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African Caribbean Culture

Who they are:

  • Africa is the world’s second largest and second most populous continent in the world. At about 30.2 million km² (11.7 million square miles), including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the earth’s total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area.
  • Afri (singular, Afer) was a Latin name for the non-Punic-speaking population surrounding the Carthaginians. It was received by the Romans from the local opponents of the Carthaginians, as a native term for their country.Afer was at first used as an adjective meaning “an ally, not of Carthage”, “of Africa”. As a substantive, it denoted a native of Africa.
  • The ancient Africa was wealthy and had great kingdoms and empires. Ghana and Mali were the first empires in West Africa. Ghana became wealthy because it lay at the southern end of the trans-Sahara trade route. Many Arabs visited the kingdom and it became known as the Land of Gold.
  • There are 57 countries in Africa, and they are divided into five regions:
    • East Africa stretches from the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa to Mozambique, including Madagascar. It is the easterly region of the African continent, variably defined by geography or geopolitics. The United Nations’ definition of East Africa includes 19 countries.
    • North Africa lies north of the Sahara and runs along the Mediterranean coast. It is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations’ definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories.
    • West Africa is the westernmost region of the African continent. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Western Africa includes 16 countries and an area of approximately 5 million square kilometers, excluding North Africa and the Maghreb. West Africa contains large portions of the Sahara Desert and the Adamawa Mountains.
    • Central Africa includes Angola, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and São Tomé and Principe: 11 states in total.
    • Southern Africa consists of the portion of the continent that generally falls south of -10° latitude, including the great rainforests of Congo. In the UN scheme of geographic regions, five countries constitute Southern Africa: Botswana,  Lesotho,  Namibia,  South Africa and Swaziland.

When They Arrived:

  • The overwhelming majority of Black Canadians of African descent lives in metropolitan areas such as Toronto and Montreal.
  • One of the more noted aspects of African Canadian history is that while the majority of African Americans trace their presence in the United States through the history of slavery, the presence of Africans Canadians in Canada is rooted almost entirely in voluntary immigration.
  • The first recorded person of African descent to set foot on land now known as Canada was a free man named Mathieu de Costa who travelled with explorer Samuel de Champlain and arrived in Nova Scotia some time between 1603 and 1608 as a translator for the French explorer Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Monts. Sources: Ontario Black History Society and The Roy States Collection, McLennan Library, McGill University.
  • The first person recorded as coming directly from Africa to live and also, the first African slave known in Canada was a child brought to Quebec in 1628 by the English invader David Kirke and sold to a local resident. A native of Madagascar (or possibly of the Guinea Coast), the young slave was baptized in May 1633 as Olivier Le Jeune. He worked as a household servant until his death in 1654 when he was in his early thirties.
  • The first woman of African descent to live in what later became Ontario was Mrs. Sophia Burden. She was born in New York State and was sold to the Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant in the 1770s, some time before the American Revolution. She became a free woman in 1792, married Robert Pooley, and was still alive in the early 1850s.
  • Immigration from Africa has increased slightly since the 1980’s. People born in Africa made up 8% of immigrants who came in the 1990’s, up from 6% of immigrants who arrived during the previous decade. In the 1990’s, the most frequent countries of birth of those coming from Africa were Somalia, Algeria and the Republic of South Africa.
  • Surveys and interviews suggest that over 80% of Caribbean immigrants to Canada are of African or partially African descent.


  • According to Statistics Canada (2006) the population of African ethnic origin in Sault Ste. Marie is 230 inhabitants, or 0.3% of the population.
  • According to the 2006 Census by Statistics Canada, 783,795 Canadians identified themselves as “black”, constituting 2.5% of the entire Canadian population.
  • In Ontario, the Black Canadians represent 3.9 % of the population and about 30% are of Jamaican heritage. An additional 32% have heritage elsewhere in the Caribbean or Bermuda. 60% of Black Canadians are under the age of 35.
  • 60% of Black Canadians live in the province of Ontario. 97% of Black Canadians live in urban areas. There are 32,000 more black women than black men in Canada. Comparisons:
    • Black Canadians – 783,795 (2.5% of Canadian population)
    • Black British – 1,464,000 (2.5% of British population)
    • Black Australians – 400,000 (2.2% of Australian population)
    • African Americans – 39,500,000 (12.4% of American population)
    • Afro-Brazilians – 13,252.000, (6.9% of Brazilian population)
    • Afro-Colombians – 10,500,000 (21% of Colombian population).

