The Black Population of Canada West on the Eve of the American Civil War: A Reassessment Based on the Manuscript Census of 1861


  • Michael Wayne


Enumerators' schedules from the 1861 census for Canada West provide evidence that contradicts the popular view of the fugitive slave as the central figure of nineteenth-century black history in the province. The census suggests that historians have exaggerated the size of the black population, significantly overstated the proportion who were fugitives from slavery, underestimated the degree to which blacks were dispersed throughout the province, and misrepresented the extent of return migration. By 1861 blacks had made their way to all corners of Canada West and had become an integral part of the provincial economy. More than half were from the United States, but contrary to popular opinion they were mainly free blacks, not runaway slaves. While they experienced persistent discrimination in Canada, most chose to remain when the Civil War ended.