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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 many records relating to Black people and Black histories in the province. For an introduction to these records, explore the online exhibits listed below. There are also educational workshops for teachers, and a wide variety of
resources for researchers.

Because of 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 These collections of records sometimes include language that is outdated, offensive, and harmful.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To address harmful archival descriptions, the Archives of Ontario is revising descriptions with outdated and offensive language.This work involves research, consultation, and the addition of community preferred terminology in our descriptive practices.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:

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

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.
Hand drawn illustration of General Toussaint L'Overture
Enslaved Africans in Upper Canada explores the lives of slaves and focuses on the actions they took to resist their servitude.
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 Relating to Black History

formal portait of a black woman

Records relevant to Slavery in Upper Canada

The following are Acts that relate to enslavement in Upper Canada:

  1. An Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies; for promoting the Industry of the manumitted slaves; and for compensating the Persons hitherto entitled to the Service of such Slaves, 3 & 4 Will.4 c.73, 1833, United Kingdom Parliamentary Archives (also available via the Archives of Ontario’s website in its published format)

  2. An Act to Prevent the further Introduction of Slaves and to limit the Term of Contracts for Servitude, Statutes of Upper Canada Cap. 7, 33 George III, 1793

The following are wills and estate files that contain information about enslavement in Upper Canada:

  1. F 280-0-0-25 Richard Norton Wilkinson

  2. RG 22-311 Essex County Surrogate Court estate files (also digitized and available on FamilySearch)

  3. RG 22-310 Essex County Surrogate Court registers* (also digitized and available on FamilySearch)

  4. RG 22-159-0-7 Allen, Joseph — Frontenac County (also digitized and available on FamilySearch)

  5. RG 22-155-0-200 Butler, John, Esquire — Newark, Oxford County (also digitized and available on FamilySearch)

  6. RG 22-155-0-1207 Mclean, Neil, Esquire — Kingston, Frontenac County (also digitized and available on FamilySearch)

  7. RG 22-155-0-696 Gray, Robert I.D., Esquire — Town of York (also digitized and available on FamilySearch)

  8. RG 22-179-0-211 Heck, Paul — Leeds and Grenville County (also digitized and available on FamilySearch)

  9. RG 40-5-0-1978 Herchmer, William M., Charles L., and Jane C. — Kingston Township*

  10. RG 40-5-0-2640 Macomb, David, John and William — Sandwich Township*

  11. RG 22-235-0-745 Krysler, Adam — Lincoln County (also digitized and available on FamilySearch)

  12. RG 22-235-0-1438 Young, John Sr., Lincoln County (also digitized and available on FamilySearch)

  13. RG 22-311-0-344 Labadie, Antoine — Essex County (also digitized and available on FamilySearch)

* These are records that we suspect have content relating to slavery

The following are examples of other government records (including census records, court records, and land records) that contain information about enslavement in Upper Canada:

  1. F 1721-28 Elizabethtown Township Census Census and Assessment Assessment Special Assessment (in District of Johnstown fonds)

  2. RG 22-54 Midland District Court of General Quarter Sessions of the Peace minutes

  3. RG 22-94-0-2 York County Court of General Sessions of the Peace minute books

  4. RG 22-134-0-3 Courts of Queen’s Bench assize minute books

  5. D 359 Upper Canada land board minutes and records diffusion material

  6. RG 1-2-4, Box 2 Page range: 948 to 2132 (in Correspondence and memoranda relating to lands administration received by the Surveyor General)

  7. RG 1-54-2, Volume 24 Petitions for land

The following are examples of non-government collections and records (including cemetery records, correspondence, diaries, and financial records) that relate to enslavement in Upper Canada:

