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Eighth Generation Canadian

Chardée Turner
March 20, 2024
Categories: Racial Equity 

*Content Warning: this blog post mentions human trafficking, war, violence and sexual violence.

One does not have to be Black to engage with the Black experience that is unique to Canada, and learn the complex history of Black people in this country. As residents of Canada, we all have a stake in this diverse nation, and acknowledging the history of different groups of people is critical to gaining a greater understanding of identity, culture, and humanity.

I carry tremendous pride in being an eighth-generation Canadian who is a descendant of Black and First Nations, specifically Mi’kmaq, people. My ancestor’s lives, work and legacies are deeply rooted in this country. Our traditions and customs are embedded in the Maritimes, specifically Nova Scotia. Understanding my family’s lineage was a very important part of my upbringing and allowed me to have a greater sense of identity.

My Grandfather, Corporal Turner was a member of the Canadian Armed Forces and fought in World War II and the Korean War. His bravery and courage are respected and acknowledged as major contributions to the safety and freedom of many foreign nations, and by the people in Canada that were, and continue to be, impacted by those wars.

Black Canadians have contributed to our country’s heritage and identity since the early 1600s. This blog shares just a few of the many people and places that are significant to Black history in Canada.

I will begin with Mathieu DaCosta, a translator for French and Dutch explorers and traders, who arrived in Canada between 1605 and 1608. It is believed that DaCosta was of African and Portuguese descent, and started translating for Indigenous people of North America and European settlers as they participated in trade expeditions. He was known to communicate in a blended dialect with Innu and Mi’kmaq communities along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River.

Southern Ontario Region
As a Border Services Officer who lives and works in Southern Ontario, and descends from a long lineage from the East Coast, the history of my ancestors is a reality that extends beyond February, Black History Month.

The Niagara region has a rich history of operating as one of the routes used in the “Underground Railroad.” This railroad was known as “The Crossing” and was led bravely by Harriet Tubman. The term “railroad” is symbolic of a system of interconnected people, safe houses, communities, and resources that conducted people to Canada. The Crossing was composed of sacred routes for folks who were seeking refuge in escaping the slave trade of the United States. Part of the railroad can be traced along the Niagara River, near Fort Erie, and extends to the British Methodist Episcopal Church-Salem Chapel located at 92 Geneva St in St. Catharines, Ontario. This church was originally known as the African Methodist Episcopal Church and was a smaller building that held approximately 70 members.

Viola Desmond
Viola Desmond, who you might recognize as the face on our ten-dollar bill, is monumental for Black history; the depiction highlights the impact this brave Black woman made within Canadian society, and whose stance for equal rights and basic human respect has had lasting effects on this nation.

Viola Desmond, born July 6th, 1914 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was a business woman and civil rights activist. In 1946, Desmond refused to leave a segregated movie theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, leading her to be arrested, incarcerated, and convicted, without legal representation. Her punishment was named as an obscure tax offence and she was not pardoned of charges within her lifetime. In 2010, Lieutenant-Governor Mayann Francis issued a pardon to the late Viola Desmond. In 2016, the Bank of Canada declared that Desmond would be the first Canadian woman printed on the ten-dollar bill and by 2018, the Canadian Government named Viola Desmond a National Historic Person.

Priceville, Ontario
The first non-native settlers in Grey County were early Black pioneers. As early as 1825, Priceville was populated by Black people who established a community along Durham Road. Many of the Black settlers were Veterans that fought alongside the British in the War of 1812, and were given land in exchange for their service. Not all of the deeds that were agreed upon by the British government were granted as promised. This lack of fulfillment led to the Black settlers of Priceville being forced off the land they were given and cultivated. This was an act of erasure and went as far as planting potato patches over the Priceville Black Cemetery, in an attempt to obliterate the history of Black people across many spaces in Canadian History.

Amherstburg, Ontario
The underground railroad is not limited to the Niagara Region, it extended to parts of western Ontario, such as Amherstburg, Dresden, Chatham, Essex and the Windsor-Detroit border. On the west side of Windsor is Old Sandwich Town, home to Sandwich First Baptist Church – the first stop in Canada for many folks underground railroad out of Detroit, Michigan.

Black people have settled in Amherstburg since 1798 and leading up until 1860, approximately 50,000 Black people sought refuge in Amherstburg as they fled the slave trade in the United States. Many myths suggest that Amherstburg was a safe place for Black people, however, this was not the case as slavery, human trafficking, lynching, rape, whippings were still practised in this area of Canada.

The Amherstburg Freedom Museum showcases the Nasrey African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was also used as a terminal station of the Underground Railroad. The church was built by hand in 1848 by refugees from the American slave trade. Amherstburg was an appealing place to cross over to because it is adjacent to one of the narrowest points of the Detroit River, and is not directly across from more populated cities like Sandwich Town, Windsor.

The Taylor Log Cabin does an exemplary job depicting the quality of life and physical set-up of what a home would have looked like for an escaped slave. Mr. George Taylor escaped slavery in Kentucky and lived in the Amherstburg community around 1880 in what is now recognized as the Taylor Log Cabin. Today, you can still visit the cabin at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum.

Black history in Canada is rich and there is much to learn. Collectively, we have a responsibility to acknowledge the complicated history of Canada. We must be conscious of the existence of folks that contributed to what we know Canada to be today, while foremost recognizing that Turtle Island was first the home of Indigenous people. The influence of Black history is integral to Canada in ways that extend beyond clearing the land. Black people have contributed, and continue, to shape the future of Canada in many ways including building cities, our political fabric, the medical field, educational facilities, culinary experiences, culture, music, art, film, economic institutions, athletic accomplishments and countless other ways.

The narratives of history should depict the multifaceted truths that have unfolded. The history of Canada’s evolution has sometimes been formed through a certain lens, but it is important to ensure the many complex layers of diversity that have contributed to the Black experience in Canada are showcased. It is not just the stories we tell, but the stories that have been erased, that require a voice.


“My name is Chardée Turner and I am a Canadian Federal Officer. After completing my second degree, I worked globally doing International Relations with diverse populations. My ancestry has always been very important to me and I remain passionate about equity for all of humanity.”