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Emancipation Day

June 19th is to the United States as August 1st is to Canada.

AND WHEREAS, in consequence, it is appropriate to formally recognize August 1st as Emancipation Day and to observe it as a poignant reminder of an abhorrent period in Nova Scotia's history in order to allow Nova Scotians to reflect upon the imperative to continue to commit to eliminate discrimination in all its forms.

-Office of the Legislative Counsel, Nova Scotia House of Assembly: The Emancipation Day Act. March 24th, 2021

The 1793 Act to Limit Slavery was the first Act of the British Empire that attempted to abolish slavey in Canada. This Act did not free all enslaved people, but it worked to outlaw their importation and phase out slaveholding. Later in 1834, The Slavery Abolition Act was introduced, and it freed the remaining enslaved people in Upper Canada which includes modem-day Northern and Southern Ontario.

On March 24th 2021, the MPs in the House of Commons unanimously voted to declare August 1st as Emancipation Day in Canada. This federal recognition of Emancipation Day is very important in acknowledging that Canada is not removed from the histories and realities of the consequences of slavery. Instead, Canada has had an active role in the enslavement of Black bodies and as such, should be more active in empowering and providing for Black communities. This recognition holds Canada accountable while remembering those lost and honoring their descendants across Canada today. In the words of Emelyana Titarenko, the spokesperson for the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, “recognizing Emancipation Day at the federal level is a step forward in acknowledging the multi-generational harms caused by slavery and recognizing the heritage of people of African descent in Canada and the many contributions they have made and continue to make” (CBC News, March 24th, 2021).

Nova Scotia is home to one of the largest groups of immigrants of African descent, the Black Loyalists who came as refugees seeking freedom after the American revolution. Many settled in Halifax, Dartmouth and Preston with the largest settlement in Birchtown, near Shelburne, which had an initial population of about 1500 people of African descent. The Black Loyalists included a small number of free Black people, and they made their living in fishery, cutting wood, clearing land, and hunting. Another community of African Nova Scotians is Africville, a small, close-knit community whose records begin in 1848. Despite racism and discrimination, the people of Africville made a living for themselves and built stores, a school, a post office and Church, the Seaview United Baptist Church. Residents of Africville faced many challenges in the hands of the City of Halifax who refused to provide the basic amenities other communities had like clean and accessible water, sewage, garbage disposal and more. Instead, the City built undesirable infrastructure in Africville including an infectious disease hospital, a prison, and a dump.

The destruction of Africville started in 1964 when the City of Halifax decided to forcefully relocate Africville residents so that they could build more industry and infrastructure. When this decision to remove Africville residents from their home was made, there was no consultation of the community. Africville residents resisted relocation for as long as they could while the City of Halifax used bribery and intimidation to force them out of the neighborhood. Eventually, all residents were relocated and the last Africville home was destroyed in January 1970.

Emancipation Day Today

This year, across Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada, there are a number of initiatives you can engage in to celebrate Emancipation Day and honor the lives of people of African descent lost and displaced while building this nation. Nova Scotia Senator, Wanda Thomas Bernard asserts that “it is important for us to acknowledge how slavery is really embedded in the current anti-Black racism that we're experiencing [and] current conditions of systemic racism that we're trying to address" (Kulha, 2021). Here are some things you can do to commemorate Emancipation Day this year and work towards decolonizing your knowledge of Canadian history past and present, not just for one day, but constantly and intentionally.

  • Emancipation Day Fun Run/Walk – this event will take place on August 1st at 10AM in Lower Sackville, Dartmouth, Beechville, Halifax and other locations across the province.
  • The 159th Annual Emancipation Festival will take place virtually on August 1st from 12noon – 1:30PM. Click this link for more information on time zones and how to join.
  • Ontario Black History Society has organized a 2021 Emancipation Day Celebration that will be taking place virtually from 6PM – 7:30PM on August 1st. Click this link for more information on time zones and how to join.

“The space that is Canada is linked to the Black world, the African world as a space of refuge, hope and new beginnings, all too often unrealized”

-M. Nourbese Phillip. Canadian Poet, Novelist, Playwright.


Article by Fikayo Kayode
Fourth Year Student, Department of Political Science.
EDI Summer Student Intern 2021
Acadia University


Educational Materials

Below are some sources for more about Black history in Canada.


African Nova Scotian Affairs. African Nova Scotian Community | African Nova Scotian Affairs. (n.d.). https://ansa.novascotia.ca/community.

CBC/Radio Canada. (2021, March 25). MPs unanimously vote to declare Aug. 1 Emancipation Day | CBC News. CBCnews. https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/emancipation-day-motion-passes-house-vote-1.5962960.

CBC/Radio Canada. (2021, March 25). N.S. senator hopes recognition of Emancipation Day will lead to reconciliation, reparations | CBC News. CBCnews. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/recognition-emancipation-day-reconciliation-1.5964225.

Globemd. (2021, March 31). Bill 56 - Emancipation Day Act. Nova Scotia Legislature. https://nslegislature.ca/legc/bills/63rd_3rd/1st_read/b056.htm.

Kulha, S. (2021, March 26). Emancipation Day on Aug. 1 a chance for Canadians to note the 'harms caused by slavery'. nationalpost. https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/emancipation-day-now-in-federal-legislation-as-mps-unanimously-designate-aug-1.

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