Outside of 660 Broadview Avenue, a commemorative plaque and park bear the name of William Peyton Hubbard, called a “champion of various minorities” for his significant contributions to human rights and equal opportunity legislation. He was also a pioneer founder of Toronto Hydro and Toronto’s first Black politician. In 1893, Hubbard, the son of freed slaves, entered politics as an alderman. He was re-elected in 13 consecutive elections and served as acting mayor on several occasions. He was among the early Black residents who enhanced the city’s business, professional, and political life.
The history of Canada’s Black community dates back to the fur traders in the 1500s; however, by the early 19th century Toronto saw a steady increase in the city’s African-Canadian population. The 1830s saw the first wave of Black immigration from the United States when Toronto became a major haven for runaway slaves. Black Torontonians were trained as waiters, barbers, cooks, blacksmiths, carpenters, painters, and shoe makers. By 1847, there were more than 50 Black families in Toronto. Many had settled in the city’s west end.
During the mid-nineteenth century, the Underground Railroad assisted in the escape of thousands of Blacks to Southern Ontario. In the 1840s, Emancipation Day was organized by White and Black Torontonians to celebrate the abolition of slavery. There were between 35,000 to 50,000 Blacks in Upper Canada from 1850 to the beginning of the American Civil War.
By the 1860s, Toronto’s Black population was 1,400 and included a number of prominent citizens. There were a number of churches, a business community, associations such as the Queen Victoria Benevolent Society (established to assist refugees), and an active Black press.
The Provincial Freeman, established in 1853, was initially published in Windsor but later moved its offices to Toronto. The newspaper, published and edited by Blacks, gave expression to the problems and accomplishments of the southwestern Ontario Black community. Its official founder, Samuel Ringgold Ward, was a prominent spokesman for the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada, formed in Toronto in 1851. Its editor, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, is acknowledged as the first Black woman journalist in North America and was the actual founder of the Provincial Freeman. She had to use Ward’s name to establish the paper—since women at that time could not do so. She was also an educator, and later a lawyer.
The first Black businessmen in the city were contractors Jack Mosee and William Willis, who opened a road in 1799 westward from Yonge Street. James Mink, reputed to be one of the city’s wealthiest Blacks in the 1840s, operated an inn, livery stable, and stage-coach service. Another successful business man, Wilson Ruffin Abbott, prospered as a real estate agent and owned over 75 properties in Toronto in 1875. His son Anderson became the first Canadian-born Black doctor.
Following the outbreak of the American Civil War, the common belief is that many Blacks returned to the U.S.; by the end of the 19th century only a few hundred lived in Toronto.
During the first two decades of the 20th century, American Blacks settled in Toronto, seeking employment in construction, industry, and railroads. Early Black organizations consisted of self-help leagues and other groups formed to help fight against discrimination. Many lived in the area surrounded by Front, Bloor, Dovercourt, and Sherbourne streets. By 1950, the community numbered 4,000. Canadian Blacks from Nova Scotia and Southwestern Ontario were recent additions to the city.
Today, there are approximately 300,000 Canadian-born Blacks (of non-West Indian origin) living in Toronto. Black organizations focus on the social, educational, and cultural needs of the community.
Every year in February Black History Month is celebrated by the Ontario Black History Society, the formal initiators locally, provincially and nationally of this celebration. It features movies, music, cooking, art, and readings that serve as reminders of the role the Black community plays in Canada.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH is celebrated every year, in February, and includes cultural shows, dances, dinners, and poetry readings.
KWANZA, December Festival of Africal family values.
SHARE, (Tel. 416-656-3400, Fax 416-656-0691, www.sharenews.com, 658 Vaughan Rd). A weekly newspaper serving Black and West Indian communities. Publisher: Arnold A. Auguste.
PRIDE, (Tel. 905-665-2892, Fax 416-335-1723, 5200 Finch Ave. E., Suite 200A). A weekly publication serving the Black and Caribbean communities. Publisher: Michael Van Cooten.
ONTARIO BLACK HISTORY SOCIETY, Ontario Heritage Centre, (Tel. 416-867-9420, www.blackhistorysociety.ca, 10 Adelaide St. E., Suite 402), is a charitable organization dedicated to the study of Black history in Ontario. Established in 1978, it co-sponsors a travelling exhibit, Black History in Early Toronto, which educates the public on the role played by Blacks in the building of the province for the last 200 years. The society is committed to promoting interest in Black history by way of exhibitions, speeches, slide shows, research, and tape recordings of senior citizens in the Black community speaking about their experiences growing up in Toronto.
ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF BLACKS IN HEALTH SCIENCES, (1 King’s College Circle, Medical Sciences Building, Room 2304). A community service organization primarily composed of people in health sciences. President: Trevor Bon.
A musical presentation by students from the new TDSB Afrocentric School at the launch of February as Black History Month.
BLACK BUSINESS & PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-504-4097, www.bbpa.org, 675 King St. W., Suite 210). Presents the annual Harry Jerome Awards for Black achievements in business, community involvement, academics, arts, and athletics. The awards are a tribute to late track star Harry Jerome, who is regarded as a role model and symbol of excellence by Canadians. Contact: Hugh Graham.
THE BLACK SECRETARIAT, (Tel. 416-924-1104, 511 Richmond St. W), provides information on services for the Black community and publishes a directory of Black services, organizations, churches, and media in the city.
URBAN ALLIANCE ON RACE RELATIONS, (Tel. 416-703-6607, www.urbanalliance.ca, 302 Spadina Ave., Suite 505), serves the Black community on all spheres of race relations.
AFRICAN CANADIAN LEGAL CLINIC, (Tel. 416-214-4747, www.aclc.net, 111 Richmond St. W., Suite 503). Executive Director: Ms. Margaret Parsons.