Photo Cred - Internet Archive Book Images

Slavery in Canada is generally a part of our history that’s glossed over. Most people like to preserve a forward thinking, human rights promoting ideal of Canada without considering that we were a part of the slavery problem.

While it’s true that Canada didn’t have nearly as many slaves as the states or other British colonies (most because Canada’s economy wasn’t as manual labor dependent), they were still prevalent. It’s estimated that there were about 4,200 slaves in Canada between 1671 and 1834, two thirds Native American and one third black, because, as it turns out, black slaves were nearly double the price of Native Americans, costing anywhere from 800-1000 pounds.

Perhaps it’s because slavery wasn’t as popular in Canada as it was in the US, but it there was no legislative regulation on it until 1793, when the importation of slaves was banned. And it wasn’t until 1833 that slavery as a whole was abolished.

The majority of Canadian slaves were in New France, in the popular cities of the St Lawrence Valley - aka Montreal - and were owned by the political and social elite (governors, clergy, military officers etc.). The sad reality is that slaves were traded and sold like any other commodity of the time, with for-sale ads featured in our very own Montreal Gazette.


A for sale ad for "A Young healthy Negro Woman between 12 and 13 years of age, lately from Upper Canada, where she was brought up."


An April 2nd 1789 ad for "A stout healthy negro man, about 28 years of age, is an excellent cook."


And a reprinting of the same ad in the next week's paper with "very fit for working on a Farm" added to it.


This ad was placed March 21, 1793 by a Mr. McMurray, selling a 25 year old female slave.


An ad, placed the same year, for a "Mulatto boy", right next to notices for a horse saddle and a coffee house that were also for sale.


The Gazette also posted "missing" ads for slaves who had escaped, which required His Majesty's subjects to "use their utmost diligence in apprehending the said criminal and lodge him in any of the jails of this Province."

Here, William Spencer is being charged with petty larceny, aka theft of someone's personal property, because technically by running away he was stealing his owner's property - his own body.


Another runaway ad, forbidding all persons from "harbouring or aiding him to escape, as they may depend on being prosecuted to the utmost right of the law", printed in May 1781.


A missing notice offering a twenty dollar reward for a Mulatto apprentice's return.


Another missing ad, listing an escaped slave with other run-away criminals, lumping him in with a man that was charged with murder.

Source - Tamara Extian-Babiuk

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