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The Black history of the Eastern Townships is often glossed over by historians and popular understandings of history alike, and yet the Townships have been an important territory for Black history in the Americas. Black Histories in the Eastern Townships proposes a collection of historical snapshots that shed light on important chapters in the Black history of the region, including slavery, the Underground Railroad, blackface minstrel performances, sports cultures, the jazz scenes of the 1920s and 1950s, changes to the linguistic and cultural demographics of the Black population of the Townships in the 1960s and 1970s, and Black activist movements in the Townships today. 

The material archive of Black life in the Townships is fragmented and incomplete. Moreover, Black people have seldom been the authors or protagonists of official histories in the Americas. Rather than proposing a definitive or “complete” history, Black Histories in the Eastern Townships is an unfinished work that extends an invitation to viewers to continue to fill in the gaps in the collective memory of Black life in the region. As a “Call for Participation,” this exhibit hopes to plant seeds for future conversations, research, activist interventions, and artistic responses. As such, Black Histories in the Townships turns towards the past to ask questions about the present. What can the Black Histories in the Townships teach us about how and by whom the region has been shaped over time? Or about the realities of Black life in the Townships today? And how can we respond to these histories from the perspective of “now”?

 

Artistic duo Anna Jane McIntyre and Emannuelle Jacques’s artistic response to the fragments gathered in this exhibit models a future-oriented practice of responding to history by creating something new.   

 

HISTORIES

IN THE

HISTOIRES DES

DANS LES

Eastern Townships

BLACK

PERSONNES NOIRES

Cantons-de-l'Est

Emmanuelle Jacques: Études 1 et 2 Faire partie du paysage/

The Freedom Pickers, stamped ink on Somerset paper, 2022.

For her Studies 1 and 2 of Faire partie du paysage/The Freedom Pickers, Emmanuelle Jacques has created landscapes of Mount Pinnacle (Frelighsburg) by layering the names of a dozen Black residents of the Eastern Townships found in the store ledgers of Loyalist shopkeepers in the region. The font used to create the stamps for the landscapes, called US Declaration, is inspired by the US Declaration of Independence. The font references the period in which many Loyalists came to the region, some with enslaved Black people. With Jacques’ studies, Black residents of the Townships are presented as intrinsic to the land and landscapes, even as their names are sometimes obscured or difficult
to decipher.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Originally from Sherbrooke, Emmanuelle Jacques is a visual artist. Her practice stems from drawing and printmaking, and notably combines writing and relational art. Her work is mainly presented in the form of artist’s books and installations, and occasionally in other forms such as performance, video, and audio art.

THE
LOST ARCHIVE

While some traces of Black life in the region have been been preserved in archives and collective memory, this page symbolizes all that has been lost or gone unrecorded. It is inspired by the Black page with which Dr. Karina Vernon begins her 2020 anthology of Black prairie literature, The Black Prairie Archives.  

 

A RETROSPECTIVE
ON RESEARCHING
BLACK HISTORIES
IN QUEBEC

by DOROTHY WILLIAMS

When I began writing about Montreal in the early eighties, I was one of a handful of trained historians interested in Canada’s Black history. At that time, most Black research in Canada centered on Ontario and Nova Scotia, where the historical presence of Black communities and longstanding institutions formed the foundation of a growing body of scholarship. In Quebec however, the landscape of historical scholarship was unmarked by research on local Black history. Quebec was not seen as a traditional site of Black activity in Canada. And throughout my lifetime, this has largely remained the case.

I have, however, tried to change this perception over the course of several decades. I have looked at Quebec’s Black history from the lens of race, gender, demography, economics, culture, and language, published three books and other resources on the subject, and created an educational toolkit to help educators teach Black history across the province. It has not been an easy journey. In the early eighties, there was no Google, and a simple library query about books on slavery in Canada, or even about Blacks in the early-nineteenth century, was often met with blank stares or furrowed brows. At that time, Black studies did not have departments in our institutions of higher learning, so I was without peers to share my findings. And yet, undiscouraged, I spent countless hours in libraries and archives, following up threads and snippets buried in obscure articles and out-of-print books. Every now and then, I found a mother lode revealing the lived experiences and contributions of Blacks in different regions of the province. This was painstaking work, but along the way, I amassed an archive of stories and data that confirmed that Quebec’s Black history was much richer and more complex than first imagined.