Source: Statistics Canada 2006.

Language and Education

  • By most estimates, well over a thousand languages (UNESCO has estimated around two thousand) are spoken in Africa. Most are of African origin, though some are of European or Asian origin.
  • Africa is the most multilingual continent in the world and it is not rare for individuals to fluently speak not only multiple African languages, but also European ones as well. There are four major language families indigenous to Africa.
  • Most languages spoken in Africa belong to one of three large language families: Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan, and Niger–Congo. Another hundred belong to small families such as Ubangian and the various families called Khoisan, or the Indo-European and Austronesian language families which originated outside Africa; the presence of the latter two dates back 2,600 and 1,000 years, respectively. In addition, African languages include several unclassified languages and sign languages.
  • The Associates of the late Dr. Bray extended support to a school in Chatham, Ontario in 1827. Another Anglican body, the Colonial Church and School Society, opened schools in the 1850’s with teachers of Caucasian as well as African descent  in London, Hamilton, Dresden, and Chatham.
  • The first person of African descent to publish a newspaper in Canada was Mr. Henry Bibb who was born in Kentucky in 1815. He escaped to Cincinnati in 1837 but was recaptured when he returned for his wife. He then escaped again (to Detroit) and became a noted lecturer for the anti-slavery movement. Mr. Bibb came to Canada after the United States passed the Fugitive Slave Act. He founded The Voice of the Fugitive in Windsor, Ontario in 1851. He remained closely connected to the Refugee Home Society, an organization involved in the settlement of refugees in Sandwich Township. Sources: Ontario Black History Society and The Roy States Collection, McLennan Library, McGill University.

Caribbean Canadian:

  • Caribbean Canadian often refers to Black Canadians of Caribbean heritage, although this usage can also be controversial because the Caribbean is not populated only by people of African origin, but also includes large groups of Indo-Caribbeans, Chinese Caribbean, European Caribbean, Syrian or Lebanese Caribbeans, Latinos and Amerindians. Source: Ms.  Nicole Bélair Statistics Canada
  • Canada’s long connection to the Caribbean began with European expansion to the west and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Canada provided lumber and food for the slave ships and in return received rum, tobacco, sugar, and enslaved Africans. Enslaved Africans were “seasoned” in the Caribbean before being brought to North America.

How did they contribute to life in Sault Ste. Marie:

  • It is one of the ironies of history that Africans were initially enslaved because of physical and cultural characteristics that were the direct opposite of the later stereotypes: their strength, their skills, and their adaptability to new circumstances.
  • Africa’s contribution to the New World economy went beyond brute labour. The West African civilizations, where most slaves had originated, were sophisticated agricultural societies with farming and herding techniques, craft production, and commercial expertise which would become features of the plantation system. Rice cultivation, for example, was a direct transfer of skills. More pervasive, however, were the work rhythms of African agriculture, gender specializations that included field labour for both men and women, tools such as the hoe and the adze, iron technology, woodworking, weaving, and basketry.
  • Skilled slaves built their own cabins, the master’s house as well as the furniture that went in it, using tools crafted from African models. Slaves were the blacksmiths, the bricklayers, the carpenters, the dyers, the engineers and the stock-keepers. They brought new land into productivity, designed irrigation systems and tended the sick, both African and Caucasian.
  • South Africa produces nearly half of the world’s total production of mohair from its angora goats. This fine, high quality wool is exported for use in sweaters and high fashion clothes in Canada and around the world.
  • The slaves captured for the North American market were not randomly captured and then sold to plantation owners. Many plantation owners placed specific orders for skilled slaves who already knew how to harvest rice, sugar and indigo. Most of the slaves who were transported were intelligent, skilled, cultured and already had their own firm set of spiritual beliefs. They were also skilled in the areas of blacksmithing, textiles, art and crafts. Many of these “secondary” skills remained hidden from the plantation owners.
  • The African migration has also brought a high proportion of well-educated and professional people to Canada, considerably above the immigrant or native-born average. In the meantime, however, the educational level among Caribbean immigrants has fallen. The 1981 census showed that Ontario residents born in the Caribbean matched the provincial average in the proportion of persons with some university education, but the census aggregate disguised a great diversity within the Caribbean-born population.
  • African-Canadians like Donald Moore, Dr. Norman Grizzle and Harry Gairey worked to change Canada’s immigration policy. By 1955, the Domestic Workers Scheme recruited women from the Caribbean to live in Canadian homes as domestics, allowing Canadian women to enter the workforce. Some of these arrangements went smoothly and some did not, with the domestic at a disadvantage. After one year, they could apply for landed immigrant status, allowing them to remain in Canada legally, and many did.
  • Canadians of African descent have had a major influence on Canadian music, helping pioneer many genres including Canadian hip hop, Canadian blues, Canadian jazz, rhythm and blues, Caribbean music, pop music and classical music. Some of the earliest musical influences include Robert Nathaniel Dett, Portia White, Oscar Peterson and Charlie Biddle.

