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'So much to learn': The untold stories of slavery in Canada – CTV News



A pregnant teen escaping captivity in a wintry Quebec. A young woman forced to pose nude for a painter in Montreal. The son of a free man tied up in a Toronto shed.

These are Canadian stories, just a few among hundreds of Black slave narratives from the colonies that became Canada. Stories of enslavement are not unique to the United States, though many Canadian history books would have readers believe that the Underground Railroad was the beginning and end of the country’s link to slavery. In fact, there were thousands of slaves, most of them of Indigenous decent, in the colonies that became Canada.

“If we are going to reckon with the realities and the legacies of racism and anti-Black racism we have to give attention to these experiences,” said Natasha Henry, the president of the Ontario Black History Society, whose doctoral research titled One Too Many: The Enslavement of Africans in Early Ontario, 1760 – 1834 aims to fill gaps in the history of Upper Canada and slavery. “It gets people to really see how connected Canada was to the enslavement of African people that ushered in capitalism and contributed to modernity. It’s a huge gap in our historical narrative.”

In 2020, more than 180 years after the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, there’s a push to right centuries of wrongdoing. A renewed racial reckoning in the U.S. and Canada began earlier this year with the death of George Floyd, a Black man arrested by police in Minneapolis. His death at the hands of a white police officer reignited the “Black Lives Matter” movement as it relates to police reform, but has stretched beyond law enforcement. Statues and names rooted in a history of slavery are being re-examined too. Even prominent American country music groups have rebranded themselves, shedding racial signifiers “Dixie” and “antebellum,” words with Confederate origins.

In Canada too, advocates have called for the renaming of streets and schools dedicated to historic slave owners like Henry Dundas, who tried to delay the end of slavery in the British Empire. Canadian activists have also renewed calls for Emancipation Day in Ontario, Aug. 1, which commemorates the abolition of slavery across the British Empire, to be declared a national holiday.

As monuments to white enslavers are reconsidered, a small group of Canadian scholars are researching the untold stories of Black and Indigenous people who were enslaved in Canada, in hopes that their stories may become more prominent.

Some of their stories have been commemorated in small ways. In Ontario, a plaque pays tribute to Chloe Cooley, a Black enslaved woman whose “violent resistance” as she was sold to a new owner in 1793 is considered to have paved the way for the gradual abolition of slavery in the British Empire. In Montreal, a public square is named for Marie-Joseph Angélique, a Black enslaved woman who was convicted of setting fire to her owner’s home in 1734, burning down much of present-day Old Montreal.

But many more remain untold. Here are just four more stories of many from Canadian archives.


Few enslaved people attempted escapes during Canadian winters.

“It’s going to be so arduous, so dangerous … if you try to escape in the winter and it goes wrong,” said McGill University art history professor Charmaine Nelson in an interview with

But in a compilation of 51 “fugitive slave” ads between 1765-1833 in British Quebec, Canadian scholar Frank Mackey found about five enslaved people who attempted to run away in winter months. One was a Black woman named Bett, owned by Quebec business partners James Johnston and John Purss.

In the March 7, 1787, ad for her recapture, Johnston and Purss describe her as 18 years old, of middle stature, with the ability to speak English, French and German (skills that could aid in her escape). They also noted that she was pregnant and likely within a few days of her due date, said Nelson. “The compounding tragedies here are that Bett, at 18, is running away by herself in the winter in her third trimester,” she said. “Something really horrible is going on in this household for her to attempt this at this moment in this state.”


Nelson said it’s possible that the unborn child was either Johnston or Purss’s as there was a focus on so-called “breeding” since children took on the status of their enslaved mother and ensured more slave labour for the owners. “To lose Bett was also to lose the child in the womb,” she said. “Rape and sexual coercion were endemic in slavery.”

Bett is captured, but shows up later that year in the archives as being charged with the murder of her child. She is acquitted, though court transcripts don’t exist to explain what happened. The same year, Bett appears again, though is unnamed, in a for-sale ad in the Quebec Gazette. The men tout her specific language skills, which historians used to determine it was Bett, as well as her housework skills. And in what Nelson called a “very cruel” note, they add that she is “handy in the care of children.”


Toronto is not often connected to slavery in historical accounts, but its beginnings as the town of York, the centre of the political establishment, have links to the practice.

“The enslavement of Africans was part of that as an emerging urban centre,” said Henry, who was drawn to the archival evidence of an enslaved woman named Peggy and her three children, Amy, Jupiter and Milly, all owned by Upper Canada politician Peter Russell. Peggy’s husband, Pompadour, was a recently freed man after serving in the British Military during the American Revolution. He worked for wages on the Russell property, while the rest of the family were enslaved as “domestics,” performing household tasks or working on the farm.