Despite the dissemination of my research through talks, teaching, and publications, there are so many stories yet to be explored and told. Even as I currently teach about Black history, 40 years after I began researching this subject, I am saddened that researching this topic remains a daunting challenge for many. It is time to energize this field of historical research, as the many untapped areas of investigation about Black history in Quebec may well expand our understanding, not only of the complex landscape of diversity in the province, but also of who we are as a society.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Quebec Laureate and recipient of the Mathieu da Costa Award, Dr. Dorothy Williams is a pioneer of Black historical research in Quebec. She teaches the only course on Black Montreal at Concordia University. She has also created the first pan-Canadian toolkit, “ABC's of Canadian Black History Kit” for the teaching of Canadian Black history for K-12. Her publications include Blacks in Montreal, 1628-1986: An Urban Demography, and The Road To Now: A History of Blacks in Montreal, and Les Noirs à Montréal, 1628-1986.

THE FIRST
BLACK ARRIVALS
IN NEW FRANCE

Historians have speculated that an African interpreter by the name of Mathieu Da Costa may have been the first Black person to have set foot in New France. African interpreters were used by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century, and by the Dutch, English, and French, beginning in the seventeenth century. While it is possible that an African man named Da Costa served as an interpreter in Canada sometime during this period, the historical records are not able to confirm this theory with certainty, nor are they able to confirm exactly when or with whom he would have come.

 

More certain is the history of Olivier Le Jeune, the first recorded enslaved person to have been transported directly to Canada from Africa. In 1629, the six-year old boy was brought as a chattel slave to Québec City, where he would eventually work for a man named Guillaume Couillard. Throughout the colonial period, there were a total of 4,092 enslaved people in the colony, most of whom were Indigenous (known as panis) and 1,443 of whom were Black. 

Mixed media portrait of Olivier Le Jeune by Ralph Maingrette

Source: Courtesy of the artist

NATIONAL AMNESIA
AND SLAVERY
IN QUEBEC 

by CHARMAINE NELSON

The first runaway slave advertisement was published in the Montreal Gazette on September 29th, 1785, just one month after the newspaper was founded. Placed by the Irish-born Dr. Robert Maghlin Guthrie, the advertisement offered a five-pound reward for the return of a “Mullatto” (sic) named Tom Brooks and his accomplice, “one Richard Sutton.” 

The Canadian practice of hunting enslaved fugitives with published notices was no different than in other colonies across the Americas. The phenomenon of enslaved people running from their bondage attests to the bravery of these individuals. 

Some readers may have done a double-take when they saw the location of Montreal as the site of a fugitive slave advertisement. Such a reaction is anchored in the pervasive fiction that Quebec and Canada never participated in Transatlantic Slavery.

This fiction has been cultivated by Euro-Canadians (in academia, school curricula, popular media, and personal ancestral histories) who have, over generations, created the Canadian myth of racial tolerance enshrined in a federal policy of multiculturalism. The national amnesia about the histories of slavery in the territories that became Canada is also a product of an over-emphasis on the Underground Railroad (1834-1865) and Canadian abolitionism. This has allowed white Canadians to celebrate their difference from white Americans as a citizenry whose settler ancestors presumably exploited no one in their quest for land, power, and capital. 

It is through acknowledging, recovering, and studying this reality that we can come to recognize the centuries-long presence of diverse people of African descent and the persistence of systemic anti-Black racism across Canada. This exhibition is an important part of the ongoing effort to do just that.

RUN AWAY on Thursday morning last from the Subscriber, A Mullatto man Named Tom Brooks, Aged Thirty years, about five feet eight Inches high, strong made, had on a Mixed Brown Coat and Weastcoat, Green trowsers, a white Beaver hat with broad Goldlace; speaks English and French perfectly; was in Company with one Richard Sutton by trade a Carpenter, who had on a Blue Jacket, a pair of white trowsers and a new hat. Whoever Secures the said Mullatto or Sutton, so that the Subscriber may be informed of it, shall have a Reward of Five Pounds.

Robt. M. Guthrie

Quebec Supt. 22d. 1785.

Source: Montreal Gazette, 29 September 1785.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Dr. Charmaine A. Nelson is a Professor of Art History and a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Transatlantic Black Diasporic Art and Community Engagement at The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD University) in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 2020, Dr. Nelson founded the The Institute for the Study of Canadian Slavery, the first research hub to focus exclusively on Canada’s history of slavery.

