How to think about slavery three months from the first Emancipation Day

Mainstreet host Jeff Douglas speaks with Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard and poet and activist El Jones about the legacy of slavery in Nova Scotia, as we knit together excerpts from the CBC archives.

A candid conversation about the legacy of slavery in Nova Scotia

Poet and activist El Jones, and Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, speak with Mainstreet about the impact the transatlantic slave trade has had on Nova Scotia. (Sinisa Jolic (CBC) &

Nova Scotia Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard has been pushing for years for the Canadian government to recognize Emancipation Day each August 1. 

And this summer, that will finally happen. The first officially recognized Emancipation Day will mark the date in 1834 that the British Parliament acted to free enslaved people across the British empire. 

"It's always treated like this completely ancient history," says poet, educator and activist El Jones in a candid conversation with host Jeff Douglas about the legacy of slavery in Nova Scotia.

This thought-provoking Mainstreet segment knits together excerpts from both women with material from the CBC archives.

Listen to the full interview here:

In my mother's lifetime she had contact with someone who had contact with enslavement …it's not that long ago. We're talking 200 years ago.-El Jones, poet, educator and activist 


According to the Nova Scotia Archive, most Black people arriving in Nova Scotia between 1749 and 1782 were enslaved people brought by English or American settlers.

Of the nearly 3,000 inhabitants of Halifax in 1750, there were about 400 enslaved and 17 free Black people.


This ad ran in the Nova Scotia Gazette and Weekly Chronicle on May 22, 1791. (Nova Scotia Archives)


The history of slavery, the fact that slavery existed here, is not taught in the public school system … Canada's participation in the transatlantic slave trade is not acknowledged.- Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard


Jones points out that while segregation officially ended in Nova Scotia in 1952, in many ways it still exists. You see it in the geography of the province, where Black communities are mostly located outside Halifax, she said. 

"I live on one of those original land grants that was deeded to my ancestors, and every single day, there's not a day that goes by … that I don't think about our ancestors and think about the lives that they had to carve out of, the existence that they had to create with so many barriers, with so few resources, and with so much discrimination," says Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.