Peggy sale ad

But historical records, such as Russell’s account books, court records and ads in the Upper Canada Gazette, show that the family may have resisted the system on numerous occasions. Employment records revealed that Pompadour was fired by Russell but later reinstated. Court records show that both Peggy and her son Jupiter were held in jail as a form of discipline that was common in urban centres, said Henry. At the age of 13, Jupiter was tied up in a storehouse as punishment. On more than one occasion, Russell attempted to sell Peggy in efforts to separate her from her children.

In Russell’s sister Elizabeth’s diary, Peggy and her family were described as “insolent,” “pilfering,” and “lying.” Some historians believe that the behaviour may have been deliberate acts of resistance.


Historians learned about enslaved woman Marie-Thérèse Zémire through a 1786 oil portrait by François Malépart de Beaucourt, which is believed to depict her in Saint-Domingue, or what became Haiti. Nelson said that it is likely that Zémire was purchased in the French colony before the slave revolt and was forcibly brought to Quebec, where she was owned by Malépart’s wife.

“If she had lived out the revolution, she would have been a free woman,” said Nelson. “She was taken away into the British Empire that was still enslaving and removed from a space where the Black people were able to secure their freedom. That’s an extreme tragedy.”

The painting is the only fully finished portrait of an enslaved person in Canada. Usually enslaved people were depicted alongside white aristocrats and were positioned as an “appendage,” said Nelson. Instead, Zémire, likely just 15 years old at the time, is painted alone but in a “disturbing” and “hyper sexualized” fashion, said Nelson. She may be smiling in the painting, but wouldn’t have had a choice to pose for the portrait. She smiles, with a breast exposed, holding a plate of tropical fruit, all of which delivers a message: “Take of my body as you take of this fruit.”

“The painting actually helps to do the work of the sexual stigmatization of Black women, which is essential to the so-called proper function of slavery through which then there was a maternal order to slavery,” said Nelson.

Like the story of Bett above, Zémire’s sexualization in the image emphasizes how enslaved women were valuable pieces of property for they could produce enslaved offspring.

“That incentivizes rape and sexual coercion, because to get her pregnant was to have more units of labour,” said Nelson.

Marie-Therese Zemire


While the slavery is long gone from Canadian soil, remnants of the system were felt over the hundreds of years that followed abolition and still today, advocates and historians say.

“The remnants are the racial hierarchy that informs our society today,” said Henry, who earlier this year wrote an online article about demands for an official government apology for slavery. 

An apology is just a “first step,” wrote Henry, as is learning about the untold lives of enslaved Black and Indigenous people in Canada. 

“Look at these people as people, as human beings who had a particular life journey and have stories,” she said. “There’s so much to learn.” 

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Canada more than doubles COVID-19 vaccine distribution this week – CTV News



Canada is seeing an upsurge in vaccines distributed across the country, with numbers making up more than double of what was allocated in the last two weeks.

As of Feb. 21, Canada has made a total of 1,850,000 doses available nation-wide. This is approximately 400,000 more doses than what was distributed to provinces and territories the week of Feb. 14 and doubling what has been distributed in the first two weeks of February. 

In the past five days, Canada received even more shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a Friday briefing that Canada has now received a total of 643,000 doses, making it the largest week of shipments to date. 

Feb. 18 saw the highest ramp-up in vaccine distribution, having more than 305,000 doses delivered in a single day. Canada had just a little over 91,000 doses distributed the day before.

“We’ve been on hold for so long. We’re coming off hold now, and we really have to put our money where our mouth is. We have to do this right, we have to do this ethically, and we have to do this fast,” said Kerry Bowman, bioethics and global health professor at the University of Toronto, in an interview with “It’s almost March and we still have not vaccinated senior citizens living in the community, so we really need to target [them].”

To date, over two million doses have been distributed across Canada, with a majority of doses being the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. All provinces have been receiving shipments of both the Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines, whereas territories only receive the Moderna vaccine. As of Feb. 26, 84 per cent of doses received by the two pharmaceutical companies have been administered to the Canadian population.

Canada is expecting to receive approximately 444,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine each week in March, which will follow the pharmaceutical company’s commitment of providing four million doses by the end of the first quarter.

“We’ve really got a huge responsibility right now to use these vaccines as efficiently and as ethically as we possibly can,” said Bowman. “The death rate will start to come down as we protect more and more vulnerable people like the older Canadians, the people with medical vulnerabilities and social vulnerabilities. We need to get them protected.”

With the rise of vaccine shipments and Health Canada approving the AstraZeneca vaccine Friday, Trudeau says that Canada is on track to receiving a total of 6.5 million doses by the end of March, and that vaccines will continue to arrive faster heading into the spring.

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Canada announces partnership with India-based company to secure more AstraZeneca jabs – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press

Published Friday, February 26, 2021 12:31PM EST

Canada’s vaccine rollout received a boost Friday with the approval of a third COVID-19 inoculation, giving the country another immunization option at a time when case counts remain nearly 75 per cent higher than they were at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic.

Health Canada approved a vaccine from AstraZeneca, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said jabs will keep arriving “faster and faster as we head into the spring.”