BLACK IMMIGRATION
TO QUEBEC THROUGHOUT THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

by SEAN MILLS

For much of the twentieth century, racially restrictive immigration laws prevented large-scale Black migration to Quebec, although many did enter the province, mostly to work as sleeping car porters and domestic servants. In 1910, a special program was established to recruit roughly 100 women from Guadeloupe to work as domestic servants in wealthy French-Canadian households, and a similar program began recruiting domestic servants from the English-speaking Caribbean in 1955.

 

It was in the 1960s that larger numbers of Black migrants began to arrive. In 1962, the Canadian government put an end to most race-based criteria for immigration, and further changes came with the introduction of the ‘points-based’ immigration system in 1967. These changes facilitated the arrival of Black migrants, such as Haitian exiles fleeing the brutal dictatorship of François Duvalier in Haiti. Soon, poorer Haitian migrants began to arrive, and many became caught in a web of ever-changing immigration regulations. In 1974, for example, nearly 1500 Haitians were targeted for deportation by the Canadian Government. In response, a large coalition of both Haitian and non-Haitian civil society organizations rallied against the threat of removal, eventually succeeding in staying half of the deportation orders. Those whose deportation orders were upheld were sent back to Haiti, fled Canada, or became undocumented. 

From the 1960s to today, successive Quebec governments have sought to increase the province’s role in immigration, with the goal of attracting and recruiting French-speaking migrants. Since then, Black migrants have come through official channels as well as at irregular crossings and through non-official means, and they have settled in major cities and in rural areas. In contrast to earlier in the century, when the province’s Black community largely spoke English, Quebec’s Black population today has a great deal of linguistic diversity. French is ‘the most reported mother tongue,’ and of the six leading countries of origin of Black immigrants, all have French as an official language.

That Place by Shanna Strauss, 2015.

Source: Courtesy of the artist

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Dr. Sean Mills is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Canadian and Transnational History at the University of Toronto. He is the author of The Empire Within: Postcolonial Thought and Political Activism in Sixties Montreal and A Place in the Sun: Haiti, Haitians, and the Remaking of Quebec.

THE
EASTERN TOWNSHIPS

The Historical Eastern Townships are part of the traditional and unceded territory of the W8banakiak (in English, Abenaki). The W8banakiak, which belong to the larger Algonquian family, arrived in the region from Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire in the late-seventeenth century. The semi-sedentary Nation practiced agriculture and used the region's waterways and forests for fishing, hunting, travel, and trade.

Throughout the Franco-British Wars which began in 1689 and lasted for 70 years, the W8banakiak population of the Townships declined due to colonial violence and disease. The “8” symbol in W8banakiak expresses a nasal “o” that derives from Indigenous linguistic forms.

Mena’sen:  The Story of the Lone Pine

The most well-known narrative associated with the Lone Pine comes from an Abenaki legend recounting a battle in 1692 between an Abenaki tribe and an Iroquoian tribe. Rather than lose many warriors in a large battle, each side agreed to select one warrior to represent their respective tribes. The two warriors then made their way to the rock of the Lone Pine where, as legend states, they chased each other around the rock and the first one overcome by exhaustion was killed by his opponent. In this battle, it was the Abenaki warrior who came out victorious over the Iroquoian warrior.

The Lone Pine in the St-Francis River near Sherbrooke from 1913. Source: ETRC / Herbert Derrick collection

K'wlipaï8ba
W8banakiak
wdakiw8k

You are welcome on the Abenaki territory.

 

SLAVERY &
EARLY ROOTS IN
BROME-MISSISQUOI

The first recorded Black inhabitants of the Eastern Townships lived here as enslaved people brought from New England by American Loyalists in the late-18th and early-19 centuries to Saint-Armand, Missisquoi County, and to Brome. In this region, which is now known as Brome-Missisquoi, these people worked for their owners as agricultural and domestic labourers, clearing and cultivating lands, fabricating potash, and tending to the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing in their owners’ households. The home of Loyalist Philip Luke was one such household. Around 1784, Loyalist Philip Luke (1753-1824) came from New York to settle in the Eastern Townships. Luke would become a general store owner and built a successful potash business in Saint-Armand, Missisquoi County. In 1794, he inherited six enslaved people from his mother’s estate and brought these people to work for him in his home. They included two young men, an elderly woman, a young woman, a girl of 5 years old, and a boy of 2 years old.

