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August 1st is Emancipation Day — a day to celebrate freedom



Canada and the Caribbean have a couple of things in common. Both are home to people with ancestors from different parts of the world. Both also share a very important holiday.

Emancipation Day is a day to remember and talk about some difficult things that happened in the past. It is also a day to enjoy special events and activities, and to celebrate freedom!

What Is Emancipation Day?

enslaved people cutting down sugar cane in the caribbean

Enslaved people cutting sugar cane in the Caribbean, 1823.

Emancipation Day is a day that marks the end of the enslavement of African people. It is celebrated in Canada and most Caribbean islands where they speak English.

Emancipation Day meant, from that point on, it would be illegal for Black people and their descendants (their children, grand children and great-grand children) to be bought and sold or kept as enslaved people.

When did this happen?

The enslavement of Black people throughout the British Empire officially ended on August 1, 1834.

This meant all people in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, Bermuda and other places ruled by England would finally be free.

In the United States, Juneteenth is celebrated instead of Emancipation Day. Learn about the day Black Americans think about their history and show pride in their culture.

Why is this an important holiday?

Family of enslaved people picking cotton in a field in Georgia, around 1850.

Many enslaved people were taken to the United States. This is a family picking cotton in a field in Georgia, around 1850.

Millions of adults and children were taken from Africa and enslaved in different parts of the world.

These people were forced to do hard and dangerous work. They were treated terribly. Their names were taken from them, along with their religions and their traditions. They were not allowed to speak their languages. They suffered the cruelest punishments.

But these people still fought back against what was happening to them. Historians say there were over 250 times that enslaved people fought to be free.

Emancipation Day is an important reminder that all people deserve to be treated fairly and with respect.

How is it celebrated?

a girl in a red Carribean Festival costume walking in the parade

Before the pandemic, one of the ways Emancipation Day was celebrated was with the Caribbean Carnival in Toronto. (Photo by Eric Parker licensed CC BY-SA 2.0)

Emancipation Day will be celebrated differently this year because it's still important to keep physical distancing.

These are some ways Emancipation Day was celebrated in the past, and may be celebrated again in the future!

  • The Caribbean Carnival (first known as Caribana) parade is usually held in Toronto on the first weekend in August. It's cancelled this year, but it's the largest Caribbean festival and parade in North America.
  • A special subway train ride with songs, African drumming and speeches also takes place in Toronto. This year, it's virtual. It's to honour the Underground Railroad (a system set up by Black and white people to help enslaved Africans escape to freedom).
  • Celebrations in parks, auditoriums and churches. They have music, poetry and speeches about struggle, triumph and freedom.
  • In the Caribbean, large, colourful parades called carnivals take place to celebrate freedom. People listen to speeches and go to plays, ceremonies and concerts.

How do you celebrate Caribbean Carnival in a pandemic? You go online! Read how it was celebrated virtually last year.

Freedom and you

a girl lying on the floor with pencil crayons, drawing a picture

Art is a great way to spread a message. (Toystory/Twenty20)

Let's think for a minute: Why is it important to celebrate freedom? What can you do this Emancipation Day?

Could you write a song or poem about freedom? Could you draw a picture or create a poster? Maybe you could use your computer to create art that shows what freedom means to you.

Emancipation Day is a celebration, but it’s also a reminder of the past and our hope for the future. How can you help make sure that people are treated fairly?