Religion, values and traditions:

  • During the 1700’s, all Canadians of African descent, whether enslaved or free, found a sense of community through their strong spiritual faith and in their churches. Here, too, under the teachings of Christianity, plantation slaves were able to gather together and exchange information through coded phrases and spiritual folk songs of which their white owners were unaware.
  • Africans profess a wide variety of religious beliefs.  This is a generalized statement as statistics on religious affiliation are difficult to come by since they are too sensitive a topic for governments with mixed populations to survey.
  • The largest religious group in the African community in Canada is Protestant. In 2001, 30% of African-Canadians reported they belonged to a mainline Protestant denomination, while 23% said they were Catholic. At the same time, another 22% of those in the African community in Canada reported they were Muslim. On the other hand, relatively few Africans report that they have no religious affiliation. That year, 12% said they had no religious affiliation, compared with 17% of the overall population.
  • Typically, West Africans believe in a spiritual continuum linking human beings with ancestors, nature spirits and an omnipotent creator. Religious practice included spirit possession, in which an ancestral or other spiritual essence seized the body of the human worshipper.
  • Ceremonies frequently incorporated the use of water as a symbol of life, and daily routine was filled with rituals to propitiate a spirit, commemorate an ancestor, or seek the intercession of a particular deity. Formal education in traditional Africa was fundamentally spiritual, conveyed during a period of initiation into full community membership when young Africans were taught the secret lore and ancestral wisdom of their people.
  • According to the World Book Encyclopedia, Islam is the largest religion in Africa followed by Christianity. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, 45% of the population is Christian, 40% are Muslims and less than 15% follow traditional African religions. A small number of Africans are Hindu, Buddhist, Confucianist, Baha’i, or have beliefs from the Judaic tradition. Examples of African Jews are the Beta Israel, Lemba people and the Abayudaya of Eastern Uganda. There is also a small minority of Africans who are non-religious.
  • Most African ethnic groups have common customs dealing with family life, marriage, becoming adults and other practices. The family unit is extremely important. It embraces all members of the family living together in a village.
  • Once children begin to earn a living, it is their duty to take care of their parents. The grown children take responsibility for the older people. Elderly people are treated with respect for it is believed that the years they have lived made them wise.
  • Media representation of Africans in Canada has increased significantly in recent years, with television series such as Drop the Beat, Lord Have Mercy! and Da Kink in My Hair focusing principally on characters of African descent and their communities.
  • In literature, the most prominent and famous Canadian writers of African descent have been Josiah Henson, George Elliott Clarke, Austin Clarke, Lawrence Hill, Dionne Brand and Dany Laferrière, although numerous emerging writers have gained attention in the 1990s and 2000s.

Celebration and Holidays:

  • CARIBANA The largest and most famous African Canadian cultural event is the Caribbean Carnival (also known as Caribana), an annual festival of Caribbean Canadian culture in Toronto which typically attracts at least a million participants each year. The festival incorporates the diversities that exist among the Canadians of African and Caribbean descent.
  • AFRICAN HERITAGE MONTH. It was initiated in Canada by the Ontario Black History Society, which was founded in 1978.
  •  OTAWA AFRICAN FESTIVAL. The annual African festival in Ottawa promote and preserve the finest traditions and values of the African culture in its entirety. The festival will showcase accomplished, new and emerging artists in a forum where the public can experience exceptionally high quality performances, exhibits and exotic culinary presentations without leaving home (National Capital Region).
  • ABOAKYER FESTIVAL – This Festival is celebrated in May each year by the people of Simpa or Winneba in the Central Region of Ghana. The festival is a celebration to mark the migration of these people from the ancient Western Sudan Empire where they were led by 2 brothers and a god called Otu.