When Philip Luke died in 1824, his son, Jacob Vedeer Luke inherited his father’s enslaved labourers, an estate that had grown, through births and purchases, to eleven people. The Missisquoi County’s census of 1851 reveals that, nearly 20 years after the official abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833, 283 “people of colour” and 279 people of Indigenous origin were still living in the area. A grave located at the bottom of a natural rock formation locally known as “N***** Rock” is said to hold the remains of an unknown number of the enslaved people of Brome-Missisquoi. In 2016, the “N***** Rock” was officially renamed Rocher du repos des Noirs by la commission de toponymie du Québec.

To this day, despite repeated activist efforts led by a local history teacher Hank Avery, no official heritage site has been created in Saint-Armand to memorialize the region’s history of slavery and serve as a site for paying respects to the people who lived and died in servitude in Saint-Armand.  

Illustration by Sébastien Thibault, originally published in The Walrus.

Source: Courtesy of the artist

HER NAME WAS
FLAVIA

by HEATHER DARCH

We don’t know her age, or if she was married or had children. We don’t know if she was born here, in Africa, the United States, or even England. We don’t know where or when she died. Her name does not appear in Census records, baptismal notices or death registers. She exists only in brief notations found in Philip Luke’s Saint Armand store ledger, along with the items she purchased and the labour she traded as payment over the course of one year. Flavia was a Black woman, and while her story is unknown, she had a role to play in Missisquoi County history.

Flavia might have been enslaved by Philip Luke for some part of her life, but the fact that she is listed in the ledger under her own account suggests that she was free or an indentured servant while she lived in Philipsburg. Her name never appears before or after 1832. 

Flavia’s  purchases reflected her life.  She bought wood chips, corn, oats, hay, mutton, sheep skin, and mackerel. There are no feminine items such as ribbons, mirrors, and sewing accessories. Whereas other customers routinely purchased coffee, tea, tobacco, sugar, salt and rum, only Flavia’s purchases of tobacco could be classed as an extravagance.

Interesting notations are made along with her acquisitions. She paid a monthly rent of 5 shillings for a roof over her head. She also rented the use of a cow so the hay, oats and corn were likely used for feed. What is most revealing is how Flavia paid for her purchases. From February to December 1832 she draws dung, chops cords of wood, cuts logs, ploughs, sows corn, mends fences, works the road, reaps rye, shaves sheep and cares for the “tator” yard. Flavia is also listed under the accounts of other landowners. She worked for them and paid off their debts in the store through an arrangement with Luke.

Flavia’s labour was not like that of white women. In the interest of extracting as much agricultural work from as many able-bodied black people as possible, white landowners made no distinction between Black men and women when it came to hard labour.

Nothing about the Black people of Missisquoi Bay is common knowledge. We know so little about them and yet, there they were, like Flavia, lodged as firmly in our past as any other element of history.

Source: Missisquoi Historical Society

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Heather Darch is an historian, writer and researcher, a heritage consultant and a project director for the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network and a retired museum curator. Educated at Trent University and the University of Guelph, she is the author of numerous articles about the history of the Eastern Townships, Quebec.

THE
UNDERGROUND
RAILROAD

A TWO-WAY TRACK

The Underground Railroad was not a railroad, nor was it underground. It was actually a secret network of free Black people and white abolitionists who helped runaways to escape slavery. It is commonplace in the Canadian imaginary to regard Canada as a “safe haven” for people escaping US slavery. Many Canadians will remember that, during the early-to-mid-nineteenth century, approximately 30,000 Black people fled enslavement in the US to Canada using the Underground Railroad.

However, few Canadians realize that the traffic of the Underground Railroad actually flowed in two directions. While the abolition of slavery across all of the United States did not occur until 1865, 32 years after it was officially abolished throughout the British Empire (including Canada) in 1834, the state of Vermont outlawed slavery in 1777.

This was decades before slavery ended in New France. This migration from pre-Confederation Canada to the northern US states was part of what has been called the “reverse Underground Railroad.”    

 

After abolition in Canada, the direction of traffic on the Underground Railroad largely reversed, with many freedom seekers fleeing the American South to safe houses in Vermont, and then to “stations” across Canada. Philipsburg, located in Brome-Missisquoi, served as one of these stations.

 

Local tradition holds that, when people unknown to the community would pass through town, villagers in Philipsburg would ring the bells of the Methodist Church to warn freedom runners to hide. 

Methodist Church in Philipsburg, Quebec.

Source: ETRC / Herbert Derick collection

THE WOMEN
FROM GUADELOUPE

On April 18th, 1911, several fleets of young Black women from Guadeloupe disembarked at the Windsor port of Montreal to work as domestic servants in bourgeois households in the province of Quebec. Unless they were deemed “undesirable” for their appearance or state of health, in which case, they were sent back, these women were greeted by their future employers.

