What we forget
In her insightful essay (“The Canadian Narrative about Slavery Is Wrong,” thewalrus. ca), Charmaine Nelson points out that, on the issue of slavery, Canadians have buried our uncomfortable truths — and done ourselves a terrible disservice. Like all countries, we edit our collective stories to make them more digestible. Prior to 2003, for example, my understanding of the war of 1812 extended only to Sir Isaac Brock, Laura Secord, and Tecumseh. Now I know that the story is much more nuanced, and has many more characters. Not only were black Canadian soldiers involved in the war — they also fought in the famous battle of Queenston Heights.
Canada has a long history of anti-black racism. In 1957, one of our neighbours in Amherstview, Ontario, circulated a petition demanding that the developer rescind the sale of a house to a black family. In the 1960s, Nova Scotia still had some segregated black-only public schools. And I remember white Canadians shouting racial epithets as they drove past black people in downtown Halifax in 1975. Sadly, one doesn’t have to look back to 1833 to find racial intolerance in Canada.