Black History Revealed

In commemoration of Black History Month, Mackenzie House, located at 82 Bond St., offered people the opportunity to learn about prominent blacks in Victorian Toronto.

The two hour walking tour, In the Footsteps of Black Victorians, which happens twice a year, took place last weekend.  Guests learned about black individuals who made great contributions to society, despite the prejudice inequality that was prevalent in Toronto during the Victorian era.

“What we hope to accomplish, is to get more people to be aware of how sizable the black population was in Victorian Toronto.  We want to really hi-light some of the people who made contributions to the city,” Mackenzie House employee, Rita Russa said. “Because a lot of our history tends to focus on white males.  This (the tour) is a good way for us to show that there were a lot more black individuals during that time, doing really good things.”

The tour took participants on a walk showing various landmarks. Partakers learned about individual such as Henry Bibb, a black publisher and William Peyton Hubbard, the first alderman of Toronto.

Despite the rarely publicized significance of these people, Mackenzie House is not the first to publicly recognize one of these figures.

In 1992, Ontario Hydro established an award in William Peyton Hubbard’s honour, for black university and college students enrolled in an engineering program.  Since then, the company’s successor, Hydro One has continued this tradition, distributing scholarships twice a year.

“This award is in recognition of the fact that William Peyton Hubbard was very passionate about public ownership of hydroelectricity,” Hydro One employee, Matthew Devine said.

Hubbard, born in Toronto in 1842, entered politics in 1893 and became the alderman for ward four in 1894.  He was the first black politician elected.  He served on the council for twenty years and to this date, holds the longest term in office.

As a politician he used his voice to help other minorities transition into society.  He is well known for his work with Sir Adam Beck, the founder of Hydro One and their perseverance for a publicly owned hydroelectric company.  In 1907, Hubbard saw his dream come true with the birth of Hydro One.

Devine says that Hubbard’s urges towards publicly owned electricity has played a vital role in the hydro industry today.

“There was a great feeling that this is an industry that should be under public control and look at where we are right now.  We have had a century of publicly owned electricity,” he said. “We (Hydro One) are still technically owned by the government, so it is still in the public hand and I say that is his legacy.”

Although Hubbard is widely known for his role in Canadian politics, Mackenzie House recognizes him for his heroic actions before his political career.

“He actually saved George Brown (one of the fathers of confederation) from drowning in the Don River when his carriage overturned and George Brown hired Mr. Hubbard to be his personal driver and then later encouraged him to run for city council,” Russa said.

With organizations like Hydro One and Mackenzie House’s In the Footsteps of Black Victorians, Barbara Young, 40, a past tour participant, became aware of people she never knew existed.

“I had no idea that there were so many prestigious blacks during that time.  I never even knew there was such a high black population in Toronto in the late nineteenth century to early twentieth century,” she said.  “All the years I went to school, I was never taught about any of this, so the tour really opened my eyes to how deep black history really goes in Toronto.”

In the Footsteps of Black Victorians will take place again around Aug. 1, to celebrate the anniversary of Emancipation Day in Canada.