Ontario's Black History

The first black slaves were 'introduced' to Canada about 1608 by the French, but the first black slave to arrive in Canada directly from Africa came in 1629.

In 1689 slavery got a "legal foundation" in New France (modern-day Quebec & most of modern-day Ontario at that time) and by 1759 there were close to 4,000 recorded slaves including 'Panis' which were Native Americans of Pawnee descent.

After 1783, when the United Empire Loyalists started migrating from the US, slave population in Canada rapidly increased... but "the total was never high, however, as slavery was generally unsuited to Canadian agriculture or commerce, and most of the Blacks who settled in Nova Scotia immediately followed the American Revolution were free".

On 19 June 1793, Attorney General John White of Upper Canada introduced a bill that probihited the import of slaves into Upper Canada. The bill was passed and Upper Canada became the only British Colony to legislate for abolition of slavery.

In 1790 the Imperial Statue allowed new settlers to Upper Canada to bring slaves but required that the slaves be properly fed and clothed. This statue also ensured the freedom, at the age of twenty-five, of any child born to a slave mother in Upper Canada.By 1800 other British colonies in Canada, excluding New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island (and the island of Cape Breton which was not yet a British colony), followed suit. While slavery in Canada was technically illegal it was not enforced until the British Imperial Act of 1833 abolished slavery throughout the British Empire. While this prevented new slaves being bought, sold, or traded, it did not free those whom were already slaves. The goal was to give those slaves "gradual emancipation".

Map to Freedom

I'm on my way to Canada
That cold and distant land
The dire effects of slavery
I can no longer stand.

Farewell, old master,
Don't come after me.

I'm on my way to Canada
Where coloured men are free

"In Canada slaves generally worked as personal servants or on the wharves. A few settlers had many slaves, but more than 20 was considered unusual. This made the attack on slavery far simpler than it was in plantation economies, where their labour was more important. The most effective and sustained attack on slavery came in New Brunswick in 1800, when Ward Chipman prepared an especially thorough legal, historical and moral statement against slavery. Generally, slavery was physically benign, and especially in Prince Edward Island, though there were recorded instances of harsh punishment and many advertisements for the return of runaway slaves."

Once slavery was abolished in Upper Canada, and the USA passed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 (this Act gave slave owners and agents the right to track and arrest fugitives anywhere in the USA), Canada became the land of dreams for those still enslaved in the United States. This brought about the creation of the Underground Railroad.

Using Railway terminology, the Underground Railroad was a network of former slaves and sympathizers helping fugitive American slaves to escape to freedom in Canada. "Although most fugitive slaves remained in the free states of the American North, perhaps 30,000 reached Canada. The 'railroad', in operation roughly 1840 to 1860, was most effective after the passage of the US Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, which empowered slave hunters to pursue fugitives onto free soil. This Act resulted in several efforts to kidnap fugitives who were in Canada to return them to Southern owners"

The first major wave of fugitive slaves to Canada was 1817-1820 and the choice of refuge was Essex County as it was the easiest and fastest to reach from the USA. Underground Railroad terminals in Ontario included almost any ports on Lake Erie and the Niagara River, as well as Amhertsburg, Sandwich, Windsor, Owen Sound, Hamilton, St Catharines, Toronto, Kingston, Brantford, Collingwood and Prescott. Many Great Lakes ships would carry runaways without charge and drop them on Canadian soil. Ships such as 'Bay City', 'United States', 'Arrow', 'Mayflower', 'Forest Queen', 'May Queen', 'Morning Star', and 'Phoebus'.

Those who made it to Ontario tended to migrate towards settlements that had a high concentration of Black inhabitants. These settlements came about due to discrimation from White Canadians and as a way to protect each other from American bounty hunters. Most of these settlements were located near the cities of Chatham, Hamilton, Windsor, London, Toronto, and St. Catharine's. Smaller settlements were located near Barrie, Guelph and Owen Sound.

"Settlement by the 1830's was primarily along the Detroit River & Lake Erie shores. Hamilton & particularly Toronto drew settlers looking for employment. Those in Toronto tended to settle in Ward 4 (now west of the present University Ave)." Other popular areas of settlement included London, Dawn, Strathroy, Woodstock, St. Thomas, Brantford, Wilberforce & settlements on the Thames River. Niagara Falls, Drummondville & Niagara-on-the-Lake were other draws. 

By the 1850's there were six 'firmly rooted' black communities in Ontario:
1. Central Ontario (London, Queen's Bush, Brantford, Wilberforce)
2. Chatham (Dawn, Elgin)
3. Detroit Frontier (Amherstburgh, Sandwich, Windsor)
4. Niagara Peninsula (St. Catharine's, Niagara Falls, Newark, Fort Erie)
5. Northern Simcoe & Grey Counties (Oro, Collingwood, Owen Sound)
6. Urban Centers on Lake Ontario (Hamilton, Toronto)

Other Settlements:

Little Africa
On Hamilton Mountain (part of the Niagara Escarpment) near Fort Erie, a small village called 'Little Africa' came into being and by 1840 it had a population of 80 blacks. Over the next forty years the population reached a height of 200 before inhabitants moved away and left the their village a 'ghost town' by 1880.

