Black Canadian business owners report having faced systemic racism for over 400 years

While working at a startup incubator advising aspiring entrepreneurs, Brian Duarte says founders who looked like him didn’t get early stage funding.
While working at a startup incubator advising aspiring entrepreneurs, Brian Duarte says founders who looked like him didn’t get early stage funding.

It took a global pandemic for the country to finally step up

By: Perry Lupyrypa and Anisa Ali

Bryan Duarte is a Black Canadian.  He’s cleaning up what he says is Canada’s racist venture capital industry by raising venture capital (VC) funds and investing in Black entrepreneurs looking to help the planet.  As  managing founder of Toronto’s Black Tech Capital  Duarte says he is at the intersection of social equity and environmental responsibility


It appears Canada’s ruling liberal government agrees with Duarte’s assessment. It took a global pandemic to expose the centuries of systemic racism Black Canadian business owners were facing in Canada. In 2020, citing inequalities faced by black entrepreneurs Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced investing  $221 million supporting long term success of Black entrepreneurs and business owners, One year later, Ottawa unveiled the Black Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub to build a database of Black entrepreneurism.

Prime Minister Justine Trudeau announcing support for Black entrepreneurs (Sept 9, 2020)

Black Canadians have been contributing to the Canadian Business scene for centuries

The first record of black business owners in Toronto  was in 1799.  That was 35 years before Canada and the British Empire completely abolished slavery. Local entrepreneurs Jack Mosee and William Willis were opening a road from Yonge York heading west. The census, listing a total black population of 15 and not distinguishing between slaves or freedmen.  

What do we know about their stories – their contributions and challenges?

Dr. M.Knights
Dr. Mélanie Knight, Interim Associate Dean of Arts, Toronto Metropolitan University (courtesy:

Dr. Mélanie Knight from Toronto Metropolitan University says the formation of an early Black entrepreneurial class in Canada is significantly more complex to examine.

 “This difficulty arises from the scarcity of research on the subject.  What research does exist is rooted primarily in Nova Scotia and Ontario.”

–Dr. Mélanie Knight 

Scholars say while  Black entrepreneurs have long been, and still are pillars of communities, there is limited knowledge and information about the size, scope  and challenges of Black entrepreneurship in Canada. 

Research from historian Daniel Hill shows Ontario’s first Black communities trace to both slaves owned by prosperous white people and to refugee slaves fleeing  the U.S. via the Underground Railroad.  Prospering in the social climate, fugitive slaves and freedmen built the local economy   From the 1850s onwards colored communities in Toronto, Windsor and Chatham flourished.  

AI image generators don’t offer any help 

Using Microsoft Bing image generator  with the prompt “ Generate an image of Entrepreneurs in Canada from (fill in…1800s, 1900s, 2000s) there is no representation of black entrepreneurs until 2000s.

Refining the prompt asking AI to generate an image of Black entrepreneurs in Canada in the 1800s, 1900s, 2000s, AI is confirming the existence of  Black entrepreneurs.  But…only men are pictured until 2000s, when women make an appearance.

Black Canadians are a large visible minority group.

Exploring Canada and Toronto’s diversity, we see Canada has a large Black population The percent population of Black people in Toronto and Canada are similar at 16% and 17% respectively of the total visible minority population .  For both they are the third largest visible minority group.

By province – Ontario, Quebec and Alberta  have the largest number of Black owned businesses at 78,110  35,030 and 18,250  respectively.


When comparing the percent of Black-owned business to percent total population, Ontario has a much higher percentage.  There are minor variations in the rest of the regions.

The changing face of Canada and Toronto

Canada doesn’t look so white today.  Immigration experts rank Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary among the top livable cities in the world.  For some immigrants and visible minorities, starting a business  is a different story.  Duarte says the VC industry has failed keep pace supporting the growing immigrant population marginalized founders of start up companies.

As managing partner of a venture capital firm investing in start up companies in cleantech with Black and marginalized founders, Duarte knows it's both the right place to be and it will be an uphill battle.

" Women founders get two percent of the VC money.  Black founders get less than one percent.  The percentage for  Black  and Latino women is way way way down there. We're not even close to leveling out the the playing field yet. What's needed is more women investors. We need more Black investors and  investors from other diversified groups to start coming into the market and understanding what it takes to invest into startup companies.  That's what will eventually level out the playing field.   It's going to take time.  We're a long way from it."

-- Bryan Duarte

Duarte is leading the charge and hoping others will follow.  His goal is for Canadians have a better understanding, appreciation and recognition of the contributions of Black Canadian entrepreneurs and of their role as past, present and future as builders of our Nation.

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