While numbers of cases and hospitalizations have dropped from all-time highs just weeks ago, variants of concern are rising in parts of the country.

Canada’s top doctor Theresa Tam said nationally there are 964 reported cases of the variant first detected in the U.K., up from 429 reported two weeks ago. There were also 44 cases of the variant first discovered in South Africa, and two cases of the version first found in Brazil.

“The risk of rapid re-acceleration remains,” Tam said. “At the same time new variants continue to emerge … and can become predominant.”

Tam added that average daily case counts in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia have increased between eight and 14 per cent over the previous week.

Thunder Bay, Ont., will move into lockdown on Monday after community leaders called for government action following a recent spread of COVID in the city. Outbreaks have been declared there at correctional facilities, among the homeless population and at a number of local schools.

Ontario’s Simcoe Muskoka region will also go into lockdown next week after a spike in infections, but restrictions will loosen in seven other areas in the province.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said the country’s vaccine rollout will be just one method in slowing the spread of new variants and avoiding a third wave.

He said public health measures aimed at halting transmission such as physical distancing and limiting contacts remain important, adding that jurisdictions that have recently reopened need to keep a keen eye on transmission rates.

“Certainly if there’s any indication that the case rates and … the emergence of variants are increasing, we would need to adjust as appropriate,” he said. “But the vaccinations, and certainly the introduction of more vaccines coming to Canada is very, very good news.”

Experts advising the Ontario government said this week more contagious variants of COVID-19 are expected to make up 40 per cent of cases by the second week of March.

Ontario reported 1,258 new cases of COVID-19 and 28 more deaths linked to the virus on Friday, with 362 of them in Toronto, 274 in Peel Region and 104 in York Region.

Parts of Atlantic Canada have also seen rising case counts. Newfoundland and Labrador reported four new cases of COVID-19 while Nova Scotia added 10 more to its tally.

Of the new Nova Scotia cases, the province says two are related to travel outside Atlantic Canada.

Prince Edward Island, which reported an outbreak of three cases earlier this week, had one more new case Friday that does not appear to be directly linked to the others.

Quebec, meanwhile, reported 815 new COVID-19 infections and 11 more deaths. Health officials in the province said hospitalizations have dropped by 13, to 620, while intensive care also decreased by three to 119.

Saskatchewan health officials announced 153 new cases and no new deaths, while in Manitoba there were 64 new infections and one additional death.

In Alberta, with 356 new infections and three more deaths, doctors with the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s pandemic committee urged the province to hold off on possibly easing more restrictions next week. They said they are concerned that new daily active cases have stopped decreasing and the number of new infections that result from each case is growing.

As of Thursday evening, federal data showed there have been 858,217 COVID-19 cases in Canada, including 21,865 deaths, since the beginning of the pandemic.

While Tam warned that COVID-19 variants can spread more quickly and easily become dominant, progress on the vaccine front is a source of optimism, she noted.

“To date, over 1.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered across Canada. And there are early indications of high vaccine efficacy.”

Trudeau also announced on Friday a partnership with Mississauga, Ont.’s Verity Pharmaceuticals and the Serum Institute of India that will deliver two million more doses of the AstraZeneca jab – in addition to the 20 million doses Canada already secured with AstraZeneca.

Trudeau said as vaccinations ramp up across the country, many provinces have expanded the number of health professions able to administer a COVID-19 vaccine, and he asked dentists, midwives, pharmacy technicians and retired nurses to lend a hand in the rollout.

“Job 1 remains beating this pandemic,” Trudeau said, adding the federal government will continue to send rapid tests to provinces in hopes of getting more Canadians tested.

“We still have to be very careful, especially with new variants out there. We all want to start the spring in the best shape possible.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2021.

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Canadian firm develops biodegradable mask that's ready for production – CTV News



A private non-profit Canadian organization and its partners have created an eco-friendly biodegradable mask that is ready for manufacturing and public use, an innovation it says is the first of its kind in the world.

FPInnovations, a research and development centre that supports the Canadian forestry sector, said in a press release on Friday that the masks, which took only a few months to develop from research to market, are fully biodegradable, from the mask filtering materials, to the elastic ear loops and nose pieces.

“The development of a biodegradable mask clearly shows that stimulating the bioeconomy can contribute to a cleaner environment in Canada,” Stephane Renou, president and chief executive of FPInnovations said in a statement.

The project was highlighted by both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Natural Resources, Seamus O’Regan.

“We need to keep wearing our masks to keep each other safe. And now you can wear one without worrying about damaging the environment … This is Team Canada at its best,” O’Regan said in a video posted on Twitter.

A key element that makes this mask appealing is that its components can be easily assembled and produced on existing commercial mask-converting machines, the group behind the $3.3 million project said.

Third party labs have assessed the masks, it added, saying it “would set the standard” for non-medical grade masks for its filtration capabilities, breathability and biodegradability.

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