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Resources Relating to Black History at the Archives of Ontario


Montage of Images of Black History

The Archives of Ontario holds records relating to Black people and Black histories in the province. For an introduction to these records, this resource directs you to relevant online exhibits, educational resources, and Black history records. These are listed below. The Archives of Ontario also developed a Records Related to Black Communities in Ontario Research Guide, that expands on this resource and provides further information about the records in our collection that pertain to the lives and experiences of Black populations across the province.  Click here to view all of our research guides.


Due to past collecting practices and the history of record creation in Ontario, many records that document Black histories were created by members of the historically dominant European/white societies in the province. These collections of records sometimes include language that is outdated, offensive, and harmful. The historical record reflects the attitudes and perspectives of those who created them.

To address harmful archival descriptions, the Archives of Ontario is revising descriptions with outdated and offensive language. This work involves research, consultation, and the addition of community preferred terminology in our descriptive practices. We add respectful language to minimize harm, while still maintaining the original language that appears in the records to accurately convey historical attitudes and preserve the context in which the records were created. In doing so, we aim to better support research into the lives and experiences of Black people in Ontario. Our hope is that, in sharing these records and their context, we provide an accurate representation of the province’s history, encourage critical assessments of our records, and spark scholarship.

Search for records about Black people in our catalogue using keyword terms such as:

  • Black/ Black Ontarians
  • Black Canadians
  • African Canadian
  • Slave/Enslaved/Captive
  • Fugitive from slavery
  • Freedom seeker
  • Self emancipated
  • Slavery
 

Online Exhibits


Copies of the signatures on the bottom of a letter written in 1854
This one-page letter, dated 1854, believed to be from a runaway slave from Kentucky, describes his preference for his new country, Canada West.
Hand=drawn illustration of General Toussaint L'Overture
Lincoln Alexander was a leading figure in the fight for racial equity in Canada. This small exhibit presents snapshots taken from an interview conducted by Philip Sworden in March 1997.
Tintype photographic portrait of black couple with their young baby
A joint project of the Archives and the Ontario Black History Society, this exhibit celebrates a community which has played a significant role in Ontario's history.
Moses Brantford Jr. Leading an Emancipation Day parade down Dalhousie Street, Amherstburg, Ontario, [ca. 1894]

The Archives of Ontario is pleased to launch its new online exhibit “Slavery and Abolition in Upper Canada.” The exhibit is a refresh and a reframing of the Archives’ 2007 exhibit “Enslaved Africans in Upper Canada.” We hope that through this exhibit, we can encourage a greater understanding of the history of slavery and the lasting impact it has had on Black communities in the province.

Photograph of Dan Hill, first director of Ontario's Human Rights Commission
This exhibit explores the life of Dan Hill, the first Director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and community activist with a sustained interest in the history of Blacks in Canada.
Detail of a photograph of black boys standing front of a school
Alvin McCurdy lived in Amherstburg, in South-Western Ontario, and collected thousands of documents and photographs relating to black history in the province.

 

Educational Resources & Workshops Relating to Black History


formal portait of a black woman
  • Adult Learning: Visual Journaling with Black Archives (Word, PDF)

  • Adult Learning: Dreaming with Archives: A Writing Workshop (Word, PDF)

  • Grades 3-8: Black Histories Primary Source Flashcards (Word, PDF)

  • Grade 8 lesson kit: Black Canadian Migration Experiences (Word, PDF)

  • Grade 8 lesson kit: Family Ties: Ontario at the Time of Confederation (WordPDF)

  • Grade 10 lesson kit: Youth & Ethnic Conflict in 1960s Toronto (WordPDF)

 

Black Collections Online



 

Private Records Created & Collected by Black Individuals

Listed here are private records in our collection that document Black histories in the province from Black perspectives. “Private records” are records created by individuals, organizations, and businesses. The Archives of Ontario is dedicated to growing these collections over time. We are interested and willing to work with all communities in Ontario to preserve and share their history. We welcome donations from the public that contribute to the larger narrative of Ontario. To learn more about our donation process, click here.

C 81-4 Osgoode Society Oral History Programme - Special Projects interview files
Dates: 1992-2011

The Osgoode Society is an organization that studies, researches and promotes public interest in the history of the law, the legal profession and the judiciary in Ontario and Canada. Fonds consists primarily of oral history interviews of lawyers, judges and others in the legal profession, relating to various aspects of legal history in Ontario and Canada.  These interviews comprise the sole activity of the Osgoode Society's Oral History Programme.  Most interview documentation consists of audio cassette recordings with accompanying transcripts, although one interview on videocassette is also included. Series consists of oral history interviews conducted by Osgoode Society as special or sponsored projects. Series contains records concerning the Black Lawyers and Judges Project (2010) and Attorney General and African Canadian Project (2008).

F 1405-5 Black Canadian photographs, part of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario fonds
Dates: 1890-1976


The Multicultural History Society of Ontario (MHSO) is a not-for-profit educational institution which collects, describes and maintains material related to the ethnic and cultural development of Ontario. Series consists of photographs documenting the Black Canadian community largely in Ontario, but also in Saint John, New Brunswick. Photographs depict individuals and families, recreational activities, religious life particularly in the African Episcopal Church, military service and employment.

F 1409 Mary Ann Shadd Cary fonds
Dates: 1851-1889

Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893) was an educator, feminist, abolitionist, author, suffragette, journalist and lawyer. Shadd Cary was the first Black woman to publish, edit and run a newspaper in North America. Shadd Cary founded “The Provincial Freeman,” in which she advocated for present day Ontario and Canada as a safe place for the Black community to settle. Fonds consists of correspondence, articles, business records and lecture notes that relate to Shadd Cary’s work on the international anti-slavery movement, work which she continued to pursue while living in Ontario for a period of ten years. These records were transcribed on February 14, 2023 as part of Douglass Day. The event was recorded and can be viewed on the Douglass Day YouTube channel.

