1500

This year marks one of the first recorded incidents of slavery in Canada, as Portuguese explorer Gaspard Corte-Real enslaves more than 50 aboriginal men and women in Newfoundland.

1629

Olivier Le Jeune becomes the first slave transported directly from Africa to New France. Olivier Le Tardiff, head of the colony, buys the young slave, who is younger than eight years old at the time. Le Tardiff sells the boy to another Quebec resident in 1632. He later attends a Jesuit school. He dies in May 1654 as a free man.


New France, 1632. (Collections Canada)

1783

British military officers compile what they called the Book of Negroes, the first massive public record of blacks in North America. The book contains details about the lives of 3,000 former slaves.

Lawrence Hill's 2007 novel, The Book of Negroes, is based on the 1783 book.

1793

Upper Canada passes the Act Against Slavery on July 9, which led to the gradual abolition of slavery in the province. Existing slaves would not be freed, but no new slaves could be brought into the province and children of female slaves would be freed at age 25.

The act remained in effect until 1833, when the British Empire abolished slavery completely.

1800

In 1800, New Brunswick politician Ward Chipman presented what American historian Robin Winks called "The most effective and sustained attack on slavery." Winks described the Chipman brief as an "especially thorough legal, historical and moral statement against slavery."

Chipman, a lawyer, was defending the right of Nancy to obtain her freedom from slavery. Her slave owner, Caleb Jones, won the case.

1807

The British Parliament approves the Abolition of Slave Trade bill on March 25. While the bill does not free slaves, it does outlaw any further trade. Under the law, any British captain caught transporting slaves will be fined £100 for each slave found aboard the ship.Some captains reduced their fines by ordering slaves thrown overboard if their ships faced capture by authorities.

Prime Minister William Grenville says the slave trade is "contrary to the principles of justice, humanity and sound policy" and admonishes Parliament for "not having abolished the trade long ago."


The Abolition of Slave Trade bill was approved in 1807. (The Abolition Project)

1831

The term "Underground Railroad" is first used to describe the network of abolitionist activists helping American slaves flee the south. Exact figures are unknown, but varying reports say between 30,000 and 100,000 slaves travelled the railroad to freedom in northern U.S. states, Mexico and Canada.

A slave owner in Kentucky coins the phrase after slave Tice Davids escapes into the free state of Ohio.


Map of the Underground Railroad routes. (Collections Canada)

1833

King William IV gives royal assent to the Slavery Abolition Act on Aug. 29, freeing slaves throughout the British Empire. Slaves under age six are freed immediately, while those over six would remain in service for four more years, although they would receive some pay for their labour.

There are exceptions to this act, including Ceylon (Sri Lanka), St. Helena and territories of the East India Company. The act also appropriates a massive £200 million to compensate slave owners.

1850

Canada becomes a haven for American slaves after the U.S. government passes the Fugitive Slave Act. The act forces lawmen to apprehend runaway slaves even in abolitionist northern states. Any citizen assisting a runaway slave could be fined or imprisoned.

With no safe haven in the U.S., approximately 20,000 fugitive slaves escape to Canada between 1850 and the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861.


Harriet Tubman, left, escaped slavery in 1849 — a year before the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. (Library and Archives Canada)

1897

Alexander Milton Ross, a Canadian naturalist, physician and abolitionist, dies in Belleville, Ont. Ross first became involved in the Underground Railroad in 1856, and he travelled through several southern U.S. states, helping slaves flee to Canada.

At least 30 fugitive slaves knew freedom in Canada as a result of Ross's efforts.


Alexander Milton Ross. (Library and Archives Canada)

2008

On Dec. 10, 2008 an act proclaiming August 1 as Emancipation Day received royal assent in Ontario. That's the day in 1834 that Britain's Abolition of Slavery Act came into effect. In Toronto a Caribbean festival, the world's largest outside the Caribbean, has been taking place around that date since 1967.


Queen's Park, the Ontario legislature.