Southwest Ontario's Black History

By 1860, over 20,000 Blacks could be found in Canada West, most of whom had left the United States in order to escape either slavery or the restrictive life free Blacks were forced to lead even in the northern states in the years before the Civil War. While the free Blacks could emigrate on their own, most of the escaped slaves, known as “fugitives,” arrived in Canada via the Underground Railroad which developed in the 1820s and 1830s. The Underground Railroad was a network of escape routes and sanctuaries manned by abolitionists, Quakers and former slaves, who provided food, lodging, directions and transportation. In some cases, fugitive slaves traveled as much as 1000 miles with little more than a compass and a loaf of bread.
In strictly legal terms, Canada West was a haven for Blacks, slave and free. As early as 1793, the importation of slaves into the province was prohibited and, in 1834, slavery itself was declared illegal throughout much of the British Empire. However, prejudice and racist attitudes were commonplace wherever Blacks settled, particularly after 1850, when the escaped slave population dramatically increased following the passing of the American Fugitive Slave Act. The Act allowed slave hunters to come into the northern states and retrieve runaways still considered property under the law. The Act also required state and local authorities to assist in the return of escaped slaves.
While the Black population of Canada West greatly increased after 1850, there were already several Black settlements in southwestern Ontario, some of which had been specifically established to provide a home for escaped slaves. While many were short-lived, during the time that they flourished the Black settlements were proof that former slaves could build successful lives for themselves, refuting claims to the contrary.


Middlesex-Elgin Counties

Oxford County


Amherstburg Freedom Museum

Black History Museum

The Amherstburg Freedom Museum welcomes all people of all ages to experience the history of the Underground Railroad. The Amherstburg Freedom Museum is a curated archive that preserves and shares Amherstburg’s stories of the Underground Railroad, and the compassion and solidarity it took to make this network possible. The site includes Nazrey AME Church, National Historic Site and a terminus of the Underground Railroad, and the Taylor Log Cabin from the same period that looks like the occupants just stepped out for a moment. It is entirely appropriate, and even necessary, that the Museum was established in Amherstburg. Amherstburg meant freedom, as the Canadian destination for many Freedom Seekers escaping enslavement in the United States. The Museum is uniquely situated to resource a profound history, steeped in its surroundings, to further extend public knowledge and enjoyment.

Henry & Mary Bibb Plaque

SW Ontario's Black History

Henry and Mary Bibb both began their lives in the United States, but under markedly different circumstances. Henry Walton Bibb (1815-54) was born in Kentucky to an enslaved mother Mildred Jackson and an enslaver father Senator John Bibb. He grew up with the brutality of being enslaved, made many attempts at escape, and finally reached Detroit in 1840. He soon became a well-known anti-slavery orator and writer.
Mary Elizabeth Bibb (1820-77) was raised by free Black parents in a Quaker community in Rhode Island. She became a teacher after graduating from the Massachusetts State Normal School in 1843. The pair met at an abolitionist meeting in New York in 1847 and were married the following year in Ohio.
In 1849, Henry published his autobiography Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave Written by Himself. In 1850, when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in the United States both formerly enslaved persons and persons born free were in danger of being forcibly enslaved. With its passing, the couple moved to Sandwich (now part of Windsor). There, they founded a school for Black children where Mary taught. The couple also started a newspaper called Voice of the Fugitive which was the first newspaper in Ontario to be published by persons of African descent.
In Sandwich, the Bibbs provided many freedom seekers with food, clothing and assistance towards finding housing and employment. They were instrumental in the success of the Refugee Home Society which helped many formerly enslaved persons to purchase a home, land or a farm in Essex County.
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Jackson Park Bandshell

SW Ontario's Black History

For many years, Windsor citizens, some of whose ancestors had arrived from the U.S. on the Underground Railroad, celebrated Emancipation Day, which marks the day, August 1, 1834, on which slavery was abolished in the British Empire. In 1932, the Black community decided that they wanted to do something bigger and what became the “Greatest Freedom Show on Earth” was born.
At their peak in the 1950s and 1960s, the city’s Emancipation Day festivities stretched over several days and drew thousands of people from across North America to the city’s Jackson Park venue. Motown stars, like Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and the Temptations, crossed the Detroit River to perform at the park.