Established by Josiah Henson as a temporary settlement for black refugees

The Queen's Bush
The Queen's Bush was the chief area of settlement for those who ventured into 'the bush' starting in the 1840's

From Claude Smith: The term Queen's Bush was a general reference used by early settlers. Since it didn't exist, we cannot give it an official definition. Within Wellington County, "Queen's Bush" usually refers to Peel and Maryborough Township. You could probably also include Arthur Township and Minto Township, such is the arbitrary nature of this definition. I think the term "Queen's Bush" was used because Peel and Maryborough were clergy reserves and therefore not open to settlement (i.e., owned by the Queen).

On 26 Apr 1819 the settlement of Oro was authorized by Maitland. To promote settlement (Upper Canada officials wanted the Lake Huron/Georgian Bay areas protected in the event of a backdoor attack from the US), black 1812 veterans were offered land grants in Simcoe County. They were given 40 ha, while white settlers were given 80 ha. Blacks who took up this offer were among the first settlers in Simcoe County. By the late 1820's land tickets were no longer required. Instead land was sold for one shilling per acre (.4 ha), then by 1831 the price was raised to five shillings. The village of Edgar was the main center of Black life in Oro.

Pierpoint Settlement
From Claude Smith: Sometimes called the "Pierpoint Settlement", was in Garafraxa Township just outside present-day Fergus. The first settlers in this area were black soldiers who fought in the Butler's Rangers regiment and in the War of 1812. Richard Pierpoint and approximately eight to ten other black veterans of War of 1812 were given land grants in Garafraxa. The settlement broke up about 1840 and the people left to other black settlements near Glen Allan, Priceville and Collingwood.

Established when Blacks in the Cincinnati area found that remaining in Ohio would be dangerous. They sent a committee to Canada to petition for help. They were given a welcome and decided to go ahead and purchase an area of land in Biddulph Twp. In Oct 1829 five to six families arrived in their new home. A few weeks later they were joined by 15 families from Boston. They became the first settlers of the township. Poor leadership & other factors caused this new settlement to fail and by 1835 the settlement only contained a few families. 

All "quotations" above come from the 'Canadian Encyclopedia, 1988' or 'The Freedom~Seekers. Blacks in Early Canada by Daniel G. Hill, 1981'

The following information is from Claude Smith:

The first non-aboriginal settlers in Peel Township were fugitive blacks who started arriving in the 1830's after escaping slavery or purchasing their freedom in the United States. There were an estimated 1,500 black settlers in "Queen's Bush Settlement", which included an area eight by twelve miles in size and included the northern half of Wellesley Township, the western portion of Woolwich Township and the southern half of Peel Township. The majority of the black settlers were in Peel Township.

Before 1843, the American Abolition Society built the first church and first school in Peel Township. It was an eight by fourteen foot log cabin on the southeast corner of Lot 18, Concession 1 that also served as home for its founder, Miss Fidelia Coburn, a wealthy young lady from Bloomfield, Maine. A wood stove stood in the middle of the room and rough-hewn desks lined the walls. Moveable log benches filled the centre of the room around the stove while Coburn's bed and person items occupied one corner of the cabin. Coburn called the building the Mount Pleasant Mission. Although the mission was developed for the benefit of fugitive slaves, it attracted white students as well.

A second church and school, called the Mount Hope Mission, was opened on the west half of Lot 13, Concession 3 in 1846. During the 1845-1846 school year, the two missions had a combined attendance of 225 pupils. The building was destroyed by fire in 1848 and rebuilt. With the general exodus of black settlers, the need for the missions decreased and the Mount Hope Mission was closed in 1850. Following a scandal involving moral turpitude and bad fiscal management, the Mount Pleasant Mission closed in the spring of 1853.

Some maintain that Queen Victoria granted a block of land in Peel Township to any Negro who fled the United States to escape slavery. Each family was to receive 50 acres of land.

Field notes from Robert Kerr's survey of Peel Township in 1843 list thirty names of settlers on the eastern side of Concessions 1 through 4 and three names of settlers on the eastern side of Concessions A and B.
- Concession 1: John Brooks, Thomas Keith, Josephus Malot, Jacob Darcy, Henry Murphy, Samuel White, John Little, Isaac Johnston, Houlan Baily, Thomas Gibbs, Henson Lewis, George Harris, John Levo.
- Concession 2: Robert Jackson, Isaac Lewis, Samuel Nelson, Loudon Harris, John W. Levy, Austin Dickson, Henry Ausburn
- Concession 3: John Frances, Alfred Gilcree, David Charles, John Tillman, George Bowie, Larkin Anderson, Joseph Anderson, Joseph Whitmore, Everain Pike
- Concession 4: Dilman Whitmore
- Concession A: George Fenwick
- Concession B: Francis Martin, Joseph Carson

Cleared acreage on these settled farms was from one to eight acres. Most of the settlers had built a log house.

The squatters were allowed to purchase lots of 100 acres at prices of $3.00 to $3.50 per acre on installments at 10% interest and annual cash payments, with any remainder to be paid in full after 10 years. Many abandoned their farms in the 1840's because they could not afford the purchase cost. Others lost their claim through coercion or fraud.