Black Canadians

Black history in Canada dates back at least as far as 1608, with the arrival of Mathieu de Coste, a Black African interpreter. Today, Black Canadians can trace their descent to the following groups:

  • enslaved Africans and their descendents
  • Black Loyalists
  • Black immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa

Historic language advisory

In your research, you may encounter historical language referring to Black Canadians that is considered offensive today. Please read the notice about historical language in LAC’s collection.

On this page

Before you start

Gather information such as:

  • name(s)
  • approximate year of birth
  • country of birth
  • approximate year of arrival
  • place of residence in Canada

Places to look

There are several ways to research the genealogy and family history of Black Canadians.

Census records

Canadian censuses often recorded the ethnicity of individuals and their place of origin. For example, the 1911 Census recorded ethnic origin and the country or province of birth. Starting with the 1901 census, census enumerators asked people who were not born in Canada to provide their year of immigration.

LAC holds the records for all official Canadian censuses.

You can search for your ancestor by name.

  • Select your census of choice
  • Enter your name term in the Surname and/or Given name(s) fields.

Immigration and citizenship records

These records usually include information about ethnicity and place of birth.

For more information, see:

You can find other records in Collection Search with keywords like Black, African or Caribbean, plus:

  • immigrants
  • list or lists
  • a person’s name
  • a place in Canada or in the person’s country of origin

Other related files we hold that might be helpful include:

Military and wartime records

All major Canadian military conflict campaigns involved Black Canadians. They often served in Black-only divisions, and these records are helpful for genealogy.

Here are some military records relating to Black Canadians:

  • Loyalists in the Maritimes — Ward Chipman Muster Master's Office, 1777 to 1785
  • War Office 13 (MG13-WO13)
    • Muster rolls, Upper Canada, Coloured Companies, 1838 to 1850 (volume 3693, pages 1 to 593, microfilm B-3173)
  • Department of Militia and Defence (RG9)
    • Nominal Returns of Captain Robert Runchy's Company of Coloured Men, 1812 (RG9-I-B-7, volume 21, file 21-B14, pages 443 to 445 and file 21-B13, pages 440 to 442, microfilm T-10385)
    • Coloured Inhabitants of Hamilton - Petition for coloured Militia Unit, 1851 (RG9-C-1, volume 58, file 1851-07-05)
    • Coloured Population of West Flamboro' Barton and town of Hamilton - Petition for formation of a coloured regiment in the Gore District, 1838 (RG9-I-B-1, volume 24, file 1838-03-05)
    • Service roll of a Company of coloured men, Village of Buxton, County of Kent, Ontario, 1879 (RG9-II-A-1, volume 99, file 5957)
    • No. 2 Construction Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, embarkation nominal roll, 1917 (RG9-II-B-3, volume 80)

Employment records

A few sources have records about Black Canadians who worked as railway porters and domestics labourers. Consider the following collections of information in your search:

  • Stanley G. Grizzle fonds (R12294): This fonds includes lists of porters, 1925-1978 (volume 28). For more details see the series description for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
  • Intercolonial Railway, Prince Edward Island Railways, and Canadian Government Railways Employees' Provident Fund records (RG30): This sub-series includes staff books, 1855-1910, and service records cards on members of the Intercolonial and Prince Edward Island Railways Employees Provident Fund, 1855-1959. See the sub-series description for more details. The serviced record cards are digitized and can be searched by name in Railway Employees (Employees Provident Fund).

Historic Black communities

There were many historic Black communities across Canada. Some of the most well known are:

  • Birchtown, near Shelburne, Nova Scotia,
  • Africville near Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Elgin Settlement in Ontario (Upper Canada).

In addition to searching by settlement names, you may find resources in the papers of notable individuals. For example:

Community newspapers

There were many Black Canadian newspapers that may be useful sources. They often contain obituaries, birth and marriage announcements, and major community events. Some also include lists of new immigrants. You can search Aurora to find these publications. Try keywords like

  • Black
  • African-Canadian or
  • Carribean, plus
  • newspaper.

LAC holds some collections of Black community newspapers, including:

Published sources

Many Black Canadian historical societies and communities have published their own histories. Sometimes they'll have stories that help you better understand your ancestors' experiences. You can search Aurora to find these publications. Try keywords like

  • Black,
  • Black Canadian or
  • African-Canadian, plus:
    • genealogy
    • history
    • biography
    • the name of a place

We've prepared a list of examples from our Aurora catalogue to give you an idea of the types of books you might find. Each title in this list includes the author and the LAC call number.

  • Click on a title in the list to open the full catalogue entry. If you scroll down, you'll see a list of other libraries that hold copies. You can also check your local library’s online catalogue.
  • If the call number includes the word genealogy, the book is in the genealogy room at our Ottawa location.

Example of a call number: Genealogy Ref. - CS88 A2 A38 2003

Genealogical societies

Local genealogical and historical societies that are specific to Black Canadians have extra resources. Internet searches can help you locate these societies. Try keywords like

  • Black,
  • Black Canadian or
  • African-Canadian, plus:
    • genealogical society
    • heritage museum
    • a province or place
    • Loyalists

Search tips

  • Major historical events involving Black Canadians include:
    • Slavery during the New France regime
    • Black Loyalists
    • The Underground Railroad
    • The Great Migration
    • Domestic settlement immigration schemes
  • Consider neighbourhoods and communities. It was common for Black migrants to settle in the same areas. You may be able to find your ancestors by looking geographically.
  • Spelling was not standardized, and the same names might be written in many different ways.

Access the records

Digitized records

If you find a record of interest, there may be a digital image. Some of these are available through Collection Search. Others, particularly digitized microfilms, are available through Héritage.

Records that are not digitized

For records that are not digitized, you will need to see them in person. If you cannot visit us in person, you may want to order copies or hire a researcher.

Related resources