Podcast | What Victoria, B.C., offered Black Americans in the 1850s

Still encountering racism in the ‘free’ states of the West, some Black communities sought the American Dream in Canada.

Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps

The Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps, the first all-Black unit in Victoria. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Before the Civil War, many states in the American West were considered “free” because the institution of slavery was outlawed. That didn’t mean, however, that these places were free from racism and legalized discrimination.

So when a group of Black Americans from San Francisco were invited to join what was then a British colony in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, hundreds agreed to make the journey. The result was a mixed bag of freedom, opportunity, and, in some cases, encounters with the same discrimination they’d attempted to escape.

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Crosscut’s resident historian Knute Berger explored this complex history in a recent episode of the Mossback’s Northwest video series, but there is much more left to discuss.

In this episode of Mossback, Berger joins co-host Stephen Hegg to lay out the context surrounding the Black exodus to Victoria and key figures in that history, including one who had a significant impact on the city of Seattle. Plus, we hear about one of the only known examples of the Underground Railroad in the Pacific Northwest.

About the Hosts

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.

Stephen Hegg

Stephen Hegg

Stephen is formerly a senior video producer at Crosscut and KCTS 9. He specialized in arts and culture.