Slavery was legal in New France between 1689 and 1709, and it was also permitted in Upper Canada. In 1793, an attempt was made in Upper Canada to abolish slavery; though this failed, Blacks were nevertheless protected by the same laws as Whites. Slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833. It did not become an important institution in early Canadian history because conditions of climate and geography prevented the development of a plantation system of agriculture. Although small numbers of Blacks have lived in Canada since 1628, the first major group was composed of slaves brought to Nova Scotia by residents of New England after the expulsion of the Acadians. Moreover, as a result of the American Revolution in 1776, White loyalists escaping from the colonies also brought their slaves with them to Nova Scotia. The next group of migrants was that of refugee Blacks fleeing from the War of 1812, who settled in Nova Scotia and Ontario. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in the United States in 1850 brought another group of refugee slaves, who used the Underground Railroad to reach southern Ontario. By 1860, there were approximately seventy-five thousand Blacks in the province of Ontario, but most of them returned to the United States after the Civil War.
The last and most substantial group of Blacks to come to Canada were from the Caribbean. This migration began in the early 1960s and reached its peak during the 1970s. At this time, approximately ten thousand migrants from the Caribbean come to Canada each year. The largest numbers come from the Commonwealth Caribbean and are English-speaking, but smaller numbers have migrated from French-speaking Haiti.