June 17, 2021 2 min read

Name a holiday that is celebrated in the Caribbean, parts of the United States and in Ontario, Canada? Halloween? Nope. Family Day? Guess again.

Did you guess Emancipation Day? Give yourself a pat on the back because you're right!

What is it?

Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe (left) ended most slavery in Upper Canada (now Ontario). American President Abraham Lincoln (right) ended slavery in the United States.

Emancipation Day is when the government declared that slavery was against the law. The people taken from Africa and their descendants (the children, grand children and great-grand children) could no longer be bought or sold and kept as slaves.

In Ontario and many of the islands in the Caribbean, the holiday marks the end of slavery for people taken to places that were part of the British Empire.

In the United States it marks President Abraham Lincoln's announcement of the end of slavery and the end of the Civil War.

When is it?

At many celebrations you can hear steel drum bands play. 

In Ontario, the day is celebrated on August 1, right around the Simcoe Day long weekend.

In many countries of the Caribbean such as Antigua, the Bahamas and Grenada, they celebrate it on the first Monday in August.

In the United States, it varies from state to state. In Washington, DC, it's the weekend closest to April 16. In Florida, it's celebrated on May 20. And in Texas and many other states it's on June 19 (and called Juneteenth).

Why is it important?

Family of black American slaves picking cotton in a field in Georgia, around 1850.

For almost 400 years, millions of children, women and men were taken away from their homes in Africa. They were brought to the Americas to work as slaves (people who are the property of others and are forced by them to work for no money at all).

They were given lots of work to do, and much of it was very hard and dangerous. They were forced to change their names and their religions and beliefs. They had to stop speaking their languages. And they were almost never given permission to go anywhere.

Emancipation Day helps us to remember that all people deserve to be treated fairly and with respect.

How is it celebrated?

Today, with everyone making sure to social distance, Emancipation Day is celebrated a little differently. Here are some ways it has been celebrated in the past.

In Toronto, one of the ways Emancipation is celebrated is with the Caribbean Festival (also known as Caribana), which is held the first Monday in August. It's become the largest Caribbean festival in North America and includes a big parade. 

The holiday is celebrated in many ways. It is mostly a time for people to remember and honour the struggles for freedom that people experienced in the past.

In Canada, people play African drums, sing songs, recite poems and listen to speeches. These celebrations can take place in parks and auditoriums.  They can even happen on subway trains. They honour the people who escaped slavery on the legendary Underground Railroad (a system set up by caring people to help enslaved Africans find freedom).

SMarketer2 Pati
SMarketer2 Pati


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