Images of Black History, Exploring the Alvin McCurdy Collection: Community and Social Life - Page Banner

Community and Social Life

Religion played a major role in the black community. Amherstburg had several black churches, including the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church and the British Methodist Episcopal Church (B.M.E.). A.M.E. began as a black Methodist church in the United States and spread to Canada in the 1820s. This denomination was so popular that its conference for the year 1840 was held in Upper Canada. The Nazrey A.M.E. Church in Amherstburg was the first A.M.E. church built in Canada.

Programme of the One Hundred Eighth Annual Session of the Amherstburg Regular Missionary Baptist Association of Ontario
Click to see a larger image (145K)
Programme of the One Hundred Eighth Annual Session of the Amherstburg Regular Missionary Baptist Association of Ontario
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-14-0-4
Archives of Ontario

The Baptist Church also had a very strong presence among the black community in Ontario. One of the oldest black churches in Ontario is the First Baptist Church Amherstburg, which began operating as a mission in 1838.

In addition to these church records, the McCurdy Collection includes personal correspondence and papers from Ethel Alexander, an Amherstburg woman who taught as an Anglican missionary in British Honduras (Belize). This combination of education and religious belief inspired many individuals to offer their skills and service beyond their immediate community.

Photo: Ethel Alexander, an Anglican Missionary schoolteacher in British Honduras, [between 1920 and 1940]
Ethel Alexander, an Anglican Missionary
schoolteacher in British Honduras,
[between 1920 and 1940]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-3-6-48
Archives of Ontario, I0024824

Photo: Ethel Alexander with school children in British Honduras, [between 1920 and 1940]
Click to see a larger image (267K)
Ethel Alexander with school children in British Honduras, [between 1920 and 1940]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-3-6
Archives of Ontario, I0024823

The black community was involved in broader social and cultural pursuits through concerts, clubs and fraternal organizations. The Shubert Lady Quartette performed at the Amherstburg Opera House, ca. 1900.

Program for Puggsley Bros.’ Famous Tennessee Warblers, [ca. 1900]
Click to see a larger image (165K)
Program for Puggsley Bros.’ Famous
Tennessee Warblers, [ca. 1900]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-14-0-4
Archives of Ontario

Prominent amongst the fraternal societies was Prince Hall Freemasonry. In 1775, a freeborn black American named Prince Hall (1735-1807) was initiated, along with fourteen other free black men, into an Irish Constitution Military lodge in Boston. Prince Hall is recognized as the founder of black Masonry in North America. A tradition of predominantly black lodges began in North America, and these lodges were known collectively as Prince Hall Freemasonry.

Photo: Masons marching in an Amherstburg parade, [ca. 1955]
Masons marching in a Harrow parade, [ca. 1955]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-5-916-5-9
Archives of Ontario, I0024763<
Grand Master’s Award to Alvin D. McCurdy, 1960
Click to see a larger image (516K)
Grand Master’s Award to Alvin D. McCurdy, 1960
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-7-5-33
Archives of Ontario, I0024844

Freemasonry is a worldwide fraternal order. In Ontario, Prince Hall Freemasonry began in 1852. Early black Masonic lodges served a similar purpose to black churches by providing a welcoming social environment for members. Many men in Ontario were Masons, and their wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters were members of the Order of the Eastern Star. Records from black Masonic lodges or fraternal orders, along with clubs, churches, and schools, often provide the earliest written record of black society in Ontario.

Alvin McCurdy’s contribution to the community and the organization was recognized in 1960 by his receipt of the Grand Master’s Award.

Frederick Douglass was a leader in the civil rights movement in the United States, both before and after the Civil War. He promoted progress through education and self help. Women’s social clubs, such as the Frederick Douglass Self-Improvement Club (1898 –1899), and the Buisy Gleanors Club (1887-1891), provided opportunities for local black women to gather, socialize and bond. The minutes and constitutions for these clubs shine a light on the almost-forgotten history of early Ontario black women’s groups

Frederick Douglass Self-Improvement Club, 1898
Ethel Alexander, an Anglican Missionary
schoolteacher in British Honduras,
[between 1920 and 1940]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-3-6-48
Archives of Ontario, I0024824

Buisy Gleanors constitution and minutes, 1887
Click to see a larger image (131K)
Buisy Gleanors constitution and minutes, 1887
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-9-0-2
Archives of Ontario
Buisy Gleanors constitution and minutes, 1887 - p2
Click to see a larger image (160K)
Buisy Gleanors constitution and minutes, 1887
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-9-0-2
Archives of Ontario

While the abolition of slavery and economic/social growth in the black community represent great achievements, they should not obscure ongoing problems within Ontario society. From the earliest period of settlement, the black community has worked to improve civil and human rights, and to raise the status of minorities within Ontario.

The 20th century saw an organized effort to eliminate discrimination in hiring and terms of employment for black citizens. Alvin McCurdy’s collection provides evidence of this aspect of black history in Ontario.

This flyer, from the Central Citizens’ Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, Windsor, outlines the rights still not available to black people in the 1950s.

Flyer for the Central Citizens’ Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, Windsor, 1950
Click to see a larger image (173K)
Flyer for the Central Citizens’ Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, Windsor, 1950
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-9-0-6
Archives of Ontario

The Ontario Human Rights Commission recognized Alvin McCurdy’s role in the struggle for equal rights in Ontario with this Certificate of Merit.

Ontario Human Rights Commission Certificate of Merit for Mr. Alvin McCurdy, n.d.
Click to see a larger image (381K)
Ontario Human Rights Commission Certificate of Merit for Mr. Alvin McCurdy, n.d.
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-1-0-30
Archives of Ontario