Slavery in what is now Canada was practised by a number of Aboriginal tribes, notably those on the Northwest Coast. As practised by Europeans it may have begun with the Portuguese explorer Gaspar Corte-Real, who enslaved 50 Aboriginal men and women in 1500 in Newfoundland. Black slaves were introduced by the French as early as 1608. The first slave transported directly from Africa was sold in 1629. Slavery received a legal foundation in New France, 1689-1709, and by 1759 there were 3604 recorded slaves, of whom 1132 were black. Whereas the French preferred panis (Aboriginal people, so called after the often docile Pawnee), the English settlers brought in African slaves. Slavery expanded rapidly after 1783, as Loyalists brought their slaves with them. The total was never high, however, as slavery was generally unsuited to Canadian agriculture or commerce, and most of the Black Loyalists who settled in Nova Scotia immediately following the American Revolution were free. Slavery technically remained legal in most of Canada until it was abolished for the entire British Empire in 1834 (legislation, 1833), though slavery as an institution declined steadily after 1793, when John Graves Simcoe challenged the legality of slavery for Upper Canada. Upper Canada's act to abolish slavery freed no slaves, however, since it proposed only gradual emancipation.

In Canada slaves generally worked as personal servants or on the wharves. A few settlers had many slaves, but more than 20 was considered unusual. This made the attack on slavery far simpler than it was in plantation economies, where their labour was more important. The most effective and sustained attack on slavery came in New Brunswick in 1800, when Ward Chipman prepared an especially thorough legal, historical and moral statement against slavery. Generally, slavery was physically benign, and especially so in PEI, though there were recorded instances of harsh punishment and many advertisements for the return of runaway slaves. The Underground Railroad assisted fugitive American slaves to reach Canada prior to the abolition of slavery in the US during the American Civil War. In Canada the last surviving former slave died in Cornwall, Ont, in 1871.