Organizations and Clubs

  • AFRICAN CANADIAN HERITAGE ASSOCIATION The mission of the ACHA is to present an opportunity for children to learn about their heritage; – instill pride, self-worth and a commitment to excellence; – encourage commitment to educational achievement, science and technology, social awareness and community development; – provide a stable and secure environment for the growth of our youth; and – provide a meeting place for youth and adults for camaraderie and fun.
  • AFRICAN CARIBBEAN CANADIAN ASSOCIATION of NORTHERN ONTARIO (ACCANO).ACCANO was founded in the summer of 2011 by visionary members of the group who seemed to share a common vision for the group. After several meetings and discussions on actually forming a group, a search for the right name and board members ensured. The co founders of the group started meeting and held the first Annual meeting in December of 2011.
  • THE ONTARIO BLACK HISTORY SOCIETY The Society provides research materials for professional development as well as audio-video presentations to schools, organizations and libraries to promote the understanding of African heritage in Ontario. In addition, the Society records and preserves Oral History through taped interviews and contemporary profiles of living members of the community as well as through profiles of historical figures who had played instrumental roles in shaping the history of Ontario over the last 200 years.

Notable Canadians of African and Caribbean

  • Michaëlle Jean is a Canadian journalist and stateswoman who served as Governor General of Canada, the 27th since Canadian Confederation, from 2005 to 2010.
  • Daniel Hill was a pioneer in the field of human rights in Canada, and served as the first director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the first Director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) in 1962.
  • The Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander was born in 1922 in Toronto. He served with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, between 1942 and 1945
  • Marie-Joseph Angélique While Canada became a safe haven for runaway slaves; it does have its own history of slavery. Marie-Joseph Angélique was a slave owned by François Poulin de Francheville in Montreal. Today, the tragic story of Angélique has become a powerful and potent symbol of black freedom in Canada. Afua Cooper’s book, The Hanging of Angélique, contextualizes Canada’s role in the international slave trade, a role that expanded with the British conquest of New France in 1760.
  • Donovan Bailey is one of the greatest sprinters of all time. As someone who held the world record for the 100 metres, and the titles of World Champion and Olympic Champion, it is not surprising that the Track and Field News named him “Athlete of the Decade” in the 100 metres, and that the rest of us knew him as “The World’s Fastest Man.”
  • Thornton and Lucy Blackburn like many of the Underground Railroad refugees, headed for the towns and cities where they could find work and where they would help mold the character of their new homes. In 1999, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated the Blackburns “Persons of National Historic Significance” not only for their personal struggle for freedom, but because theirs was emblematic of so many similar, but typically undocumented, cases. Also important, the Blackburns’ situation prompted the articulation of a legal defense against slavery. They were also designated for their important contribution to the growth of Toronto, generosity to the less fortunate, and lifelong resistance to slavery. In 2002, plaques in their honour were erected at the site of their excavated house in Toronto, Ontario, and in Louisville, Kentucky.
  • Rosemary Brown. Rosemary Brown came to Canada from her native Jamaica in 1950 to attend McGill University in Montreal. First elected to the British Columbia legislature in 1972, she served until her retirement in 1986. She also ran for the leadership of the federal New Democratic Party in 1974.
  • Senator Anne Clare Cools was born in 1943 in Barbados, West Indies. She was educated at Queen’s College Girls School (Barbados), Montreal’s Thomas D’Arcy McGee High School, and McGill University, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts.
  • Michael Lee-Chin first came to Canada in the early 1970’s to attend McMaster University in Hamilton. After earning a civil engineering degree he returned to his native Jamaica to work, but was soon back in Canada working on his Master’s degree.
  • Bruny Surin is one of the best sprinters in the world. He has won many national and international titles throughout the years including a gold medal in the 4 x 100-metre relay at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
  • Doris Ferguson was born in Toronto of Caribbean parents. She has been involved in African community organizations such as the Home Service Association, Universal Negro Improvement Association, the Negro Choral Society, the Ontario Black History Society, St. Christopher House, the Fuanga Club University Settlement and African Ensemble. As Liason Counsellor (1984) she assisted parents and students and worked with organizations in the West Indian and African communities. She retired from the Scarborough Board of Education in 1992.


African Caribbean Flags
Governor General Michaelle Jean
Daniel Hill
The Honourable Lincoln M Alexander
Donovan Bailey
Thorton and Lucie Blackburn
Rosemary Brown
Senator Anne Clare Cools
Bruny Surin
Michael Lee Chin