The Journey from Tollgate to Parkway: African Canadians in Hamilton

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The Journey from Tollgate to Parkway: African Canadians in Hamilton by Adrienne Shadd

This was particularly true for working-class women in general, and Black women in particular, who were used to taking in washing or doing housework for wages to supplement the family income. In , 73 percent of Black women had no occupation listed beside their names.

Sixty-nine percent worked in unskilled jobs as servants, housekeepers or washerwomen. Interestingly, there was one female stagecoach driver, very much a non-traditional role for a woman. In , 83 percent of Black women were not listed with occupations.


Sixty-three percent were in unskilled jobs. The statistics for Black women either suggest a trend toward greater involvement with the labour force over time, or a greater inclination on the part of census enumerators to write down occupations for women.


For example, in , in addition to 11 in actual numbers dressmakers, there were 3 vocalists, 2 music teachers, 1 teacher, 1 pianist and 1 cook. It is difficult to be definitive at this point, but the statistics might also indicate a gradual increase over time in the percentage of women involved in skilled and semi-skilled occupations, from 31 percent in to 45 percent in Again, it is impossible to conclude any trends without further investigation.

All the evidence that I have ever come across points to the fact that Blacks in the early and mid-nineteenth century were able to obtain work very quickly upon arrival in Canada, and that those with skills acquired in slavery and freedom in their American homeland were able to ply their trades in cities and towns across Ontario. Obviously, an extensive breakdown of census data for several cities across time would be helpful in determining the answer to this question, such as updated statistics for Chatham, as well as other cities like Toronto, London, St.

Catharines, Niagara Falls and Windsor. What is troubling, however, is the decline in percentages by , and what this indicates for Black Canadian opportunities in the early twentieth century.

Adrienne Shadd

Much supplementary and anecdotal information supports this position. In her study, The Negro in Canada , economist Ida Greaves summarized the situation for Black workers in the s as compared with the late s. She observed that there had been a noticeable shrinkage in the kinds and varieties of jobs that Blacks filled and a decline in their economic position in the twentieth century.

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All waiters are now white, and except within the limitations of a Negro community a coloured businessman is very rare. Of between and negroes in this city, only about half a dozen men are engaged in a profession or business other than labour.

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With the exception of those employed by our own people, the women who work are all employed at housework. The Depression only exacerbated an already dismal situation.

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The increase in European immigration to Canada over time, and significant events like the end of Reconstruction in the U. Such work would also help to provide a broader and more nuanced portrait of African Canadians in the nineteenth century, beyond the panting Underground Railroad refugee. Adrienne Shadd is a historian of African Canadian history. These are important questions, and these efforts to compare their material fortunes are good ones.

I am also interested in whether the ideas gathered in Canada affected African North Americans' behavior upon return to the US.

We hear so much about African-American heritage; its good to read something about black Canadians. The bookshould find a welcome place in university history courses and on the shelves of high school libraries.

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Adrienne Shadd's The Journey from Tollgate to Parkway: African Canadians in Hamilton is a thoroughly researched and welcome contribution to both Canadian history and black history in Canada. Ambitiously examining four centuries of Canadian history, beginning with slavery in eighteenth-century Canada and ending in contemporary Canada, Shadd provides an impressively detailed history of African Canadians in Hamilton, Ontario. Quill and Quire April, The Canadian Historical Review December,