New Exhibition at the TD Gallery in Toronto Reference Library Uncovers Toronto’s Black History

January 27, 2015 | Media Relations

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Toronto Public Library is pleased to announce a new exhibition, Freedom City: Uncovering Toronto’s Black History that celebrates the early black citizens of Toronto. Through original paintings, drawings, photographs, manuscripts and broadsides, Freedom City covers the history of black Toronto – from the days of early settlement to the end of the 19th century. The exhibit has been enhanced by the research and contributions of prominent Canadian historians and authors Karolyn Smardz Frost and Afua Cooper.  

Generously sponsored by TD Bank, Freedom City is the latest exhibition at the library’s TD Gallery, located on the main floor of the Toronto Reference Library. The show opens Saturday, January 31, 2015 at 9 a.m. and runs until Sunday, March 29, 2015. 

What:              Freedom City: Uncovering Toronto’s Black History
When:             January 31 to March 29, 2015   
Where:            TD Gallery, Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge Street – Main Level
Hours:             Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
                       Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
                       Sunday, 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.  

Freedom City is part of a larger series of Black History Month programs and events held at library branches throughout the city. 

Exhibition Highlights:

  • British Imperial Act of 1790 which allowed Loyalists and others moving to Canada to bring their slaves with them – tax free!
  • A letter from a fugitive slave, Henry Lewis, offering to purchase his freedom from his former owner, William Jarvis.
  • The earliest known photograph of an African Canadian woman in Toronto.
  • Photographs of Anderson Ruffin Abbott, the first black doctor in Canada, honoured by Mary Todd Lincoln for his service during the American Civil War.
  • School registers and prize lists showing African Canadian students excelling in their studies.
  • Portrait of William Peyton Hubbard, the only black deputy mayor in the history of Toronto (on loan from the City of Toronto Art Collection, Heritage & Museums Services).
  • A video featuring historian Afua Cooper tracing the development and importance of the Underground Railroad in Canada.

Media Preview:

Members of the media are invited for a pre-opening tour between 2 and 4 pm on Thursday, January 29, 2015. Please contact Edward Karek at 416-397-5925 or to reserve a spot.

Electronic images of gallery material are available upon request. 

Related Programming:

Freedom City: Uncovering Toronto’s Black History. With Toronto Star’s Royson James in conversation with historian Karolyn Smardz Frost.

Monday Feburary 9, 2015, 7 pm

Toronto Reference Library – Atrium

789 Yonge Street


Film Screening: Amazing Grace. The idealist William Wilberforce maneuvers his way through Parliament, endeavoring to end the British transatlantic slave trade.

Monday February 23, 2015, 2 pm

Toronto Reference Library – Elizabeth Beeton Auditorium

789 Yonge Street


Exhibit Tours with the Curator Tania Henley  

February 23 following the screening of Amazing Grace, 4 pm

February 11, 2 pm

March 4, 2 pm

March 18, 2 pm


Visit our website for a complete list of Black History Month programs.


The 2015 TD Gallery season is generously sponsored by TD Bank. It will feature five unique exhibitions in addition to Freedom City including Exposed: Highlights from the Toronto Star Photograph Archive (April 11 – June 14, 2015), Toronto’s Sporting Past (July 4 – September 5, 2015), John J. Audubon’s Birds of America (September 26 – November 29, 2015) and Sendak 50 (December 19 – January 31, 2016).


About the TD Gallery in the Toronto Reference Library

A relaxed, contemporary exhibit space at the heart of the city, the TD Gallery at the Toronto Reference Library is a space for Torontonians and visitors alike to connect with our collective cultural memory. Stories are told and histories explored through rare and unique items – including art, manuscripts, sculpture, books and artifacts – curated from over four million pieces collected by the library since 1884. Many exhibits also feature complementary contributions from cultural and community partners. 

About TD Bank

TD Bank Group invests in communities in order to effect positive change in the places where it operates and where its clients and employees live and work. In 2014, TD donated over $82 million to support community organizations in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. In Canada, TD focuses on education and financial literacy, creating opportunities for young people and the environment. For more information, please visit


About Toronto Public Library

Toronto Public Library is one of the world's busiest urban public library systems. Every year, 18 million people visit our branches in neighbourhoods across the city and borrow more than 32 million items. To learn more about Toronto Public Library, visit our website at or call Answerline at 416-393-7131. To get the most current updates on what's happening at the library, follow us on Twitter @torontolibrary.


Media Contact/Media Image Reproduction:

Edward Karek, Communications Officer 416-397-5925