John Freeman Walls Historic Site & Underground Railroad Museum

Black History Museum

At the entrance to the John Freeman Walls Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum, there's a historic plaque that reads; In 1846 John Freeman Walls a fugitive slave from North Carolina built this log cabin on land purchased from the Refugee Home Society. This organization was founded by the abolitionist Henry Bibb, published of the Voice Of The Fugitive, and the famous Josiah Henson. The cabin subsequently served as a terminal of the Underground Railroad and the first meeting place of the Puce Baptist Church. Although many former slaves returned to the United States following the American civil war, Walls and his family chose to remain in Canada. The story of their struggles, forms the basis of the book "The Road That Led To Somewhere" by Dr. Bryan Walls erected by Proverbs Heritage Organization with the assistance of Maidstone Township and the ministry of culture and recreation.

McDougall Street Corridor

SW Ontario's Black History

Windsor, like most major cities across Canada during the twentieth century, was home to a dynamic Black community located in the metropolitan core. Situated to the east of the Downtown commercial district, the McDougall Street Corridor was a mostly self-sufficient African Canadian community bound loosely by Riverside Drive East, Goyeau Street, Giles Street East, and Howard Avenue.
Aptly named for the heavy concentration of Black families along one of Windsor’s oldest streets, this historic neighbourhood emerged during the mid-nineteenth century as African American freedom seekers and free people of colour crossed the Detroit River in search of refuge from enslavement and oppression.

Puce First Baptist Church

SW Ontario's Black History

The origins of First Baptist Church go back to the 1840s, when Black settlers from the United States began to form a farming community in this area. Their numbers increased during the 1850s when the Refugee Home Society purchased lands along the Puce River to sell to freedom seekers from the American South. Religion played an important role in community life. At first Baptists and Methodists worshipped in the same building, but by the early 1860s they had their own churches. This church built in 1964, replaced a frame church that had served the Baptist congregation since 1871. It stands today as a symbol of the cultural and spiritual continuity of the Black community at Puce.
Irene Moore Davis, “Canadian Black Settlements in the Detroit River Region,” in A Fluid Frontier: Slavery, Resistance, and the Underground Railroad in the Detroit River Borderland.

S.S. #11 Colchester Township South

SW Ontario's Black History

School Section #11 was a rural school built in the early 20th century in a mainly Black school section. As with most “one-room” schools in the province, all grades from one to eight were taught together. It was one of several schools in Essex and Kent that remained under the control of separate boards of trustees elected in predominantly Black areas. Legislation allowing for separate white and Black schools in Canada West (Ontario) was passed in the 1850s, a time when large numbers of formerly enslaved persons sought refuge in southern Ontario. White residents in most districts refused to send their children to integrated schools, so the government was left with little choice but to allow Black persons to organize their own schools. Predominantly Black school sections were often not as well off as the neighbouring white sections and so their schools were often underfunded. As late as the 1960s, this legislation was still on the books in Ontario.
Over 50 students were still attending S.S. #11 in the early 1960s when other one-room schools in the township began to be closed. This period, known as consolidation, saw one-room schools close all over Ontario and the students bussed to a central school in each township. At first it appeared that S.S. #11 would be left out of the process. However, the parents, with the help of the South Essex Citizens’ Advancement Association, led by George McCurdy Jr., brought their case to the township board which also received a visit from then Minister of Education Bill Davis. The board agreed to send the students to the new consolidated school in Harrow which would be opening in September, 1965, along with school’s two teachers, and S.S. #11 was finally closed.
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Salem Cemetery

SW Ontario's Black History

This cemetery is all that remains of a Black settlement once located near the hamlet of Salem (sometimes called New Salem) which was centred around Division Road and what is now Road 3 West. A number of Black families, many of whom had escaped slavery, took up residence in the area establishing a Baptist church known as Shiloh, which once stood on Road 3 West, not far from this location.
In 1837, the land for this cemetery was purchased by John W. Williams, the first Black landowner in Gosfield, which has since been amalgamated into the Town of Kingsville. Williams purchased the property from Reverend Richard Herrington, a preacher who brought the Baptist faith to this area. Much of the history of this early Black settlement is unknown. This sacred ground is the only known African Canadian cemetery in the former Township of Gosfield.
This cemetery was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act in 2005, the year a monument listing the names of the area’s Black settlers was unveiled on the site.
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Sandwich First Baptist Church

SW Ontario's Black History

Erected in 1851 on land donated by the Crown, the Sandwich First Baptist Church (a National Historic Site) represents the once numerous Black border-town churches which were built to serve the rapidly increasing numbers of Underground Railroad settlers. This church received, sheltered, and assisted many of these new arrivals. All members were required to aid in its construction by giving donations or making bricks. It replaced a log cabin on Hill Street in Olde Sandwich Towne whose use as a Black church dated back to the early 1820s.
A focal point for many local anti-slavery activities, the Sandwich First Baptist Church stands as an important symbol of that struggle. When a bounty hunter was seen in the area, a bell was rung and every person who heard the ringing of the bell picked up a bell and began to ring it so that those who had escaped from the South would have time to hide in a designated spot in the church. The pastor would lock the door at the hearing of the bell. When all the formerly enslaved people were hidden away he would instruct his church to start singing "There’s a Stranger at the Door" and the church doors would be opened. Unable to find whoever they were looking for; the bounty hunter would leave empty handed.
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Smith Black Cemetery

