Juneteenth is worth celebrating in Canada

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      This is a big day for Black people across North America and around the world.

      That's because Juneteenth—named to commemorate June 19, 1865—is when slavery finally ended in the United States.

      That's when enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, were freed by the Union Army.

      Texas was the final holdout in the Confederacy defying Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 outlawing slavery.

      The Biden administration made Juneteenth a national holiday.

      On Canadian soil, slavery was abolished on August 1, 1834 as a result of the Slavery Abolition Act in the U.K. At that time, Canada was still a British colony.

      A network of secret routes and safe houses, known as the Underground Railroad, helped enslaved African Americans escape to free states and Canada in the early and mid-19th century.

      One of the heroic figures at that time was Harriet Tubman, who made many missions to free southern Black people from slavery. She also worked as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army.

      Mifflin Wistar Gibbs worked for the Underground Railroad before immigrating to British Columbia.
      C.M. Bell Studio

      Black roots run deep in British Columbia

      The first governor of the Colony of British Columbia, Sir James Douglas, had a mother who was half Black.

      He encouraged Black residents of California to immigrate to Vancouver Island in 1858 after the notorious Dred Scott ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court. It decreed that no Black person, free or enslaved, could claim U.S. citizenship.

      In addition, the Dred Scott ruling prevented Black people from seeking recourse through the court system if they were robbed or assaulted by a white person, according to BCBlackhistory.com.

      In B.C., on the other hand, Black people could vote and run for office. The first Black politician elected to any office in B.C. was one of those pioneers, Mifflin Gibbs. A self-made businessman and voracious reader, he worked for the Underground Railroad before immigrating to Vancouver Island. 

      Gibbs was elected to Victoria city council in 1866, representing the neighbourhood of James Bay.