Toronto Black History Tour

Mural on the grounds of Ryerson University

On a recent visit to Toronto, Canada, we decided to take a black history tour. I am always interested to know the history of black culture and their influence in each country I visit. I was able to find a Black History tour through Airbnb experiences. The process of booking was easy and cost around $50 CAD per person ($38 per person USD).

Our tour host was Ms. Jacqueline L. Scott. We learned a lot about Ms. Scott while on the tour. She was born in Jamaica, raised in London, married a Nigerian man, and came to Canada. She has traveled the world, but made it known she has travel extensively throughout Africa. She is well educated in history especially black history. 

Viola Desmond

We started our walk at Ryerson University. We introduced ourselves and let her know where we were from. Although most of us were African American, born in different parts of the US, one friend is Haitian American. She wanted to know a lot about us because she wanted to make the tour a personal experience. I really like that she asked questions. She told us she has learned not to assume people know things as everyone’s experiences are different. Also, the “black experience” is different for everyone, which is a very true statement.

We stopped at a mural on campus that showed some famous Canadians. Two of those people happened to be black.  Oscar Emmanuel Peterson, a Canadian Jazz Pianist and composer, and Viola Desmond a Civil Rights Activists. Viola Desmond’s story was interesting as she is most known for sitting in the “whites only” section in a theater in Nova Scotia and refused to move. This act of bravery started the modern Civil Rights Movement. Viola Desmond can be seen on the $10 bill in Canada.

Mathieu DaCosta

On campus there is also a walkway devoted to Nelson Mandela, but due to renovation on campus we were not able to see it.  We stopped and talked about Mathieu DaCosta, the first known African in Canada. According to Ms. Scott, he arrived around the 1600s. From our discussion he was a multilingual explorer who helped negotiate trade deals. In our discussion, we also talked about the indigenous people (they are not called natives in Canada), which I think is awesome. Many indigenous people were killed due to the diseases brought by the Europeans. Well technically, most of the indigenous people throughout the Americas died in the same way.

We spoke about the real history of the explorers and how they ended up in different parts of the Caribbean, South America, US and Canada. The explorers learned during their travels, that sugar cane, cotton, tobacco were valuable crops that could be grown in the region and exported back to other countries. The problem was that those crops required a lot of labor to produce and harvest and slave labor was the cheapest way to harvest the crop. We stopped at the botanical gardens which we learned were historically research centers for explorers. They would bring the crops and plants back from other countries and house them in the botanical gardens for researchers to study.

Botanical Gardens

One thing I found interesting, is that slavery is not really talked about or a big part of history in Canada. Ms. Scott explained it’s like Canadians do not want to think about their involvement with slavery. I also found it was interesting that Harriet Tubman is a part of Canadian history. She made 19 trips to Canada. She was caught once in Canada, but was able to convince slave catchers that she could read the Bible, therefore they did not think it was Harriet Tubman because it was known that she could not read. Slavery was ended and outlawed in Canada August 1, 1833. When slavery ended there were 500 black slaves and 1,000 indigenous slaves.

St. Lawrence Hall

We were able to walk the path of Frederick Douglas, which was pretty cool. St. Lawrence Hall is one of the oldest public buildings in Toronto. According to Ms. Scott, many important events happened in this building. Frederick Douglas spoke in St. Lawrence Hall on multiple occasions. The “North American Convention of Colored Freeman” was held here especially after the US passed the Fugitive Slave law. The conventions were held to discuss slavery and emigration issues in the United States. She stated the council was like the NAACP or Black Lives Matter.

Speaking of Black Lives Matter, we were able to discuss being black in Canada present day. In Canada, there are roughly 35 million people. Out of the 35 million people there are 2 million black Canadians. Although the issues we face in American are different, Canada is not perfect. She stated that Black Lives Matter in American is to fight against police brutality against black and brown people. Black Lives Matter in Canada is to fight the harassment by the police. She stated the issues are not as bad as they are in the US, but Canada covers it up it’s issues with multi-cultural aspects. Even with all the diversity in Toronto most things are still owned and operate by whites.

Catholic Church of St. James

I can say being in Toronto for 4 days, being black there is very different from the US. No one looked at you funny or crossed the street when a group of black people were walking towards them. No one followed you around in stores, no one turned their nose up to you. We barley seen any police, and when we did they were tending to accidents. It was nice to see groups of friends of all difference races hanging together and having fun. A lot of interracial relationships and it’s pretty normal, which is cool.

Indigenous people on the stain glass windows of St. James Church

At the end of our tour, we talked about the black experience and how it is different for everyone. She talked about her visit to the US and how the communities are all segregated. In the US, there are still some communities segregated by race. In Canada all of the communities are integrated, no one is separated. She spoke about her visit to Atlanta and how it was interesting. She was with a friend who was Jewish and while walking to the MLK memorial they did not feel safe. She spoke about how people stared at them because they thought they were an interracial couple. She stated it was very uncomfortable and awkward for her because they would not have received that type of attention in Toronto.

We spoke about our lives living in the southern region of the US and how it differs from people who grew up in other areas. My Haitian friend spoke about his experience as a Haitian American and how it differs from his African American friends. We talked about the dynamic between African Americans and Africans. There is a notion that Africans despise African Americans. I have heard this so many times. I have African friends and I use to have online chats with people that actual live in different countries in Africa and they stated they hate the way Africa is portrayed in the US. Which I can totally understand. I’m not sure where the breakdown is between African Americans and Africans, but we should get the conversation started. The reality is our roots start in Africa and in order for us as African American to understand we must have the conversation. At the end of the day, when you come to US we are all considered black no matter if you are African or African American.

All in all it was an awesome tour and I would suggest it to anyone traveling to Toronto. There’s so much history to learn. It is amazing to learn about black Canadians. I have to be honest, before Drake I did not know black Canadians existed. I really thought any black people living in Canada migrated there from other countries, not actually born there. This might sound ignorant, but it’s honest. If you are traveling to Toronto please take the Black History Tour.

16 Comments on “Toronto Black History Tour”

  1. This was a really good read. I can’t wait to visit Toronto and definitely take the black history tour . I have been encouraged to start the conversation about African and African Americans

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very fascinating post. I am most struck by the difference in the ways black folks experience their blackness and interactions between the two countries.


    • I didn’t know that either and found it interesting. She actually had a home there. It was pretty cool to learn about. I agree, it is off putting but I think they want to be known for being a country that excepts everyone so let’s hide this bad part about our country.


  3. Very interesting read. I am most struck by the differences in how black are perceived and their interactions in broader society between the two countries.


  4. I loved my visit to Toronto. I agree with you. No ugly stares or no funny comments. So different from the U.S. I surely wish I would have done the black history tour. It sounds so interesting. I will certainly add this for my next visit.


  5. this is an amazing post! well, done. i was just telling my husband that i want to go north for vacation soon and mentioned toronto and we were thinking what we could do there. this post just answered our question. thank you for this.


  6. Pingback: Running through the six – Meals and Miles

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