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Conveniently Canadian

The Book of Negroes delves into one of the ‘neglected corners’ of Canada’s past

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Who: Lawrence Hill

When: Saturday, May 8, 7 p.m.

Where: Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre

Cost: $20

The Black Loyalists are a part of Canadian history that has been conveniently omitted from the high school curriculum. In fact, many people are largely unaware of the fact that in the 18 th century, more than 3,000 black people, many former slaves, sought refuge in Nova Scotia after pledging allegiance to the British during the American Revolution.

One Canadian author has shone a spotlight on this shameful part of our country's history with his book, The Book of Negroes. But rather than get caught up in the anger and injustice the Black Loyalists suffered, he opted to focus on the inspirational side of the journey - the fact that many of these slaves managed to make it back to Africa, eventually.

"That people managed to get back to Africa after abduction to the transatlantic slave trade, that's almost inconceivable," author Lawrence Hill said in a recent interview.

The story of Black Loyalists and their connection to Canadian history is, by and large, not being taught in our public schools, and to Hill, this is a reflection on our society as a whole.

"The book's not about finger-waving or attributing blame, it's written not from an angry standpoint, really - although I could be angry, I'm not. It's written from a standpoint of admiration for the resilience of people like Aminata (the main character) in our past," Hill said. "But it's very Canadian to forget the painful and horrifying aspects of our own past and to think that these are more American issues and then maybe to stand up on a pulpit and feel a little more self-righteous about the good things in our past, such as, say, our perception of the underground railroad.

"We treated the Black Loyalists of Nova Scotia so abysmally that they voted with their feet and created the first back-to-Africa migration in the history of the Americas, and that's coming from Canadian shores, from Halifax. So we really did perform abysmally in our moral duty towards these people that had been promised freedom and security and didn't get it... I wrote the book to dramatize and be interesting about one of those neglected corners of Canadian history."

The strength of Hill's story rests in these incredible historical roots.

Hill spent a lot of time researching and writing - almost five years, in fact. His Book of Negroes is based on a real document by that same name, which was created to record the flight of blacks from New York City to Nova Scotia at the end of the American Revolution, and to ensure that all blacks who were emigrating actually had their "Certificate of Freedom." But Hill knew very little about this British Naval registry when he began working on the project.

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