Great Books on Black History in Toronto and Ontario
For Black History Month, here are some titles about our province's richly diverse past.
For other reading lists and upcoming programs, see our Black History and Culture page. Also be sure to check out our Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection.
I've Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad
Thornton Blackburn escaped slavery in the US in the early 1800s and came to Canada and his legal case established Canada as a safe terminus for the Underground Railway. He settled in Toronto with his wife Lucie where they started Toronto's first cab company and were very successful. They were also anti-slavery activists.
Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century
"Mary Ann Shadd Cary was a courageous and outspoken 19th-century African American Woman who used the press and public speaking to fight slavery and oppression."
See also this blog post: Celebrating Mary Ann Shadd, Canada's First Black Female Newspaper Publisher
The Underground Railroad: Next Stop, Toronto! (new edition 2022)
"Explores Toronto’s role as a destination for thousands of freedom seekers before the American Civil War."
Daddy Hall: A Biography in 80 Linocuts
"John "Daddy" Hall, a man of Mohawk and African-American descent who survived war, capture and slavery to become a pillar of the community in 19th-century Owen Sound ... a freeman, a scout ... a husband and a father."
- Broken Shackles: Old Man Henson From Slavery to Freedom
- Did You Know? Owen Sound & Underground Railroad
The Promised Land: History and Historiography of the Black Experience in Chatham-Kent's Settlements and Beyond
"Eschewing the often romanticized Underground Railroad narrative that portrays southern Ontario as the welcoming destination of Blacks fleeing from slavery, The Promised Land reveals the Chatham-Kent area as a crucial settlement site for an early Black presence in Canada."
Crossing the Border: A Free Black Community in Canada
"In 1849, the Reverend William King and fifteen of his former slaves founded the Canadian settlement of Buxton on a 9,000-acre block of land in Ontario... an agricultural community that supported three schools, four churches, a hotel, and a post office, Buxton was home to almost seven hundred residents at its height."
Against All Odds: The Story of William Peyton Hubbard: Black Leader and Municipal Reformer
"Popular Toronto politician who began his career as a baker and became alderman in the most affluent, white ward of the city; one of the first elected controllers, and finally acting-mayor of Toronto. Hubbard, a reformer on municipal issues ... He was returned to office 15 times ... became the most important municipal politician of the period -- at a time when most Blacks were still barred from Toronto hotels, restaurants and bars."
Anderson Ruffin Abbott: First Afro-Canadian Doctor
"Anderson Ruffin Abbott, son of a wealthy properties speculator ... Graduating from the Toronto School of Medicine in 1861 he became the first Canadian of African descent to train as a physician. He was one of only eight black surgeons in the Union Army during the American Civil War." In 1871 he settled in Chatham Ontario and become Kent County's first Black coroner.
See also: Anderson Ruffin Abbott, the First Black Doctor Born in Canada
Family Secrets: Crossing the Colour Line
"Catherine Slaney grew into womanhood unaware of her celebrated Black ancestors... Her great-grandfather was Dr. Anderson Abbott, the first Canadian-born Black to graduate from medical school in Toronto in 1861 ... Slaney narrates her journey along the trail of her family tree."
Ontario's African-Canadian Heritage Collected Writings by Fred Landon, 1918-1967
"The collected works of Professor Fred Landon, who for more than 60 years wrote about African-Canadian history. The selected articles have, for the most part, never been surpassed by more recent research and offer a wealth of data"
The Journey from Tollgate to Parkway: African Canadians in Hamilton
"Looks at the history of blacks in the Ancaster-Burlington-Hamilton area."
Moving Beyond Borders: A History of Black Canadian and Caribbean Women in the Diaspora
"The first book-length history of Black health care workers in Canada."
See also: Women in the "Promised Land": Essays in African Canadian History
Go to School, You're a Little Black Boy: The Honourable Lincoln M. Alexander
"Born in Toronto in 1922, the son of a maid and a railway porter, Alexander embarked on an exemplary life path that has involved military service for his country, a successful political career, a thriving law career, and vocal advocacy."
See also this TPL blog post: Ever Consider a Career in Politics? Learn from the late and great Lincoln Alexander
Bromley, Tireless Champion for Just Causes: Memoirs of Bromley L. Armstrong
"Bromley Armstrong, is a black Canadian civil rights leader born in 1926. He was active in the nascent civil rights era in Canada ... and a committed union activist ... He was also active in promoting equal rights for African-Canadians ... He was awarded the Order of Canada in 1994."
See also: In Memoriam: Bromley Armstrong, Black Civil Rights and Trade Union Activist
Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada
"Lawrence Hill's remarkable novel, Any Known Blood, a multi-generational story about a Canadian man of mixed race, was met with critical acclaim ... Now Hill, himself a child of a black father and white mother, brings us ... a provocative and unprecedented look at ... the experiences of thirty-six other Canadians of mixed race."
See also: I Am My Father's Son: A Memoir Of Love And Forgiveness by Dan Hill