Today marks Emancipation Day, a day that commemorates the Slavery Abolition Act enacted on August 1, 1834, and celebrates Canadian Black communities’ freedom, strength, and perseverance.
Although provincial governments across the country have recognized August 1 as an important day in history for Canadian Black communities, this year the House of Commons unanimously voted that August 1 be officially be recognized as Emancipation Day across the country as a day for all Canadians to reflect, educate, and engage in the ongoing fight against anti-Black racism and discrimination.
Blacbiblio is a Canadian black-owned organization and one of Rogers Sports & Media’s (RSM) All IN partners, receiving advertising and creative services by RSM to help support and amplify its important message to Canadians across the country. It is devoted to highlighting real stories of Black Canadians in history and their vital contributions through resource kits for teachers and parents to transform how we see and teach Canadian Black history.
To learn more, we sat down with Canadian historian, author, professor, a 2021 nominee for the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Community Programming, and founder of Blacbiblio, Dr. Dorothy Williams, and discussed the importance of Emancipation Day, both for her and Black Canadians across the country.
What inspired you to create Blacbiblio?
The inspiration really came at a young age. I grew up in Little Burgundy, the oldest Black community in Montreal. I had a really strong sense of myself growing up there because listening to all the adults around me, they would talk about the long history of Black people in the city—and my family was certainly part of that history. That’s what initiated my love with history, and from there, I sucked up all those stories. Then, when I was in high school, as part of an early Black youth movement, one of the first Black student clubs was in my school. So, we spent all of our time talking about the past and history, and I remember one day when I was in class, I put my hand up and asked the teacher why they don’t teach slavery and the teacher’s response, in front of all the other students, was “you don’t have a history.” It hit me in such a way that I have spent the last 40 plus years of my life refuting the words of that teacher. I wanted to show him and everyone in Canada that we had a history. I was not a person without a space in this country—I belonged here.
What is your goal for Blacbiblio?
The whole point of my company is to change the Canadian narrative. We (Black Canadians) are part of the Canada narrative. History books erased us, but that does not mean we were not here. It does not mean we did not add to the fabric of being Canadian.
What is the importance of Emancipation Day to you?
For me, it is very personal. Emancipation Day is one of several days that I think we need to spotlight. It is important for people to understand, and once acknowledged, they can never go back to saying there was no slavery here. And that brings us to the point of understanding why we are here. We have an origin in this country that cannot be denied. There is a continuity of our belonging here. And I think that is lost on people’s understanding of blackness in Canada. I think it is so critical for the rest of the country to understand the importance of Emancipation Day, it helps them to reframe their own narrative.
Continue educating others, stand up to discrimination and learn more about Emancipation Day at Canada.ca/emancipationday.
For more information on the Rogers Sports & Media All IN Inclusion & Diversity Program, visit allinforequity.ca.