The Black Canadian Experience in Ontario 1834-1914: Community of Interest - Page Banner

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Perhaps as many as 60,000 enslaved Africans risked their lives to experience freedom in Canada. But they were shocked to realize that one freedom they had cherished, the opportunity for their children and themselves to be educated, something they so fervently longed for - knowledge - was not readily available to them even in freedom. 

The proclamation of the Ontario Common Schools Act in 1851 was interpreted in many ways. It led to the creation not only of separate Catholic schools but also segregated Black schools, particularly west of Toronto. 

Black parents fought against this through writing petitions demanding the inclusion of their children or by holding protest meetings. 

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An Act for the better establishment and maintenance of common schools in Upper Canada. PAMPH 1850 #24
Archives of Ontario
BIBLiON : The AO Library Catalogue
See a text version of the Act

 

The Common Schools Act
Photo: Vince and Reg Bryant strike a sports-oriented pose, [ca. 1910]

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Vince and Reg Bryant strike a
sports-oriented pose, [ca. 1910]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-3-3
Archives of Ontario, I0027799

Photo: Young dandy Chancellor Nall of Owen Sound, [ca. 1900]

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Young dandy Chancellor Nall of
Owen Sound, [ca. 1900]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-3-9
Archives of Ontario, I0027812


In 1883, a Windsor man, J. L. Dunn, caused quite an uproar when he decided to challenge this segregation by sending his daughter to the local public school.

These two newspaper clippings from September 6, 1883, report the incident from two different perspectives. The clipping to the right is from a Windsor area paper while the one below is from The Evening News, across the border in Detroit.

The Evening News of Detroit, September 6, 1833

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The Evening News of Detroit reported on the Dunn
segregated schooling case, September 6, 1833
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-14-0-3, page 18
Archives of Ontario

News Item: In 1883, J. L. Dunn attempted to send his daughter to a school attended only by white children, causing an uproar.

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In 1883, J. L. Dunn attempted to send his daughter
to a school attended only by white children,
causing an uproar
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-14-0-3, page 16
Archives of Ontario

The letter by Dennis Hill below was written to Egerton Ryerson, the Chief Superintendent for Education. Mr. Hill tried unsuccessfully to enroll his son in a white school in November of 1852.

Letter to Chief Superintendent for Education, Egerton Ryerson, from Dennis Hill, November 22, 1852

Letter to Chief Superintendent for Education, Egerton Ryerson,
from Dennis Hill, November 22, 1852
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: RG 2-12
Archives of Ontario
See a text version of Dennis Hill's Letter


This document, written in 1843, is comprised of three parts. The first section is a petition from "The Coloured People of Hamilton" to the Governor General protesting the practice of segregated schooling for Black children. It is followed by text from Robert Murray, of the Department of Education, asking for information about the petition from George S. Tiffany, President of the Board of Police. The final section is Mr. Tiffany's response, reporting on the schooling situation of Black children.

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Petition of the "People of Colour" of Hamilton
to the Governor General protesting the practice
of segregated schooling for
Black children, October 15, 1843
Department of Education Incoming General Correspondence, Correspondence for 1843
Reference Code: RG 2-12
Archives of Ontario

See a text version of these letters

Petition of the "People of Colour" of Hamilton to the Governor General protesting the practice of segregated schooling for Black children, October 15, 1843
Letter dated October 19 from Rev. R. Murray to George S. Tiffany, Esquire, page 22

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Letter dated October 19 from Rev.
R. Murray to George S. Tiffany,
Esquire, Page 22

Letter dated November 9 from George S. Tiffany, Esquire to Reverend R. Murray, page 23

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Letter dated November 9 from
George S. Tiffany, Esquire to
Reverend R. Murray, Page 23

Letter dated November 9 from George S. Tiffany, Esquire to Reverend R. Murray, page 24

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Letter dated November 9 from
George S. Tiffany, Esquire to
Reverend R. Murray, Page 24


However, in smaller towns or farming areas, Black children often had to travel very far to attend all-Black schools. One, established in Buxton, produced such highly trained students that non-Black students wanted to go there, and many graduates proceeded to the University of Toronto.

Photo: Students of King Street School in Amherstburg, Ontario with their teacher, J. H. Alexander, [ca. 1890s]

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Students of King Street School in Amherstburg,
Ontario with their teacher, J. H. Alexander, [ca. 1890s]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-7-4
Archives of Ontario, I0027815


Protests were organized to challenge legal decisions that put all resident Black people at risk. If John Anderson or Solomon Moseby or any other Black person could be threatened with being returned to the United States for offences related to escaping slavery, then what kind of freedom was this?

Maybe others too had borrowed a horse, or certainly taken their labour from their former owners in order to be free, so people were concerned. Would members of the Black community now have to live in fear of being convicted of “crimes” they committed while fleeing bondage?

With favourable legal rulings, it became clear that the rights which embodied the hard won freedom of Black Canadians would be protected by law.


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Unidentified woman and her son, [ca. 1900]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-3-2
Archives of Ontario, I0027790

Photo: Unidentified woman and her son, [ca. 1900]

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