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Two important August days

The first weekend in August is a long one in Ontario. This year the calendar lets us celebrate two important days.

In Toronto, the first Monday in August is Simcoe Day, honouring John Graves Simcoe, Upper Canada’s first lieutenant governor. Simcoe is credited with the founding of Toronto, and other major steps in the colonization of Ontario. But let’s also remember his efforts to end slavery. The Act of 1793 Against Slavery was a compromise. It stopped the importation of enslaved persons, but not their sale across the border. And it freed the children of enslaved persons born in Upper Canada after 1793 at age 25, but not any of the more than 500 enslaved persons in Upper Canada.

August 1 is Emancipation Day, celebrating the 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act that freed more than 800,000 enslaved people of African descent throughout the British Empire, including Canada, on August 1, 1834.

To learn more about slavery in Canada, a good place to start is Natasha Henry’s contribution to the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Man on horse leading parade through street.

Emancipation Day parade, Amherstburg Ontario, 1894. Library and Archives Canada/PA-163923, Item ID number 3227511.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no Emancipation Day parades this year, but there are many virtual celebrations. The Ontario Heritage Foundation and Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site are hosting a week of commemorative events.  Owen Sound and area residents have held an annual  Emancipation Day festival for almost a century and a half, and are planning a special digital program this August 1. And the Archives of Ontario website has online exhibits you can browse on Enslaved Africans in Upper Canada and The Black Canadian Experience in Ontario 1834-1914: Flight, Freedom, Foundation

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