The Black Canadian Experience in Ontario 1834-1914: Settlement and Community - Page Banner

Table of Contents


During the Underground Railroad era, from 1834 to 1865, Ontario was a fast developing province with Toronto as the economic and cultural centre. Toronto was also the centre of abolitionism resulting in more acceptance and advocacy on issues of concern to Black Canadians.

In 1851, at the First Convention of Colored Freemen held outside of the United States at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Hall, Canada was declared to be the best place in the world for Black people to live.

Photo: St. Lawrence Hall, King St., Toronto, 1867

Delegates found support, acceptance, housing, employment and a standard of living that made it possible for the descendants of those in slavery to become citizens of a society that protected their freedoms.

Click to see a larger image (117K)
St. Lawrence Hall, King St., Toronto
(erected on the site of Old City Hall), 1867
Octavius Thompson fonds
Black and white print
Reference Code: F 4356-0-0-0-43
Archives of Ontario, I0005329


Newly arrived Black people might land in Windsor, Niagara Falls or Toronto, or the all-Black communities of Dawn, Elgin or Wilberforce, but later move to other areas in search of family members, an urban home or a market for their skills. 

Click to see a larger image (95K)
Boys with wheelbarrows in the streets of
Amherstburg, Ontario [ca. 1895]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076, Box D-4
Archives of Ontario, I0027816

Photo: Boys with wheelbarrows in the streets of Amherstburg, Ontario [ca. 1895]

Photo: Ara Wilson, Henry Banks Jr., Roy Banks, Fremont Nelson: cooks aboard a steamboat, [ca. 1890]

Click to see a larger image (214K)
Ara Wilson, Henry Banks Jr., Roy Banks, Fremont
Nelson: cooks aboard a steamboat, [ca. 1890]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-3-9
Archives of Ontario, I0024829

They moved into every city and town in Ontario – or resided on the borders of these settlements. 

Photo: Choir and leader, Grace Price-Trotman in the British Methodist Episcopal Church, then located at 460 Shaw Street in Toronto, January 1947

After they built their homes they constructed churches – many of which are still in use today. Churches formed the heart of the community, serving many purposes from spiritual space to debating forum. Often these structures housed schools.

Click to see a larger image (121K)
Choir and leader, Grace Price-Trotman in the British Methodist Episcopal Church, then located at 460 Shaw Street in Toronto, January 1947
Gilbert A. Milne
Black and white negative
Reference Code: C 3-1-0-0-218
Archives of Ontario, I0004541

Photo: Baptist Sunday School group in Amherstburg, Ontario, [ca. 1910]

Click to see a larger image (306K)
Baptist Sunday School group in Amherstburg, Ontario, [ca. 1910]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-5-1-38
Archives of Ontario, I0027813


No matter where they settled, for the newly arrived, freedom meant building a home for one’s family, a church for the community, and a school for the development of future generations.

May Alexander was awarded this certificate for successfully passing her high school entrance exam in 1899

Click to see a larger image (270K)
May Alexander was awarded this certificate for successfully
passing her high school entrance exam in 1899
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-11-0-16
Archives of Ontario


Tintype: Unidentified woman in formal dress, [ca. 1870s]

Click to see a larger image (141K)
Unidentified woman in formal dress, [ca. 1870s]
Tintype
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-3-3
Archives of Ontario, I0027803

Photo: Orri [?] Smith, son of James Smith of Amherstburg, Ontario, [ca. 1870s]

Click to see a larger image (96K)
Orri [?] Smith, son of James Smith of
Amherstburg, Ontario, [ca. 1870s]
Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Reference Code: F 2076-16-3-4
Archives of Ontario, I0027804


Previous | Home | Next
And they Went to Canada | Freedom Under the Lion's Paw | Settlement and Community
Community of Interest