 

One of these women was Onésime Antonia. She arrived in Arthabaska on April 18th, 1911 to work in the household of Hon. J.C. Pouliot. Victoire Abelli arrived in Acton Vale on April 8th, 1911 to work in the household of Alfred Rochon. And Elisa Ricard arrived on April 8th 1911 in Bromptonville to work in the home of a prominent local businessman and Member of the House of Commons under Sir Wilfrid Laurier, E.W. Tobin, M.P. Elisa would carry out her daily household duties for $5 per month. At this time, the average monthly wage for female work in Quebec was $11 before board, which was valued at $8 per month.

 

Little else is known about the life of Elisa Ricard, including whether or not she was still under the employ of Tobin when he purchased the Bromptonville mansion called Woodhaven in 1930, which boasted 27 rooms, 8 fireplaces, and three stairways. But it is hard not to wonder what it was like for her to leave her life and family in Guadeloupe to adjust to a life of domestic labour in the Eastern Townships at the turn of the twentieth century. 

Martha, a domestic servant employed by the Bordeleau family in Victoriaville, Quebec in the 1930s.

Source: Archives Bois-Francs / Graziella Bordeleau Fonds

DID YOU KNOW...

The meagre wages of the women from Guadeloupe featured in a prominent Montreal legal case in December 1911, in which a Mr. K.E. Brossard, collector of tax succession, brought a charge of breach of contract against Marie Didet, who he had brought from Guadeloupe.

 

After being lent to 3 different households without her consent, Didet decided to leave the employment of Mr. Brossard, at which point she was told she had to first pay her “debt” of $80 for the fee he had paid the importers to bring her from Guadeloupe. Didet said she was unaware of this debt, and had believed that her wages were so low tbecause the transportation fee had already been deducted. A Mr. Recorder Weir finally dismissed the case, saying that the contract was not valid unless written or witnessed by witnesses of both contracting parties.

 

The case was covered in the Quebec media, including in a Quebec Chronicle article titled “Colored Domestics are Getting Wise: Do Not Want to Work Perpetually for Five Dollars Per Month.”

BLACKFACE
MINSTRELSY &
THE RACIAL IMAGINARY AT TOWN FAIRS

Mr. Hickey, blackface theatre performer, 1896.

Source: McCord Museum

In the early-twentieth century, Blackness in the Eastern Townships, like elsewhere in Canada and the United States, became a focal point in the realm of popular musical and theatrical entertainment. Local reporting on carnivals and fancy dress masquerades in the Townships in the 1910s reveals that the costumes of “negro,” and “negro woman,” and “N***** baby” were popular attire for these events. While this phenomenon is not a document of the presence of Black populations in the region, it attests to the fact that stereotypes of Black identity occupied the regional cultural imagination during this period.

 

Throughout the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s, local and touring Blackface minstrel shows became a highly popular entertainment for audiences across the Townships. Blackface minstrelsy involved song, dance, and comedic monologues, in which usually white men and women would black up their faces with burnt cork to perform clownish and usually demeaning caricatures of Black identity. A look at the Sherbrooke Daily Record from the time reveals advertisements for minstrel shows from East Angus, Georgeville, Sherbrooke, North Hatley, Danville, Cowansville, Lennoxville, Windsor, Drummondville, and beyond.

 

While most of the blackface performers that animated Townships’ stages in the early twentieth-century would have been white (it was, for example, common for local high schoolers and boy scouts to put on blackface minstrel shows), there are also records of “negro comedians,” most likely from Montreal, though possibly from across the US-Canadian border, performing in the area. 

BLACK JAZZ &
WHITE FANDOM

MUSICAL TOURS THROUGH
THE EASTERN TOWNSHIPS

One of the more vibrant moments in the archives of Black history in the region is the jazz craze that swept across the Townships in the 1920s. During this era, in which racially segregated bands were the norm and in which the most lucrative jobs went to white musicians, the Townships came alive with the syncopated rhythms of jazz music as Black jazz bands from Montreal toured throughout the region. Advertisements from the time betray a local fascination with “real” jazz music, and the Elite Dancing Academy on King Street, Sherbrooke promised to teach students the “real” jazz, the African-American style of dance that arose alongside the music.

