End of Segregation in Canada


Image: A typical segregated classroom. Canada's last segregated school was closed in Nova Scotia in 1983.


Canadian society has included racial segregation in all facets of social life. While not enshrined in law, it existed nevertheless in informal ways in terms of how things were done and how people understood the "place" of those who were not of European background. From where people could live to where people could rest for eternity, the separation of Black people from White, in life and in death, has been a feature of the Canadian landscape.

Schools are perhaps among the best possible places for Canadians to learn about each other, to share and develop common ideas, and to cherish similar values. They touch our young people and create lasting knowledge from which they can become good citizens.

Ontario was long the intellectual hub of Canada, so its handling of its huge, newcomer Black population would have informed the rest of the country. Ontario was the province that received the largest number of freedom seekers on the Underground Railroad due to its location in relation to the Detroit River, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, but also because it was an English speaking area. At the height of the first freedom movement of the Americas, the Underground Railroad, the Common Schools Act was passed, providing for the creation of separate schools. While intended to create separate schools along religious lines, that is Protestant and Catholic, it was used to create segregated Black schools, particularly in those areas of the province less well represented by a vocal abolition community.

Toronto did not develop segregated schools, but in the southwestern parts of Ontario, particularly Windsor and Chatham, segregated schools remained in place. In many cases, local Black families did not wish to have Black only schools, but were forced to do so by the lack of accommodation they received when they attempted to have their children attend a local (White) school.

Near Chatham, in Merlin, the last segregated Black school in Ontario was finally closed in 1965 following lobbying by concerned African-Canadians to have it closed. Elsewhere, segregated schools were phased out around the same time, with the last segregated school in Canada, which was in Nova Scotia, closing in 1983.

Some Missing Pages: The Black Community in the History of Québec and Canada
Check out this extensive collection of learning activities and related primary resources about the history of the Black community in Québec and other regions of Canada.

Honouring the Black Community
Scroll down to the end of the article for a reference to Leonard Braithwaite, whose actions prompted the demise of segregated schools in Ontario. From the University of Toronto Magagzine.

African Canadians – Historical Facts and Significant Dates
A timeline of important dates and events in Black Canadian history. From the Government of Ontario.

Historical context for the Racism, Violence, and Health Project
This paper reviews historical issues of concern to the Black community in Canada. By Adrienne Shadd. From the Dalhousie University website.

Discrimination in Canada: Our History and our Legacy
An informative academic paper about the history of discriminatory laws and practices in Canada. Includes a reference to Québec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and similar legislation in other Canadian jurisdictions. From the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice.

The Politics of Race: Canada, Australia, the United States
In this online book, click to page 70 to read about the history of racial segregation in Canada. From Google Books.

A Canadian View of Racial Stereotypes
A speech by The Honourable Donald H. Oliver, Q.C. about the history and persistence of racial intolerance and segregation in Canada. From the National Council of Visible Minorities in the Federal Public Service.

Women & Minorities
This speech pays tribute to Viola Desmond for her courageous challenge to racial segregation in Nova Scotia. From the Rideau Hall Blog website.

The Council on African Canadian Education
The Council on African Canadian Education (CACE) is the outgrowth of the Black Learners Advisory Committee (BLAC). Formed in 1990, the BLAC was the response to ongoing struggles of African Nova Scotians to eliminate racism and receive equity in education.

History Will Judge
This paper offers a historical overview of people and events involved in the fight against racial intolerance and segregation in Canadian society. By Professor Constance Backhouse. From the website for the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Tuition Fee Increases and the History of Racial Exclusion in Canadian Legal Education
Scroll down to the section "Racial Discrimination in Legal Education: A Brief History" for a brief reference to the history of school segregation in Canada. From the website for the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies
The website for CASHRA, the national association of Canada’s government agencies charged with administering provincial and territorial human rights legislation.

Journey to Justice
A review of the film Journey to Justice. Profiles key players who fought against discriminatory laws and practices in Canada. A University of Manitoba website.

Sylvia Hamilton on The Little Black School House
A brief video clip of Sylvia Hamilton discussing The Little Black School House, a documentary chronicling Canada's racially segregated schools. From YouTube.com.

Leonard A. Braithwaite
A brief note about Leonard Braithwaite's role in the repeal of laws permitting segregation of Ontario's public schools. From the Ontario Black History Society.

Premier Salutes Notable Nova Scotian
A brief obituary for Pearleen Oliver, respected Nova Scotia civil rights activist, author, and church leader. From the Government of Nova Scotia website.

African-Canadian Roads to Freedom
Scroll down to page 21 (document page) for a brief history of school desegregation in Canada. From the document Essex/Kent County African-Canadian Connections to the Ontario Curriculum.

Black History Month: Breaking the Colour Barrier
This article about Black History Month in Montréal refers to Jackie Robinson, a Black baseball player on the Montreal Royals team in the 1940s. From The Gazette newspaper.

Quebec-1963: Amendment to Hotels Act
The text of a 1963 amendment to Québec's Hotels Act from the Some Missing Pages website.

Black History Month
This site is devoted to the annual celebration of Canada’s Black History Month. See profiles of notable Black Canadians and videos that highlight many of the Black community's outstanding contributions to our shared history and heritage. From Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Canadian Black History - An Interactive Experience
Search for clues about Black Canadian history in this interactive online treasure hunt presented by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Canadian Black History - An Interactive Experience
Search for clues about Black Canadian history in this interactive online treasure hunt presented by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

The Road to Now: A History of the Blacks in Montreal
A review of Dorothy Williams’ book The Road to Now. From the Canadian Social Studies journal.