By my brother, Craig Wellington:
To many this long weekend in Toronto is known simply as 'Caribana' weekend (Not Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival weekend - get it together people!!!) - a time to jump up and party, and for other citizens, a time to run like hell out of town to get away from the partiers. But when we celebrate we must always remember what we are celebrating.
John Graves-Simcoe was the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada (then mostly Ontario) and the founder of the city then known as York - today's Toronto. His legacy includes the introduction to Upper Canada of British institutions such as English Common Law, Trial By Jury, Free Land Tenure; and legislation to protect workers against exploitation. He also laid out Yonge Street along a historical Huron trail. Described as the world's longest street at almost 1900 km.
However, Simcoe's most historic act and the reason why August 1 became Canada's first Statutory holiday was that Simcoe was a staunch abolitionist who introduced anti-slavery laws in Upper Canada in 1791 and abolished slavery in Upper Canada in 1810. Due to Simcoe's actions Upper Canada was the first jurisdiction in the British colony to pass an anti-slavery act. In fact, it would be 40 years later before the British Parliament passed legislation to free enslaved Africans throughout the British Empire.This is why for many this weekend is rooted in celebration of freedom from slavery.
British Parliament on Aug. 24, 1833, announced the abolishment of slavery -- but not with immediate effect. It would be another year (August 1st, 1834) before the legislation became law. As a transition to ensure that slave owners were not faced with a labour shortage on their plantations, a sharecropping system emerged similar to that in the southern American states.
The slavery proclamation required that slaves older than six years of age were "'entitled to be registered as apprenticed labourers and to acquire thereby all rights and privileges of freedom.' In return for food, clothing and lodging, but without wages, they were to work for their former owners three-fourths of the day ..."
In 1869 a half century after Simcoe's historic actions, Toronto City Council decided to honour Simcoe for his role in abolishing slavery, as well as his efforts defending the rights of workers. The Council established August 1st as Simcoe Day. Why August 1? On that historic date in 1834 (almost four decades after Simcoe had done the same in Upper Canada) the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the British Empire.
Recognizing the importance of Simcoe's legacy, in 1965 Toronto City councilors rejected a motion to rename the August 1st holiday from Simcoe day to Civic Day.
Following the first Caribana celebration put on by West Indians living in Canada to commemorate Canada's centennial anniversary in 1967, Toronto City Council proclaimed the August 1st Simcoe Day as the date to annually celebrate the Caribana festival. They recognized the historical link to Simcoe's courageous actions in Canada, emancipation in the British Empire, and the resulting carnival celebrations by freed slaves in the West Indies.
Emancipation Day is marked by festivals across the former British colonies in which slavery existed.
It's a time to party and celebrate, but we must never forget why we celebrate.