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What It Means to Be Black Canadian

Black Canadian mother and daughter

Though Black Canadians have different experiences from their African-American counterparts south of the border, they experience the same systematic, anti-Black racism that is reported so often in the U.S. It’s begun to get the attention it deserves considering the recent anti-racist movements. There exists significant Black history in Canada and Black people have contributed to Canadian culture in epic ways. In a country that has such a wide-ranging immigrant population, it’s important to consistently highlight how important Caribbean Canadian and African Canadian people are to the fabric of Canadian culture as are many other cultural groups.

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To know what it truly means to be a Black Canadian, it’s important to have a tough conversation to enlighten your organization.

Who Is Considered Black in Canada?

According to the 2016 census, around 1.2 million Canadians identified themselves as being Black Canadians. The Black population in Canada has drastically increased since the turn of the millennium. In 1996, the Black population in Canada was just under 574,000 people. This figure more than doubled, reaching just under 1.2 million by 2016. Canada’s Black population dates back to when slaves came over with British and French colonizers in the 17th century, as well as the earliest black settlers in Chatham-Kent and Nova Scotia thanks to the underground railroad.

Not only has the population grown, but it’s also gotten younger. The average age for a Black person in Toronto is just under 30 years, 10 years younger than the average age for the total Canadian population. From Caribbean Canadian people to African Canadian people, Black people are in abundance nationwide.

More than half of Black Canadians are immigrants, with more than 125 countries represented. Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Haiti have long been the leading sources of Canadian immigrants, leading a highly influential Caribbean community that has spawned events like Caribana from the Trinidadian community, the subsequent Jambana Festival celebrating Jamaican roots and culture, and countless others. However, other countries have elevated as prime sources of Canadian newcomers, including Cameroon, Nigeria, and DR Congo in the latter 20th century.

Notable names like Robert Sutherland, the first person of color to graduate in Canada, and Jean Augustine, the first Black woman to serve as Member of Parliament in Canada, are key names that have shaped Canadian culture for centuries.

What Is the Racial Breakdown of Canada?

When looking at the demographics of Canada, just over 32% of Canadians simply identify themselves as Canadian. Among other ethnic groups, English, Scottish, French, and Irish people each make up at least 13% of the Canadian population, while Germans make up just under 10%.

When you break down the percentages of people of colour across Canada, South Asian again leads the way, this time at over 25%. Black people constitute 15.6% of the population.

There are many Caribbean Canadian immigrants and Black Canadian celebrities like Jamaican-born Olympic champion Donovan Bailey and Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders contributing vastly to the country’s development, but there are still a lot of concerning roadblocks.

Anti-Black racism in Canada is systematic, with statistics showing how Black Canadians make less income than their white counterparts. Stats also show that the expectations Black Canadians have of getting top degrees has lowered. Part of this is a fear that they’ll be denied opportunities because of their skin colour, while some of it is simply a lack of positive reinforcement. More of that reinforcement is needed for young Black Canadians to reach the heights that Bailey, Saunders and countless others have achieved.

What Is the Blackest City in Canada?

Black Canadians mostly live in Canada’s largest city.

No city has a Black population as significant as Toronto’s, with 36.9% of Black populations in Canada residing in Ontario’s most populous city. That works out to around 442,000 people. The next closest cities were Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton and Calgary, each with approximately 50,000 Black people.

Meanwhile, over 21,000 Black people live in Nova Scotia, accounting for just over 2%. Many of those who have emigrated to Nova Scotia are descendants of ancestors based in the colonial United States. Nova Scotia was one of the first settlements for Black people looking for a better life outside of the U.S., ever since the 18th century.

What Percentage of Toronto Is Black?

How many Black adults and children live in Toronto?

A little over half of Torontonians identify themselves as being visible minorities, according to the 2016 Census. Of those visible minorities, approximately nine per cent of respondents identified themselves as Black. South Asians make up the most significant chunk of visible minorities with around 13%, while Chinese people make up 11% of the GTA’s racialized population. However, in other parts of the GTA, up to 16% of the population identifies as Black including in Brampton and Ajax.

Though English remains the mother tongue of most immigrants, Chinese, Tamil, Spanish, and Italian are other notable first languages spoken by Canadians. Among Black Canadians, English is most prominent as well. However, their colloquial languages like Jamaican patois, Haitian creole, or Trinidadian creole are noticeable within Black Canadian culture and have in fact significantly affected pop culture across Canada and the world with the likes of Kardinal Offishall, Drake and the Weeknd.

Being Black in Canada has a lot to do with preserving one’s Caribbean or African culture, but also enjoying the freedoms and opportunities of a young, yet developed country like Canada. Not only do Black Canadians continue to contribute greatly to Canadian culture, history, science and politics, but they are also an integral part of advancing Canadian society from a human rights perspective and guiding its institutions to a more equitable and anti-racist mode of operation.

To support the Black Canadian community, organizations need to effect anti-Black racism initiatives and equitable opportunities to their Black employees and community members to ensure they can build the quality of life all Canadians deserve. Let’s work on those solutions together and have some Tough Convos about what must change.


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