  1. F 55 Wallbridge family fonds

  2. F 378 Hiram Walker Historical Museum collection

  3. F 543 Abraham Nelles family fonds

  4. F 996 Stuart family fonds

  5. F 4204 Samuel Sherwood family fonds*

  6. F 4448 John White fonds

  7. F 24-2 Richard Cartwright original letterbook

  8. F 46-0-0-2350 Letter, Peter Russell to Capt. Elliott, Sandwich

  9. F 46-0-0-2351 Letter, Capt. M. Elliott to Peter Russell

  10. F 46-0-0-2357 Letter, Capt. M Elliot to Peter Russell

  11. F 46-0-0-2591 Account Book, Peter Russell

  12. F 280-0-0-14 Haldimand papers (selected items)

  13. F 493-1-0-53 [Statement of Captain Joseph Brant’s account with with Jean Baptiste Rousseau]

  14. F 499 MU 2885 David Barker Stevenson fonds, contains “Letter dated Oct. 12, 1850 from S. Wickham warning of slave-catchers in the United States” (also digitized as part of an online exhibit)

  15. F 977-0-0-930 St. John’s Anglican on Sandwich Street, Windsor

  16. F 4421-2-0-8 Account of events at Schoharie to gather forces against rebels by Adam Krysler (Crysler)

  17. F 4536 Letter of Tom Elice [Ellis] to Mary Warner, further examined in an online exhibit

* These are records that we suspect have content relating to slavery

The following are examples of published materials, including newspapers, literature, and maps, that relate to the enslavement and freedom of Black populations in Upper Canada:

  1. Provincial Freeman, Microfilm Reel N 40 – digitized copies of Provincial Freeman can be found in Our Digital World’s Abolitionist Newspapers of the 1850s digital collection (external resource)

  2. Voice of the Fugitive, Microfilm Reel N 033 – digitized copies of Voice of the Fugitive can be found in Our Digital World’s Abolitionist Newspapers of the 1850s digital collection (external resource)

  3. Mitchell, William M. The underground railroad from slavery to freedom. 973.7115 M58

  4. PAMPH 1856 #42 Narrative of the Life and Sufferings of Rev. Richard Warren, 1856

  5. PAMPH 1855 #41 Map entitled: "Southwestern Counties of Canada West - showing the principal stations of the free colored population” In: Mission to the free colored population in Canada, 1855 (also digitized as part of an online exhibit)

Historical Materials about Black students’ Education

  1. PAMPH 1850 #24 An Act for the better establishment and maintenance of common schools in Upper Canada, 1850

  2. RG 2-42 Department of Education subject files: includes correspondence documenting the staffing, operation, and administration of schools with Black students in Ontario between 1885 and 1913.

    • RG 2-42-0-580 Colchester S.S. #12 (colored school) - certificates for teachers: Rev. Josephus O. Banyoun (or O'Banyoun); Annie Keyes; Mary Griffin; Mrs. R. J. McCormick

    • RG 2-42-0-5331 Colchester South Township, S.S. #11. Request for temporary certificate for Miss Elva Dixon. "This is a colored school for which we cannot get white, certificated teachers."

    • RG 2-42-0-5495 Harwich Township, S.S. #9; S.S. #9 1/2 - "people in No. 9 wished to exclude from their school certain colored children." Section 9 1/2 formed, but school closed, leaving children without education.

    • RG 2-42-0-5890 Sandwich, Town of. Request for permit for teacher Miss Ella Gooderich for colored school. Also Tilbury West Township, S.S. #2 - request for permit for teacher Mr. Louis Dorais (able to teach English and French).

Records of Historic Black Canadians

  1. RG 17-20 Archives of Ontario historical research files. See file subjects starting with keyword “Blacks”

  2. C 81-4 Osgoode Society Oral History Programme - Special Projects interview files, contains records concerning Black Lawyers and Judges Project (2010) and Attorney General and African Canadian Project (2008)

  3. F 1405-5 Black Canadian photographs, part of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario fonds

  4. F 1409 Mary Ann Shadd Cary fonds

  5. F 2076 Alvin D. McCurdy fonds

  6. F 2096 Alvin Curling fonds

  7. F 2130 Daniel G. Hill fonds

  8. F 4646 Inez Elliston fonds

  9. F 4656 Congress of Black Women of Canada - Toronto Chapter fonds

  10. F 4585 Prieto-McTair Productions fonds

  11. F 4721 Wilma Morrison fonds