The Townships saw a jazz revival in the late-1940s through the early 1960s, when world-class jazz musicians like Louis Metcalf, Gene Cooper, and (white) jazz composer Galt MacDermot (two-time Grammy award-winner and alumnus of Bishop’s University) came to play at various venues, including Bishop’s University. Louis Metcalf and his International Band even opened Sherbrooke’s first Commercial Exposition in April, 1949. The Townships’ jazz scenes of the 1920s and 1950s connected the region to a Black diasporic network and served as important sites for the performance of Black culture in the Townships.

Mynie Sutton and the Canadian Ambassadors at the Gatineau Country Club, Aylmer, Quebec.

Source: Concordia University Library Special Collections

THE BLACK LINE

BLACKNESS &
THE WORLD OF SPORTS
IN SHERBROOKE

by ANDREW HOLMAN

As in the rest of Canada, organized sport in the Eastern Townships reflected the composition of the society in which it was rooted. In the Victorian era (1837-1901), organized sport was white and male, and reflected a culture that defined athletics as an amateur pursuit for young, would-be gentlemen. This culture began to change in the 20th century, when women and athletes of colour started to challenge the gender and racial barriers of organized sport. 

Still, race mattered in sport throughout the 20th century. When Black athletes competed, they were evaluated not only for their athletic abilities, but also for the ways in which they performed their Blackness. In the predominantly white Townships, Black athletes were few, most of them visitors from elsewhere who came to the region for a season or a game. In an April 1958 bout held at the Sherbrooke Arena, one combatant, Ricardo King, was dubbed a lightning-fast “Negro puncher.” On a visit to Sherbrooke in 1968, Ferguson Jenkins, a Canadian-born baseball major leaguer, was described as a “tall, rangy negro athlete.” While sports reporting in the Townships, as elsewhere in North America, tended to focus on the intelligence and athletic mastery of white players, reporting about Black athletes emphasized the “natural” physical abilities they supposedly possessed by virtue of their Blackness. 

Nowhere was the focus on race in athletic performance more visible than in hockey writing. In the late 1940s, Black players Herb Carnegie, Ossie Carnegie, and Manny MacIntyre starred on the Sherbrooke seniors as the lauded “trio des noires,” the only “colored line in organized hockey.” Though these players were elite athletes, it was their colour, as well as essentialist ideas about Black people, that dominated press coverage. “Colored people have no particular liking for cold weather,” one Daily Record editorial began, “… and for this reason the exploits of [these] negro stars…are highly surprising.” An article in Montreal’s Le Petit Journal compared the trio to Jackie Robinson, then took a bizarre turn by focusing on the relative skin tone of each player. Herb was declared “the blackest of the three” and MacIntyre “less black than his two comrades.” These descriptions reveal how the world of organized sport has not only been a space for spectating athletic performances, but also an important arena for formulating ideas about race. 

The Black Line with Ossie Carnegie, Herb Carnegie and Vincent (Manny) McIntyre, 1944.

Source: Bernice Carnegie Family Collection

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Dr. Andrew Holman is a professor of history and Director of the Canadian Studies Program at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. He teaches and writes about Canada, sport history, and the history of education.

THE BLACK
POPULATION
OF THE TOWNSHIPS

by AÏSSÉ TOURÉ & ANGÉLIQUE GOGUEN-COUTURE

In 2016, the Black population of the Eastern Townships was 3,940 people, with the vast majority (3,420) concentrated in Sherbrooke. While the Black population in the Townships today only represents about 1% of the total Black population of Quebec (316,230), it remains a population in full expansion.

 

Indeed, with provincial efforts to encourage immigration to rural regions, this population has nearly doubled in the last 10 years and is over 8 times bigger than it was in 1996. The majority of this population hails from countries that were colonized by France and Belgium, including Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Ivory Coast, and Haiti. Today, much of the Townships’ Black population is made up of second- and first- generation immigrants.

Launch of the Sherbrooke-based Black Activist Group Shernoir

Photo by Dorothy Mombrun

 

BLACK ACTIVISM
IN THE TOWNSHIPS TODAY

by AÏSSÉ TOURÉ & ANGÉLIQUE GOGUEN-COUTURE

Black activists in the Townships have observed a general disinformation and lack of knowledge about local Black histories, cultures and communities. With immigration in rural areas being more recent than in urban centres, many people in the Townships are not aware of the realities encountered by Black people in the region. With the goal of making these realities known, activist movements centred on Black experiences have been growing throughout the last decade.

