Slavery in Canada

Slavery in what now comprises Canada existed into the 1830s, when slavery was officially abolished. Some slaves were of African descent, while others were aboriginal (typically called panis, likely a corruption of Pawnee). Slavery which was practised within Canada’s current geography, was practised primarily by Aboriginal groups. While there was never any significant Canadian trade in African slaves, native nations frequently enslaved their rivals and a very modest number (sometimes none in a number of years) were purchased by colonial administrators (rarely by settlers) until 1833, when the slave trade was abolished across the British Empire.

A few dozen African slaves were forcibly brought as chattel by Europeans to New France, Acadie and the later British North America (see Chattel slavery), during the 17th century. But Large-scale plantation slavery of the sort that existed in most European colonies in the Americas, from New York to Brazil, never existed in colonial Canada or Newfoundland because the economies were not based on plantation agriculture. The largest industries were based upon the exploitation of natural resources, such as the fur trade. So, while some Canadian slaves performed agricultural labour, most were domestic house servants.

Because early Canada’s role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade was so minor, the history of slavery in Canada is often overshadowed by the more tumultuous slavery practiced elsewhere in the Americas – most famously in the American South, and infamously in the colonial Caribbean. Afua Cooper states that slavery is, “Canada’s best kept secret, locked within the National closet.”