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UNC-Chapel Hill Conference Explores Roots and Experience Of Black Canadians

UNC-Chapel Hill Conference Explores Roots and Experience Of Black Canadians


Some folks are under the misperception that Canada’s Black population consists largely of descendents of escaped African American slaves, that Canada never had slavery, and that the country is devoid of racism. Not so, said experts at a recent conference here aimed to overturn these and other myths about Black life north of the U.S. border.

Sponsored by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Institute of African American Research, the free public conference, entitled “Engaging North America: Illuminating Black Canada,” featured films, lectures and a jazz concert, all designed to shed new light on the history and experiences of Black Canadians.

According to one presenter, Canada’s Black population is largely urban, with more than 240,000 living in Toronto and another 101,000 living in Montreal. Together, these urban dwellers comprise roughly 67 percent of the total African-Canadian population. The country also is home to more than 15,000 Blacks living in rural enclaves such as southwestern Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“This area of research and community of peoples has long been overlooked,” said Dr. William A. Darity Jr., a UNC professor of economics and sociology. “This conference represents an exciting cultural bridge linking communities of people often thought of as disparate, but who are actually part of the same fabric of continental American history.”

The modestly attended conference featured presentations by Esmeralda Thornhill, a law professor at the Dalhoise School of Law in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Canadian poet and scholar George Elliott Clark; and a concert by the Joe Sealy Quartet of Canada. Two films by Nova Scotia filmmaker Sylvia Hamilton were also featured: “Speak It (From the Heart of Nova Scotia)” and “Black Mother, Black Daughter.

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