Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

History African American

It Was Dark There All the Time

Sophia Burthen and the Legacy of Slavery in Canada

by (author) Andrew Hunter

Goose Lane Editions
Initial publish date
Jan 2022
African American, Slavery, Pre-Confederation (to 1867)
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2022
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Jan 2022
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


“My parents were slaves in New York State. My master’s sons-in-law … came into the garden where my sister and I were playing among the currant bushes, tied their handkerchiefs over our mouths, carried us to a vessel, put us in the hold, and sailed up the river. I know not how far nor how long — it was dark there all the time.”

Sophia Burthen’s account of her arrival as an enslaved person into what is now Canada sometime in the late 18th century, was recorded by Benjamin Drew in 1855. In It Was Dark There All the Time, writer and curator Andrew Hunter builds on the testimony of Drew’s interview to piece together Burthen’s life, while reckoning with the legacy of whiteness and colonialism in the recording of her story. In so doing, Hunter demonstrates the role that the slave trade played in pre-Confederation Canada and its continuing impact on contemporary Canadian society.

Evocatively written with sharp, incisive observations and illustrated with archival images and contemporary works of art, It Was Dark There All the Time offers a necessary correction to the prevailing perception of Canada as a place unsullied by slavery and its legacy.

About the author

Andrew Hunter is an accomplished curator, artist, writer, and educator. He joined the AGO’s curatorial team on May 1, 2013. He is the co-founder and co-principal of DodoLab, an international program of community collaboration and interdisciplinary creative research.

Born in Hamilton and a graduate of Nova Scotia College of Art & Design (NSCAD), Hunter has held many curatorial positions, including roles at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Kamloops Art Gallery, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, and Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre Art Gallery to name a few. He has taught at OCAD University and the University of Waterloo (Faculty of Arts and School of Architecture) and lectured on curatorial practice across Canada, the United States, England, China, and Croatia. As an artist and independent curator, Hunter has exhibited widely, including solo projects at the National Gallery of Canada, Dubrovnik Museum of Modern Art (Croatia), The Rooms Art Gallery (Newfoundland), the Walter Phillips Gallery (Banff Centre), the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Yukon Art Centre, the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery (Concordia University), and with Proboscis (London, UK).

Hunter has contributed to numerous exhibitions including acclaimed retrospectives Tom Thomson and Emily Carr: New Perspectives. Other major projects include The Other Landscape; Come A Singin'; Northern Passage: The Arctic Voyages of Jackson, Harris and Banting and The Road: Constructing the Alaska Highway (Art Gallery of Alberta); To a Watery Grave and Dark Matter: Remembering the Great War (Confederation Centre Art Gallery); Lawren Harris: A Painter’s Progress (Americas Society Art Gallery); Ding Ho Group of 7 (with Gu Xiong, McMichael Canadian Art Collection and Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon); and Thou Shalt Not Steal: Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun and Emily Carr (Vancouver Art Gallery)

Andrew Hunter's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“A thoroughly researched, self-reflective, soulful meditation on the life of Sophia Burthen, who was enslaved in eighteenth- and nineteenth- century Canada. Hunter’s book is a searing indictment of the historic and ongoing racism experienced by Indigenous and Black Peoples in Canada and the United States. To read it is to peer into the kind but unflinching heart of a white ally who is committed to recognizing, contextualizing, and confronting injustice in the Americas.”

Lawrence Hill, bestselling author of <i>The Book of Negroes</i>

It Was Dark There All the Time is a book to read slowly, to think about and to learn from, to be read carefully more than once. Hunter brings a critical eye to the research and the emotional and mental work needed to share these stories.”

<i>Winnipeg Free Press</i>

“Andrew Hunter’s deep dive into Canadian and American history goes down trails and pathways not always explored. He has managed to bring to life history that affects us all. Sophia Burthen’s existence as a Black enslaved child is examined and Hunter directs the reader to know her sensitively and intimately. I am grateful to Hunter for ripping apart the archives and finding details that are left unanswered.”

Shelley Niro, Governor General’s Award-winning artist and filmmaker

“Through the narrative of Sophia Burthen, Andrew Hunter completely reframes Canadian history — as well as the history of his hometown Hamilton — and turns it on its head. Readers, perhaps for the first time, see the world through the eyes of Burthen and her Black contemporaries, through their plight of enslavement, their liberation, and their presence on these shores. This work, coming at a moment of racial reckoning, is timely and important.”

Adrienne Shadd, author of <i>The Journey from Tollgate to Parkway</i>

It Was Dark There All the Time is exhaustively researched and intriguingly wide in scope. ... Out of the scant details that we have of an enslaved woman’s life, Hunter and his editors have built a kind of epic reckoning and, for Hunter, a personal one, drawing as he does on elements of his own life.”

<i>Hamilton Specter</i>

Other titles by Andrew Hunter