Newly translated book reveals Quebec’s history of slavery

On the last day of Black History Month and two days before 12 Years a Slave won an Oscar for Best Picture, the Globe and Mail ran an article, 200 years a slave: the dark history of captivity in Canada, about slavery in Quebec and a French-language book that first revealed the story more than 50 years ago.

As Canadians, we like to think of ourselves as the good guys. After all, we were the people who helped slaves escape the United States through the underground railroad. Right?

In fact, for about two centuries, slavery was legal in New France, and in Lower Canada under British Rule. Even Grey Nuns founder Marguerite d’Youville and McGill University founder James McGill owned slaves. In 18th century Quebec, it was a status symbol to own a slave.

Quebec historian Marcel Trudel wrote about this dark period in our history in his book, L’escalavage au Canada français. When it was first published in 1960, the book provoked a scandal in Quebec. Until then, generations of historians and church leaders had nurtured the myth that slavery had been imported into the province by the English. In fact, 85 percent of Mr. Trudel’s confirmed slave owners were Francophone.

No one knows why it has taken more than 50 years to translate the book, but it has finally been published in an English-language paperback as Canada’s Forgotten Slaves: Two Hundred Years of Bondage. This is a story worth learning about.

Bonne lecture!

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About Gail Dever

Gail Dever is a Montreal-based genealogist and blogger and a webmaster for the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa.
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3 Responses to Newly translated book reveals Quebec’s history of slavery

  1. James says:

    Maybe it took 50 years to translate because as a topic it it rather arcane. Not unworthy, but arcade. Publishers have a bottom line and Quebec’s history has never been one that is particularly exciting to vast numbers of people. Why do you think it was not translated?

    • Gail Dever says:

      You are right that the financial bottom line determines in most cases whether or not will be published. I have not read the book, but possibly the book is written in a very academic style, making it difficult for publishers to sell. I noted with interest that the English title is about slavery in “Canada,” not Quebec, which suggests the publisher is trying to appeal to a broader Canadian market.

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