F 2076  Alvin D. McCurdy fonds
Dates: 1808 to 1986

Alvin D. McCurdy (1916-1989) was a historian, genealogist, and collector of Black historical materials who lived in Amherstburg, Ontario. Fonds includes personal correspondence and a genealogy of the McCurdy family as well as records pertaining to Black churches and various other Black organisations. This collection is the Archives' largest and most important source of information about the history of the Black community in Ontario. The McCurdy fonds was inscribed on the Canada Memory of the World Register in July 2021. The Archives of Ontario created a digital exhibit about the collection that can be explored. Digitized records can be viewed through Wikimedia Commons.

F 2096 Alvin Curling fonds
Dates: 1980-1996

Alvin Curling (1939- )  was a Provincial Legislature as Member of Provincial Parliament for Scarborough-Rouge River, previously Scarborough North. Fonds consists of records created and/or accumulated by Curling during his career. It documents his tenure as Minister of Housing, Minister of Skills Development, Liberal Housing Critic and Speaker of the House and includes material related to Curling's work with the Scarborough North Provincial Liberal Association in preparing for elections. It also contains material related to his pre-political career.

F 2130  Daniel G. Hill fonds
Dates: 1870 to 2003

Some access restrictions

Daniel Grafton Hill (1923-2003) was a sociologist, civil servant, human rights specialist, and Canadian Black historian. Fonds consists of personal records and records relating to Hill’s involvement with various associations including the Ontario Black History Society. The Archives of Ontario created a digital exhibit about Hill featuring records from the collection.

F 4585  Prieto-McTair Productions Fonds
Dates: 1939 to 2007 (predominant 1976 to 2007)

Some restrictions on access

Prieto-McTair Productions was a Toronto, Ontario based film production company that was in operation from 1982 to 2007 and produced a number of documentaries exploring Black history and culture. The fonds is arranged into eleven series primarily based on the films and documentaries produced by the company. Selected films can be viewed through the Archives of Ontario YouTube channel.

F 4646 Inez Elliston fonds
Dates: 1964-2010

Dr. Inez Elliston (1930-2017) was an educator, trainer, researcher, writer, consultant, and leader in community development. She was a pioneer in the field of race relations, conducting many studies and advocating especially for the education of children from diverse communities. Fonds consists of records that document Dr. Elliston’s professional life as it relates to intercultural education, anti-racism training, the management of diversity in the multicultural classroom and community, and the delivery of equitable educational policies.

F 4656  Congress of Black Women of Canada - Toronto Chapter fonds
Dates: 1982 to 1997

Some restrictions on access

The Congress of Black Women of Canada - Toronto Chapter, was formed in 1983 to provide a forum to ensure that Black women's needs and concerns are represented. Fonds consists of records created and accumulated by the organization with regard to the administration of the Chapter and records concerning the documentary movie Children Are Not the Problem.

F 4718 Coming to Voice fonds
Dates: 1994? to 1998?

Some restrictions on access

Fonds consists of records containing material that was included in or used to support the 1999 documentary Coming to Voice, produced by Anthony A. Browne and Glace W. Lawrence. This movie tells the story of the beginnings of Canada's Black film industry.

F 4721 Wilma Morrison fonds
Dates: 1899?-2019

Wilma Morrison (1929-2020) was a Black history and heritage activist. Morrison played a significant role in the preservation and recognition of Black history in Ontario. Fonds consists of material that documents Morrison's personal life as well as her career as a Black history and heritage activist in the Niagara Region.

F 4727 Ian Jones fonds
Dates: 1966-2019

Ian Jones (1942- ) is an artist, activist, musician and educator in the calypso and steelpan community, as well as a facilitator of Black community enhancement in Ontario. Fonds consists of material that documents Jones' involvement with pan in Canada as a player, arranger, composer, administrator and educator. This includes material related to his work with the Ontario Steelpan Association.

F 4747 Phyllis Marshall photograph album
Dates: 1959-1977

Phyllis (Irene Elizabeth) Marshall (1921-1996) was a singer and actress who is remembered as one of Canadian television's earliest stars, and as a pioneer among Black Canadian performers. The records consist of a photograph album maintained by Phyllis Marshall that documents her career between the years 1959 and 1977. It includes newspaper clippings, notes, photographs, mementos and other material.

N531 Africa Speaks
Dates: 1965-1975

Africa Speaks newspaper was launched in Toronto in 1950. Its pages document Black cultural life in Toronto as well as contemporary events in Africa. It was released in English.

N 533 Mapou
Dates: 1977-1978

Mapou was a Creole/French literary magazine. It includes interviews, poetry, reflections, and political analyses. It was launched in Ottawa in 1977.

N 547 Spear
Dates: 1973-1987

“Spear: Canada’s Truth and Soul Magazine” launched in Toronto in 1971. Its pages document Black middle class life in Toronto. For the final few issues, before it suspended publication in 1987, the magazine re-tagged itself as “Spear: Canada’s Black Family Magazine.”

 

Research Assistance

Do you have a research inquiry? Our reference archivists are here to help. You may call or write to us by mail or email or, best of all, visit the Archives of Ontario.  
 
Telephone: 416-327-1600
Toll free (Ontario): 1-800-668-9933  
Email: reference@ontario.ca  
Address: Archives of Ontario, 134 Ian Macdonald Blvd., Toronto, ON M7A 2C5