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.