On this Emancipation Day in Canada, Some Inspiring Words from the Late Civil Rights Giant John Lewis

“Though I am gone, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.”                           – the late American civil rights icon and U.S Congressman John Lewis, in a message he wrote to all of us, shortly before his death  on July 17th, 2020

John Lewis crosses the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama for the last time on July 26th, 2020, shortly after his death from cancer at age 80. 

A Brief One from Doug Draper, Niagara At Large Posted August 1st, 2020

This August 1st is Emancipation Day in Canada, in commemoration of 186 years since a law was signed on August 1st, 1834, abolishing slavery across Canada and all other nations then part of the British Empire.

John Lewis, during a return to the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma Alabama, where in 1965 he was almost beaten to death by police during a march for voting rights.

As a little way of honouring Emancipation Day and all that it stands for here, I want to put on a video of the late, great civil rights activist John Lewis delivering a commencement address at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia in 2014. In place of delivering a tribute of her own (she delivered a moving eulogy later at John Lewis’s funeral), U.S. Congresswoman and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi chose to play an audio version of this address this July 28th, while John Lewis body lay in state in the U.S. Capital building rotunda. The address John Lewis delivered was a call to young graduates at the university, and to people around the world, to work to build a better world for everyone. His words here should be an inspiration to us all. To hear and watch the commemoration address, click on the screen below –

A Brief History on Emancipation Day from the Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada –


In March 1793, John Graves Simcoe, Governor of Upper Canada (modern day Ontario), was shocked to learn that an enslaved woman named Chloe Cooley was forcibly bound and dragged onto a boat and taken across the Niagara River to be sold.

Realizing that the freedom of all Africans in Upper Canada was in similar jeopardy, he began to lobby others in the colonial government. In July of that year, Simcoe was able to pass legislation banning the importation of enslaved Africans into Upper Canada and guaranteeing freedom for the children of enslaved Africans born from then on when they reached the age of 25.

The first such law of its kind in the British Empire, it led to the abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade by 1807. Finally, in 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act brought an end to chattel slavery throughout the Empire, coming into effect on August 1, 1834 in Britain, Canada, and several other colonies, and 1838 in the Caribbean and elsewhere.

Canada continued to lead in the fight against slavery even after abolition. Towns and villages throughout Upper Canada, and eventually the other colonies of British North America, became the first safe havens for thousands of enslaved Africans whose courage and resilience pushed them to break free of their bonds in the United States.

Without the freedom guaranteed throughout Canada and the British Empire, this first freedom movement in the Americas could not have flourished.

Civil Rights Icon John Lewis

To read the full message John Lewis wrote to the world, shortly before his death on July 17th, 2020, click on the following link – https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/30/opinion/john-lewis-civil-rights-america.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space following the Bernie Sanders quote below.

“A Politician Thinks Of The Next Election. A Leader Thinks Of The Next Generation.” – Bernie Sanders

One response to “On this Emancipation Day in Canada, Some Inspiring Words from the Late Civil Rights Giant John Lewis

  1. This is not entirely accurate. Recent research into slavery by historian George Tombs, among others, shows that, in fact, Simcoe failed in his attempt to abolish slavery. From a 2017 article by Joshua Ostroff (Colonial Canada Had Slavery for More Than 200 Years): “His (Simcoe’s) ‘Act to Limit Slavery’ only managed to ban the importation of new slaves. Thanks to lobbying by slave-owning politicians like Toronto founding father William Jarvis, the slaves already here remained in bondage and, in fact, the right to own human beings was reaffirmed.”
    We shouldn’t overlook the fact that 7% of the population of New France was enslaved when the British took over the colony; two thirds of these slaves were indigenous. The British continued the practice. Slave ownership was ubiquitous within the colony. Among the influential people who owned slaves was James McGill, the founder of the McGill university, and Upper Canada (Ontario) administrator, Peter Russell.
    Canada never officially ended slavery. ” ‘Eventually’, George Tombs says, ‘the institution of slavery was allowed to expire by itself because the provincial legislatures of Upper Canada and Lower Canada didn’t really want to disturb slave owners that much.’ ” It took Britain to finally outlaw the practice across their entire empire in 1834.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.