Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Another City of the Dead

Toronto's Necropolis

On a previous visit to Toronto, I discovered that Toronto has a Necropolis, like in Glasgow Scotland. Necropolis means “City of the Dead”, and Toronto’s version is in Cabbagetown, not far from the condo, and I discovered that Heritage Toronto had guided walks focused on the black history in Toronto’s Necropolis. 

This cemetery is a non-profit nondenominational one and a wide range of folk are buried here, many being moved from an older city cemetery. There are over 50,000 souls buried here, many in unmarked graves. These cemeteries were often used for the dead who could not afford an expensive burial, but it is also a beautiful spot in a lovely location so many prominent members of Toronto society elected to be here as well. In fact on our first visit here on an earlier trip to Toronto we discovered Jack Layton’s memorial is here as well as Roy Brown who was the WW1 pilot who shot down the “Red Baron”. This guided walk featured information about members of the black population of Toronto who were interned here. 

Our first stop was the memorial to Thornton Blackburn (1812–1890). He was a former slave who escaped to Canada and established the principle that Canada would not return slaves to their “owners” in the US, thus making Canada a safe haven for escaped slaves. Blackburn established the first cab company in Toronto and became very wealthy and respected in the community. The current colours of the Toronto Transit Commission still mirror the colours Blackburn used for his cabs. His gravesite holds not only his family but also many other members of the black community. 

Shipped to Canada

The next stop was a marker for Henry Box Brown, who is famous for escaping slavery in the US by shipping himself in a box to Toronto in 1848. Thus his nickname of “Box”. He became a lecturer and entertainer in Toronto. 

We next visited a small marker that you could no longer read for the first black millionaire in Toronto, James Mink. A movie “Captive Heart” was made about him selling his daughter to a white American who then sold her into slavery in the US, and he had to go rescue her, but apparently it was a complete myth and in fact his daughter was married to a black resident of Toronto. 

Our final stop was at a large gravestone for William Peyton Hubbard (1842–1935) who was the first person of African heritage to be elected to city council and was known as “Cicero” for his oratory skills. Although he has a prominent grave marker with his whole family listed, he is actually buried a few yards away across a public path through the cemetery. There was another myth circulating that he rescued newspaper publisher George Brown from drowning in the Don River when the cab he was in went into the river, but Hubbard denies that this happened although he was friends with Brown who was instrumental in encouraging Hubbard to enter politics. 

Another very interesting walk where we gained some more knowledge of the history of Toronto. 

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