Canadian Black History, Told by Black Voices

(A version of this article first appeared in Kingston Neighbours magazine, February, 2022.)

For the shortest month of the year, February has so many events and holidays: Lunar New Year, Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, National Flag of Canada Day, Family Day and Freedom to Read Week! I encourage everyone to take a visit (or several!) to your local library or bookstore as you will find many books to celebrate these occasions.

However, an important theme that spans all of February is Black History Month. Much of the media we consume here in Canada focuses on the African-American experience. While there is some shared history, Canadian youth need an understanding of the distinct Black history of our country, so I want to share some books written by Black authors that highlight Canadian experiences and historical events.

Picture Books

For younger children, Africville, by Shauntay Grant, tells of a girl’s trip to a reunion festival in Africville, near Halifax, where she imagines what the 150 year-old Black community was like before it was demolished in the 1960s.

I also recommend Malaika’s Costume, Malaika’s Winter Carnival, and  Malaika’s Surprise by Nadia L. Hohn. Narrated in English and Caribbean patois, these books show the joys and challenges Malaika and her Mummy experience as they immigrate to Quebec.

Novels

For older kids, I recommend two historical fiction novels by award-winning author, Christoper Paul CurtisElijah of Buxton and its stand-alone companion novel, The Madman of Piney Woods. Both are adventure stories about boys from Buxton, Ontario, a Black community established in Southwestern Ontario in 1849 by former African-American slaves who escaped to Canada. Elijah of Buxton is about 11 year-old Elijah Freeman, the first child born into freedom in the community, as he tracks down a thief who stole money from a neighbour trying to save to buy his family’s freedom. 

The Madman of Piney Woods, set 40 years later in 1901, is an equally gripping story about two 13 year-old boys —  Benji, a Black Canadian from Buxton, and Red, an Irish Canadian living in nearby Chatham, Ontario, as they investigate the mysterious person who lives in the woods between their homes. 

Non-Fiction

There are also some recently published non-fiction books about Canadian Black history. Trailblazers: The Black Pioneers Who Shaped Canada, by Tiyahna Ridley-Padmore, is written in poetic verse and gives information about many notable Black Canadians, including Canadian Willie O’Ree, the first Black person to play hockey in the NHL, who also played for the Kingston Frontenacs from 1959 – 1960.

I also recommend a book by Gloria Ann Wesley entitled Africville: An African Nova Scotian Community Is Demolished — And Fights Back. This book includes many maps and photographs to illustrate the challenges and the racism faced by Black people in Africville from the mid-1800s until the City of Halifax started bulldozing homes in 1964. 

While it’s important we learn about the history of, and the racism faced by, Black people in the United States and around the world, we also need to educate ourselves about the unique hardships, experiences and achievements of Black people in Canada. These books by Black authors tell part of the Canadian story, and are an excellent place to start. 

Source: 

  1. Presents From The Past: Black History in Kingston, Digital Kingston, https://www.digitalkingston.ca/presents-from-the-past/black-history-in-kingston.

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