Toronto Public Library and Canadian Commission for UNESCO thrilled to announce the inclusion of the Anderson Ruffin Abbott archive in the Canada Memory of the World Register

March 23, 2023 | Media Relations

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Toronto Public Library and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO are pleased to announce that the Anderson Ruffin Abbott archive has been added to the Canada Memory of the World Register. UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme intends to showcase the most significant elements of the world’s documentary heritage.

Anderson Ruffin Abbott (1837-1913) was the first Canadian-born Black physician. He was also a journalist, educator and hospital administrator. The archive consists of books, legal documents, correspondence, manuscripts, newspaper clippings, notebooks, scrapbooks, photographs and artifacts. It documents the achievements of an outspoken advocate for the Black community during a transformative time in North American history.

Anderson Ruffin Abbott's Canadian passport
Anderson Ruffin Abbott's Canadian passport.
Assorted items from Toronto Public Library's Anderson Ruffin Abbott archive.Assorted items from Toronto Public Library's Anderson Ruffin Abbott archive.

Motivated by a passion to serve the Black community at large, Abbott was a civilian surgeon in the Union army during the American Civil War and became the first Black Major and Surgeon of the 7th United States Colored Troops. He went on to play a role in the founding of Howard University in Washington and became a trusted associate of Abraham Lincoln. When Abbott returned to Ontario he practiced medicine in Toronto and Chatham, and was later appointed coroner for Kent County. Abbott was an outspoken journalist in his advocacy for Black communities, actively opposing racial segregation in schools and writing many opinionated articles on history, religion and culture.

This archive sheds light on an exceptional Canadian and the history of race relations in North America during the turbulent nineteenth century. Although the British Empire abolished slavery in 1834, Black people continued to experience racist treatment and limitations in many aspects of social, political and economic life in Canada. The tension over slavery was also a key driver of the American Civil War, which began in 1861 – the same year that Abbott became a licensed physician.

“It’s wonderful that the legacy of Anderson Ruffin Abbott, the first Canadian-born Black physician and a person of many national and international accomplishments, is being honoured this way. Toronto Public Library is proud to steward and provide access to this significant and notable collection of documentary heritage,” said Vickery Bowles, City Librarian, Toronto Public Library.

“Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott was an influential figure in the story of Canada and we are proud to recognize the significance of his archive through this designation. As we mark the United Nations Decade for People of African Descent, it is an opportunity to learn more about his accomplishments and advance the causes of equality that he championed throughout his lifetime,” said Cody Groat, Chair, Canadian Advisory Committee for Memory of the World.

The Anderson Ruffin Abbott archive is part of Toronto Public Library’s Baldwin Collection of Canadiana. Toronto Public Library has started to digitize the Abbott archive, and will continue digitizing items throughout 2023.

What is the significance of being included in the Memory of the World Register? 

The Canada Memory of the World Register provides universal access to our artistic, cultural, economic, geographic, linguistic, political, scientific, spiritual and identity-based heritage. It also highlights the importance of making these unique collections accessible to students, researchers and the general public. 
The Canadian Advisory Committee for Memory of the World is made up of experts who review nominations and make recommendations to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO on which collections should be included in the Canada Memory of the World Register. 

About the Canadian Commission for UNESCO 

The Canadian Commission for UNESCO serves as a bridge between Canadians and the vital work of UNESCO—the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Through its networks and partners, the Commission promotes UNESCO’s values, priorities and programs in Canada and brings the voices of Canadian experts to the international stage. It operates under the authority of the Canada Council for the Arts. 

About Toronto Public Library

Toronto Public Library is the world's busiest urban public library system, with more than 46 million annual visits to our branches and online. We empower Torontonians to thrive in the digital age and knowledge economy through easy access to technology, lifelong learning, and diverse cultural and leisure experiences, where, when and how our customers need us. To learn more, visit, email Answerline at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and subscribe to email updates. Enjoy our digital collections at


Vanessa Poulin-Gladu 
Manager, Public Affairs 
[email protected]

TPL Media Relations

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