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Daniel and Donna Hill raised three children: Daniel (or Dan), born in 1954 in Toronto; Lawrence (or Larry), born in 1957 in Newmarket; and Karen, born in 1958 in Newmarket.
In 1956, Daniel and Donna moved to Newmarket to buy their first home, a small bungalow where they remained until 1962. At that time, when their children were still quite young, they moved to Don Mills, where Donna remains in the family home.
Don Mills is currently a multi-racial Toronto suburb, but in the early 1960s its inhabitants were almost entirely White. Raising an interracial family in Don Mills came as quite a change for Daniel and Donna, who were accustomed to living in an environment that was highly charged, racially, in the United States.
Although all of their children’s cousins, on Daniel’s side of the family, were considered Black in the United States-indeed, some had no choice but to attend segregated schools-Dan, Larry and Karen grew up in a state of some ambiguity. At some moments, other children in the schools or on the streets of Don Mills reminded the Hill children in the rudest ways of their Black ancestry. At other times, peers expressed disbelief that the young Hill children had any Black heritage at all. It took Dan, Larry and Karen some time to settle into a clear, confident sense of their Black heritage and of their dual ancestral identities. Eventually, they each developed an interest in literature and in creative expression, as a way of making sense of the world and their own place in it.
Daniel Hill III anxiously and repeatedly urged his children to become doctors, lawyers and engineers, but his urgings were for naught. Each of the children was interested primarily in the arts-and it was through the arts that the children publicly demonstrated how much they loved their parents.
Their eldest child, Daniel Hill IV, dropped out of school at the age of 17 to become a singer-songwriter, and went on to sell millions of records around the world. Lawrence became a novelist and journalist, and Karen wrote many poems and stories. Each of the three children-who are now adults with nearly adult-age children of their own-continues to write creatively. And each has written tributes to their father or mother, or both.
One of Dan Hill IV ’s early songs was McCarthy’s Day, a tribute to the interracial marriage that his parents forged. Dan wrote the song in 1973, when he was nineteen years old. McCarthy’s Day appeared on Dan’s third album, Longer Fuse, in 1977. The title “McCarthy’s Day” is a reference to the Joseph McCarthy, an American Republican senator from Wisconsin who in the 1950s conducted aggressive and damaging investigations against Americans who were suspected of being communists or communist sympathizers. In the eyes of Daniel Hill III and Donna Bender Hill, McCarthy represented the very worst of American intolerance and demagogy. McCarthy’s most active anti-communist investigations were conducted from 1950-1954, the same period in which Daniel Hill III and Donna Bender met and married.
“McCarthy’s Day”, composed and sung by Dan Hill IV, McCauley Music Ltd.,1976
Used with the permission of Dan Hill IV and Matthew McCauley of McCaule Music Ltd.
Lawrence Hill became a novelist, non-fiction writer and journalist, and has written often about his parents in his published writings. In his memoir Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada (HarperCollins Canada, 2001), Lawrence Hill wrote about how his parents met and married, and about the predominant social values at the time.
“In the United States, there was never any doubt that my father was first and foremost a black man. Or that my mother was a white woman. And there is no question that, had my siblings and I been raised in the United States, we would have been identified-in school, on the street, in community centres, among friends-as black.
But my parents threw their unborn children a curve ball. They came to Toronto right after they married, had us, and we all stayed here. They had had enough of racial divisions in their country of birth. And, although they spent their lives at the forefront of the Canadian human rights movement, they were also happy and relieved to set up in suburban, white, middle-class Toronto, where race faded (most of the time) into the background.”
Excerpt from page 4 of
A Breath of You
A spider’s web stretches lazily Across the freckled, orange lily Capturing the cloud-split rays Of an evanescent afternoon sun
My heart beating I step into my garden Searching For a breath of you
My nervous, naked hands Begin to steady As they knead and ply The unstinting earth
I glance up to admire The cat’s stealth as it Tiptoes, like I no longer can, Around the pale pink rose Planted just for you
Its flushed petals Long to unfurl and Sing up to the skies Like the roses in your garden I tended long ago
I always hated pink But it is a gentle colour Among vivacious yellows Flamboyant purples And cheeky blues
Our brightly-painted dreams Defy death’s empty palette Wash into the musty loam and Surrender to a carpet of Life both young and old
It is down here At the earth’s edge That we can breathe Once moreIt is down here That you and I Touch and greet the Soothing summer rain
“A Breath of You” poem, by Karen Hill, 2003
Used with the permission of Karen Hill and courtesy of Lawrence Hill
The photo below was taken in 1967 in Washington D.C., on the occasion of the 50th wedding anniversary of Daniel Hill II and May Edwards Hill. Daniel G. Hill III is standing in the middle of the back row, and is wearing glasses and a light coloured jacket. His wife, Donna Hill, is to his immediate right. His parents, Daniel Hill II and May Edwards Hill are the elderly, seated couple closest to the children sitting on the ground. Daniel Hill IV is to the immediate right of Donna Hill, in the back row. Lawrence Hill is seated on the ground, third from the right. Karen Hill is seated on the ground, on the far left.