SLC Students Learn about the History of Slavery in Quebec


On May 2nd, 2023, SLC had the pleasure of welcoming local musician and historian Webster to give a talk about the history of slavery in Quebec and Canada.

Webster (Aly Ndiaye), originally from Limoilou, began rapping in 1995. In his work, he would consider themes like the relatively unknown history of enslaved people in the area. His passion for history took him to Laval, where he earned a Master's in the field. Raps became lectures, which eventually evolved into a tour of Old Quebec, through which Webster teaches locals and visitors about the lives of enslaved peoples, a history that is normally hidden from sight. He has also recently published a children's book about the first enslaved person in Quebec, a child called Olivier Le Jeune. Le Jeune has recently been recognized as a historically important person by the Quebecois and Canadian governments.

In his talk at the college, Webster spoke about the character of slavery in Canada, where it was usually of a domestic nature, as opposed to larger-scale, financially-motivated slavery in other warmer parts of the world involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Enslaved people experienced a loss of identity, and very little is known about the individuals who were brought to Quebec in this way. As part of the project Fugitives!, Webster has employed artists to interpret newspaper descriptions of runaways, the only context in which information on the physical traits of an enslaved person was given. These interpretations allow us to put a face to enslaved individuals, and helps restore a part of these people's identity, all too often lost to history. As Webster put it, "Slavery is a status, not an identity".

While time constraints forced Webster to cut his presentation short, he was able to teach our students about some of the context behind the dissolution of slavery in Canada. Because of a single runaway called Charlotte, who was released by judge James Monk after he determined that there were no legal grounds for arresting runaways, the systems of slavery fell apart in Quebec at the start of the 19th century. Efforts had been made to legalize slavery, but due to ongoing postponements, this never ended up taking place. There had been ongoing discussions in Europe regarding the morality of slavery, but as Webster sees it, the end of slavery in Canada is due to one woman seeking her freedom and a judge who fought to uphold the law, no matter how much his peers wanted it changed.

To learn more about Webster's work, please visit his website, the website of his tour Quebec History X, and the online version of his exhibition Fugitives!.