Montreal·Black Changemakers

How a hip hop artist is revealing Quebec's hidden history

Aly Ndiaye, also known as Webster, is passionate about uncovering and sharing the history of Black people in Quebec, a history he says had been all but erased from the textbooks.

Aly Ndiaye, a.k.a. Webster, is passionate about the history of Black people in Quebec

Aly Ndiaye has developed a walking tour of Old Quebec that highlights the province's history of slavery. (David Cannon)

CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province's Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.

For more than two decades, Aly Ndiaye has been shining a spotlight on the parts of Quebec history you probably didn't learn in school.

His main interest is Black people and their enslavement in Quebec, dating back to the 17th century.

He's always been interested in history, he said, but it was music, specifically hip hop, that helped him figure out how best to share that hidden history with others.

Growing up in the 1990s as a half Senegalese, half Québécois person living in the Quebec City suburb of Limoilou, he didn't see himself reflected in the media he consumed. He and his friends turned to music to create that space for themselves.

"We didn't feel that we were part of the society," he said.

"We had our own Quebec and then rap was able to give us a voice and be able to talk about the issues we wanted to talk [about] and be able to reach people through the medium we owned."

Ndiaye, whose stage name is Webster, started out rapping about history, and used the attention he got as a springboard to start telling those same stories outside of his music.

Five years ago, he created Quebec History X, a guided tour about the history of people of African descent in Quebec City. The name is a nod to the movie American History X, but also the idea that in algebra, x is the letter assigned to the unknown, he said.

Those who take the tour learn that Marguerite D'Youville, the first Canadian-born saint, was also a well-known slave owner. And they learn about Olivier Le Jeune, the first African slave in Canada who arrived in Quebec in 1629. And that a slave originally from Martinique, Mathieu Léveillé, served as the executioner in New France for 10 years in the 18th century.

Ndiaye said Black history in Canada is taught through an American lens. We learn about cotton fields, the Selma to Montgomery march and Martin Luther King Jr.

His goal is to create those same references for Canadian and Quebec history, and then ensure those stories are taught widely — in TV shows, movies and plays, because not everyone listens in school or likes to read.

"I don't want to wait for people to pick up a book to be able to know about this history," he said.

"We have to find different ways to be able for them to be in touch with their history."

In addition to giving tours and making music, he has also written a children's book, and gives lectures and runs workshops about both history and hip hop.

Ndiaye said before we can think about where we as a society will be decades from now, there are centuries-worth of social and psychological constructs that have to be addressed first.

"Racism plays a bigger role than we understand or feel like in society, and in the history of the world," he said.

"When we talk about systemic racism, we need to learn the history of colonization and slavery, whether it be in the United States or Brazil or Quebec and Canada. We cannot … detach our present from the last 500 years."

The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Meet all the changemakers here.

Written by Kamila Hinkson, with files from Rowan Kennedy