Minsters were not fans of people of colour. Instead, we will wag our fingers and scowl about American founding fathers owning slaves.
Not only do many falsely believe that slavery did not happen in Canada, far too many are unaware that Jim Crow laws existed here as well. In 1946, Viola Desmond was arrested for daring to sit in the White section of a movie house. She was dragged out of the theater by two men, injuring her knee in the process. To further shame Desmond, after her arrest, she was held in a male cell block. Eventually, she was charged with tax evasion because of the difference in price between White seats and Blacks seats. It was a difference of one cent. With the help of the NSACCP (The Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People), Desmond would take her fight to the supreme court of Nova Scotia. Desmond was a trailblazer and instead of being recognized as such, the Canadian government recently sought to pardon her, as though her arrest was actually a stain on her life, instead of the government itself.
Growing up and attending Canadian schools, I never learned a single word about Desmond and I believe that this was to continue the indoctrination that Canada is a tolerant, racially just society. I did not learn about the porters strike. I most certainly did not learn about the destruction of Africville. As a child, it forced me to look southward to find examples of people of the African diaspora to function as role models, rather than in my own country. I would continue to live in ignorance, had I not made a great effort to look beyond the lack of education I had been given in schools.
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