How Winnipeg marked Canada's first Emancipation Day

August 1 marks the very first Emancipation Day in Canada, a day that recognizes the end of slavery in the British Empire.

On Sunday, key speakers and politicians gathered at the St. Norbert Art Centre to acknowledge emancipation.

Laurelle Harris, a lawyer specializing in anti-racism work, said the emancipation took place on August 1, 1834.

"So 187 years ago is when the emancipation of enslaved persons in Canada took place. Indigenous and Black peoples were both enslaved in Canada," said Harris.

On March 24, 2021, Canadian members of parliament voted unanimously to designate August 1 as Emancipation Day in Canada.

Harris said there's a lack of knowledge in our country about black history, Emancipation Day, and the effects of slavery in Canada.

"Black folks and Indigenous folks disproportionally suffer from unemployment, are disproportionally involved in the criminal justice system, are disproportionally involved in the child welfare system. Those are not consequences that come out of nowhere."

City Councillor Markus Chambers was another speaker at the event.

Not only is Chambers the first black city councillor in Winnipeg in 2018, but he was the first elected black politician in the province.

He said Emancipation Day is an opportunity to learn more about our past and the legacy of Canada.

"It doesn't have to define us. It is something that we do need to acknowledge and accept and move forward. That's the only way true reconciliation can happen."

Former Chief of Brokenhead First Nation, Jim Bear, spoke about the emancipation of Indigenous People in Canada.

He said at one point, there were more Indigenous slaves in Canada than there was black.

"We all know about 1492 and the alleged discovery of North America. Shortly after that, our people start to be shipped overseas," said Bear.

"The truth will hurt a lot of us on both sides, but with the truth comes freedom,"

Harris said we all have a role to play in reconciliation.

"Once we know our history, we can then understand how we are operating, or maybe doing things that are contributing to part of the problem."