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The Weather Network
Jun. 17, 2019 | Monday
Local News
Writer's Circle: Mathieu Da Costa
Mathieu Da Costa. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Henry Bishop, Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia)


When celebrating Black History month in Canada we often look to our southern neighbours for larger than life Black leaders and pioneers to inspire us. But one of the most fascinating and mysterious individuals in early Canadian history is Mathieu Da Costa who has been recognized as the first Black person to come to Canada.

Mathieu Da Costa was a free Black African from a Ladino Jewish heritage who was employed in the early 1600s as a translator by French and Dutch traders and explorers.  Mathieu Da Costa is further proof that the Moors of Europe and West Africa were already familiar with the northeastern corner of North America. There is growing evidence to support that the Moors of Iberia and Morocco had long established trading networks in those areas and had already made numerous voyages in the century before.

This indicates that Mathieu Da Costa was already familiar with Canada when he arrived with Champlain.  He was said to be able to speak several first nations languages. According to Marc Lescabot, a French author best known for his Histoire de la Nouvelle-France (1609), many of the aboriginal peoples of the Atlantic regions spoke a ‘pidgin’ language that was established by Black Moorish seafarers in the mid-1400s. ‘Pidgin’ flourished around the rim of the Atlantic, facilitating the Moors’ ambitious trading enterprises. It was a blend of old Latin, Arabic, Hebrew and Portuguese, interspersed with African and Amerindian words.

Men like Mathieu Da Costa were greatly valued for their expertise.

In fact, he was so sought after by both the French and the Dutch, historical records show that the Dutch secret service kidnapped him from the French in Paris.This event was the subject of a famous Hauge trial in Europe around 1608.