Healthy Living

Spotlight on Emancipation Day

12 August 2021 - by YMCA of Greater Toronto

This year, Canada made Emancipation Day an official national holiday across Canada, which we celebrated at the YMCA of Greater Toronto with a virtual lunch and learn hosted by the Black Experience Staff Advisory Committee (BESAC). Read on to learn more.

Why do we celebrate Emancipation Day?

August 1, 2021 was the first Emancipation Day in Canada. August 1 marks the day in 1834 that the Slavery Abolition Act came into effect across the British Empire including Canada.

Canadians are not always aware that Black and Indigenous Peoples were once enslaved on the land that is now Canada. Those who fought enslavement were pivotal in shaping our society to be as diverse as it is today.

Therefore, each August 1, Canadians are invited to reflect, educate and engage in the ongoing fight against anti-Black racism and discrimination.

Emancipation Day celebrates the strength and perseverance of Black communities in Canada.

— Heritage Canada

Emancipation Month is also recognized by the City of Toronto. It’s closely tied to Emancipation Day, offering an opportunity to both celebrate contributions from people of African descent and to acknowledge and make efforts to end anti-Black racism and discrimination.

How can I learn more?

We invite you to watch a recording of our Emancipation Day Lunch and Learn event hosted by the Y’s Black Experience Staff Advisory Committee (BESAC). The event featured Cassel Miles, the co-creator of the one-person play about Josiah Henson,performed at our Central YMCA during Black History Month in 2019.

Cassel spoke about the life and legacy of this important man in Canadian history who inspired the main character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Cassel also discussed Josiah’s connection to Canada, why we celebrate Emancipation Day, and the history of Uncle Tom’s Cabin near Chatham, Ontario.

We invite you to also check out these resources assembled by Samantha and Christina from the Black Experience Staff Advisory Committee.

Article: Emancipation Day Is a Reminder That Black Liberation Is Long Overdue in Canada
Article and Video: History, Influence and Joy: The Story of Black Emancipation
Video: Caribbean History: Adjustment to Emancipation, Parts 1 and 2
Video: FreeUp! Emancipation Day 2020 Celebrating Black Canadian Artist.
Video: On Emancipation Day, Black Canadians describe their experiences. Original Broadcast date: August 6, 1961!

Thanks to BESAC for their educational contributions to Emancipation Day!


Visit to find out more about our programs, services and charitable impact.


See the many ways to give to the Y and help build a brighter future.


Find child care programs that help children and families shine.


Stay healthy, active and connected at our health and fitness centres.


Explore camps and outdoor centres for fun, adventure, leadership, skills-building and more.


Get the job you want and brighten your career with help from Employment Services.


Settle in and light up your new life in the GTA with support from Immigrant Services.


Make new friends, hone new skills and find counselling at our Youth Programs.


Give back and shine on with rewarding YMCA Volunteer Opportunities.


Find out about our green initiatives and what we're doing to build resilience to climate change.


Light up learning at  YMCA Academy, a middle and high school for those who learn differently.