(Content Warning: This section contains graphic depictions of bodily harm)
Slavery played a significant part in creating, sustaining, and maintaining the colonies created by the European countries taking part in colonization. Many of them relied on economic arguments to justify the slave trade because the use of slaves was to their benefit for two main reasons (Parks Canada, 2020). The first is that using slaves to build up colonies was a money-saving measure as slaves were not paid for their work. The second is that, in times of hardship or economic fundraises, colonies could sell their slaves, or their children, in order to raise funds for new projects and colony expansion (Wilder, 2013). The practice of slavery was separate from that of indentured servitude, which happened during the same historical time period (McRae, n.d.).
For some time now, the myth that slaves in Canada were subject to better conditions than slaves in other parts of North American has pervaded Canadian history, however, this is not true (Henry, 2022). Enslaved African and Indigenous people were exposed to deplorable conditions and treatment and their human rights were ignored (Henry, 2022). They were treated as subhuman, subject to extreme beatings and whipping, and many were subjected to sexual violence (Parks Canada, 2020). For those slaves who made attempts to reach freedom and were caught, punishments ranged from having appendages cut off to being put to death (McRae, n.d.). In spite of these terrifying consequences, there is a rich history of resistance to slavery by enslaved people (Henry, 2022).
Enslaved people were forced to work in a variety of industries, from agriculture to domestic work, to providing free labour to local shops (Henry, 2022). They even built and worked on the campuses of the colleges and universities being established in Canada at that time (Wilder, 2013). Not until the 1700s did any parts of Canada start to make any movement towards the elimination of slavery. Upper Canada imposed limits on slavery in 1793 but it took until 1834 for the Slavery Abolishment Act to be made law (Parks Canada, 2020). Though this act freed slaves, it did nothing to bring about equity within Canadian society. That lack of equity still pervades Canada and its institutions to this day.