 

In 2014, an organization called Touche Noire was founded to celebrate Black histories as part of the cultural diversity of the Townships. In 2020, law students and activists Ornella Yele and Deborah Oriane Akpavi organized the Sherbrooke March against Systemic Racism, which attracted over 3,000 participants. Following the March, a group of Black residents of the Townships, including Félina Barros, Abigael Nzeba, Gretta Sinzobakwira, Love Elonga, and Riziki Mkandama founded SHERNOIR, which is working to create a space of unity, self-sufficiency, and wellbeing for the Black population of the Townships. In February 2021, the Centre des femmes du Haut-Saint-François created a virtual “museum” of portraits of seven Black women involved in the community across the Townships. And in 2020, Aïssé Touré and Angélique Goguen-Couture, inspired by the Black Lives Matters movement and their own experiences of racism in the Townships, launched BlackEstrie, an online platform that shines the spotlight on the talents of the Black Communities of the region.

 

This platform, which focuses in particular on entrepreneurs, artists and athletes, is creating a public space for Black voices and stories in the area, and for showcasing the important roles they play in society with the hopes of fighting prejudices. In 2021, the Touré and Goguen-Couture duo also created the web series Personne n’en parle (Nobody’s Talking About It) that deals with topics relevant to the region’s Black communities.

It is remarkable and worth highlighting that so many of these activist movements have been led and sustained by the work of women and overlap with feminist projects. BlackEstrie founders see in the platform as well as the growth of Black activism more broadly an era of renewed hope for the Black communities in the Townships.

Angélique Goguen-Couture & Aïssé Touré, founders of BlackEstrie

Photo by Vania Larose

ASSEMBLING
THE BLACK ARCHIVE
OF THE TOWNSHIPS

LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

by JODY ROBINSON & FABIAN WILL

Acknowledging that so much has been lost or gone unrecorded in chronicling Black life in the Eastern Townships is only a first step towards building a historical archive that will better document Black history in this region. The Eastern Townships Resource Centre (ETRC), a centre for preserving the heritage of the English-speaking communities of the Townships, is inviting members of the Black communities of the Townships to help tell their own stories for future generations in ways that are meaningful and engaging to their communities.One way this can be done is by considering donating archival material to the ETRC.  

Archival material can consist of a variety of different types of documents, from records from organizations that serve(d) the Black community to family letters and photographs, and can cover all aspects of history, including social, political, personal, economic, and cultural. As an archives centre, the ETRC will preserve and organize these records, making them available to the public, thus helping all of us to strengthen the collective memory of Black life in the region.

Oral traditions and histories may also help to fill in the gaps. The ETRC can help support community members by providing guidance in preparing to conduct oral histories as well as providing a storage place for the recordings once they have been captured. 

 

Please get in touch with the ETRC to explore options for the archival material you are considering donating, or to help identify collections that might be preserved as part of the Black histories of the Townships.

FURTHER
READINGS

Dorothy Williams, Blacks in Montreal, 1628-1986: An Urban Demography

Dorothy Williams, The Road To Now: A History of Blacks in Montreal

Sean Mills, A Place in the Sun: Haiti, Haitians, and the Remaking of Quebec

Dionne Brand, A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging

Karina Vernon, The Black Prairie Archives

Robyn Maynard, Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present

David Austin, Fear of a Black Nation: Race, Sex, and Security in Sixties Montreal

Frank Mackey, Done with Slavery: The Black Fact in Montreal, 1760-1840

Afua Cooper, The Hanging of Angélique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal

Roland Viau, Ceux de N***** Rock: Enquête sur un cas d’esclavage des noirs dans le Québec ancien

George Elliott Clarke, Odysseys Home: Mapping African-Canadian Literature

Marcel Trudel, Deux siècles d’esclavage au Québec

Brett Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France

Michele Johnson and Funké Aladejebi, Unsettling the Great White North: Black Canadian History

Harvey Amani Whitfield, Blacks on the Border: The Black Refugees in British North America, 1815-1860

AVENUES FOR
FURTHER RESEARCH

AN INCOMPLETE LIST

Alexander Twilight

Alexander Twilight was an African American educator who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1823. In the late-1840s, Twilight came to the Eastern Townships to teach in schools in Danville and Hatley.   

 

The domestic servants in North Hatley

In the late nineteenth century, people from Baltimore began spending their summers in North Hatley to escape the southern heat. Some of these vacationers brought with them their Black domestic servants, who spent the summers in North Hatley working in their employers’ households.  

 

Justus Billings

Justus Billings was a freed Black man who worked and lived in Missisquoi county in the early nineteenth century. In 1820, he was caught up in an election scandal, when his ballot was deemed illegitimate because he was not a property owner at the time. In 1821, Billings purchased a piece of property in St. Armand and voted legally in subsequent elections.   

 

Boxing competitions in Sherbrooke

In the 1960s and 1970s, Sherbrooke was a hub for boxing competitions in the Americas. As Black boxers (most famously Muhammad Ali) were breaking colour barriers in this era, boxing was not only an arena for performing athletic virtuosity, but also a stage for performing race. 

 

Black immigration to the Eastern Townships from the 1970s to today

Changing immigration laws in Quebec combined with shifting global political landscapes have resulted in changing immigration patterns in the Townships from the 1970s to the present. 

 

Black representations in Eastern Townships newspapers in the 20th century

In French and English Townships newspapers published throughout the 20th century, readers will find a variety of representations of Black people and culture. Some of these publications are available through the  Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) website. 

 

Black people in the healthcare system in the Townships

In recent years, and especially since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the death of Atikamekw woman Joyce Echaquan in the Centre hospitalier de Lanaudière in Saint-Charles Borromée, researchers, politicians, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour have been documenting systemic racism in the healthcare system in Quebec.


Barriers to the economic inclusion of Black people in the Townships

Data shows that Black people face larger challenges in being included in Quebec’s workforce even when their education and training are comparable to their non-Black counterparts.  

 

Black entrepreneurship in the Townships

There is a growing economy of Black-owned businesses in the Townships, ranging from hair salons and barbershops (Tresses Africaines, Kemz Style), massage therapy centres (C’est Théarpeutique), dance studios (Studio A2), to artisanal beverage companies (Hibisera). There is also a Black-owned subscription gift box company that features artisanal products thematically organized by the different regions of Quebec (découvertelokal). 

 

Black artists in the Townships

The performing and visual arts have been important arenas for Black self-expression. The Black artistic ecologies of the Eastern Townships include performers, musicians, illustrators, painters, and more.  

 

Creating an Official Heritage Site in St. Armand

Local, provincial, and Canadian media have documented the multi-decade saga of Hank Avery’s efforts to have an official site created to commemorate the lives of the Black people who lived and died in servitude in St. Armand. 

CREDITS

Eastern Townships Resource Centre

2600 College Street

Sherbrooke (QC)

J1M 1Z7

Canada

www.etrc.ca

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Black Histories in the Eastern Townships is an online exhibit from the Eastern Townships Resource Centre (ETRC). The outdoor exhibit can be visited for free on the Bishop’s University campus in the Quad along the Johnson Building from February 2 until March 18, 2022.

 

For 40 years, the ETRC has been a recognized organization for the study of the Eastern Townships of Quebec. While its Archives Department concentrates on the acquisition of private archives related to the English-speaking community, the Centre’s mission, mandate and on-going activities are meant to be inclusive of all communities present in the Eastern Townships.

 

The ETRC preserves the documentary heritage of the Eastern Townships and serves as an archival expertise resource for local heritage organizations. Accredited by Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, the ETRC Archives acquires, processes, preserves and gives access to archival fonds and collections that illustrate the development of the Eastern Townships’ English-speaking community. Thousands of documents such as diaries, letters, minute books, photographs, postcards, maps, plans and audio-visual material are made available to researchers. Assistance is also provided to genealogists tracing their family roots. 

 

The ETRC promotes the Townships’ rich and unique history through public lectures, colloquia, and exhibitions. The Centre offers educational materials for teachers and its own publication, the Journal of Eastern Townships Studies (JETS). As a long-standing and proud member of the Bishop’s community, the ETRC creates bridges between Bishop’s and the surrounding communities.

THE TEAM
BEHIND THIS EXHIBIT

Project Coordination

Fabian Will & Dr. Sunita Nigam

Conception & Texts

Dr. Sunita Nigam

Art Direction & Web Design

WILD WILLI Design / Fabian Will

Translation

Dr. Sylvie Côté

We would like to thank the following authors for their contribution:

Heather Darch

Angélique Goguen-Couture

Dr. Andrew Holman

Dr. Dorothy Williams

Dr. Sean Mills

Dr. Charmaine Nelson

Jody Robinson

Aïssé Touré

We would like to thank the following artists for their contribution:

Emannuelle Jacques

Ralph Maingrette

Anna Jane McIntyre

Shanna Strauss

Sébastien Thibault

This project has been made possible through generous funding by

the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network (QAHN) and

the Secrétariat aux relations avec les Québécois d’expression anglaise (SRQEA).