SW Ontario's Black History

Beginning in the 1830s, at least 30 families fleeing enslavement and racial oppression in the United States settled in the Banwell Road area in Sandwich East. They had the opportunity to purchase land through two Black-organized land settlement programs – the Colored Industrial Society (a mission of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Sandwich East) and the Refugee Home Society (administered by Black abolitionists Henry and Mary Bibb). Freedom and land ownership meant self-determination and financial security. Settlers purchased 10- or 25-acre parcels of land on which to build homes and farms. The A.M.E. church held 25 acres in trust to construct a church and a school – and for a burial ground at the site, namely, the Smith family cemetery – located here. These families created a strong sense of community by establishing institutions and advocating for social justice. The Banwell Road area Black settlement contributed to the history, economy and culture of the region, and paved the way for their descendants to live fulfilled, free lives.
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Tower of Freedom Monument

SW Ontario's Black History

From the early 19th century until the American Civil War, settlements along the Detroit and Niagara rivers were important terminals of the Underground Railroad. White and black abolitionists formed a heroic network dedicated to helping free and enslaved African Americans find freedom from oppression. By 1861, some 30,000 freedom seekers resided in what is now Ontario, after secretly travelling north from slave states like Kentucky and Virginia. Some returned south after the outbreak of the Civil War, but many remained, helping to forge the modern Canadian identity.
The Tower of Freedom, created by sculptor Ed Dwight, honours the flight of the freedom seekers along the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad is bi-nationally commemorated by two monuments, representing its final stops.
The Detroit monument, located in Hart Plaza, depicts the Gateway to Freedom and features a bronze sculpture of six formerly enslaved persons about to leave for Canada. The monument acknowledges many people in Detroit and their participation in the Underground Railroad movement. The Windsor counterpart depicts their arrival into Canada and their overwhelming emotion upon encountering freedom.

Shadrach Martin

Middlesex County's Black History

George Taylor's barber shop at 145 King Street. Left to right: Will Taylor, Shadrach Martin and Thomas Logan.
Shadrach Martin, known as "Shack,” was born in Nashville in 1833. He said his father was a free man and his mother was a former slave, whose freedom had been purchased by her future husband. By age 11, he was working on a steamboat as a cabin boy. At age 13, he became apprenticed to a barber in Memphis and later moved to Cincinnati, where he stayed until he moved to London in 1854. In the depression of the late 1850s, Shack returned to the United States, where he obtained work as a barber on a Mississippi steamboat. At the beginning of the American Civil War, he was encouraged by one of his regular customers, a Union gunboat captain, to enlist in the navy. He was accepted and served for two years on the captain’s gunboat. Receiving his honourable discharge in May, 1863, he returned to London where he became one of the best-known barbers in the city. As early as 1868, Shadrack Martin and James Worthington were operating a barber shop together in the Tecumseh House Hotel. Then the best hotel in the city, it was located near the Great Western Railway station on York Street, where the Via station is today. George Taylor and his partner, William Newman, had a shop that same year in Strong’s Hotel which was on Dundas Street, just east of Richmond.
Barbering was a traditional Black occupation and, in these years, they would have served an all-white clientele. Martin’s customers included London’s long-time MP Sir John Carling and John Labatt the brewery owner.

Wilberforce Settlement Mural

Public Art

This is the Wilberforce Settlement Mural located at 180 Main Street, Lucan.
Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Colborne’s response to a request from Cincinnati Black leaders to establish a settlement in Upper Canada, 1829:
"Tell the republicans on your side of the line that we royalists do not know men by their colour. Should you come to us, you will be entitled to all the privileges of the rest of His Majesty's Subjects."
Wilberforce, founded in 1829, was one of the earliest settlements attempted by African-Americans in Upper Canada. It was initiated by residents of Cincinnati, Ohio, a free state which was located across the Ohio River from Kentucky, a slave state. Both Black refugees from the south and Free Blacks were arriving in the city seeking jobs, joined by a growing number of Irish immigrants. By 1829 when rioting broke out there were 25,000 people in the city, most seeking work and housing. In June, 1829, to put the Black population at a disadvantage, the city voted to enforce the "Black Law,” a statute that had been on the books for over 25 years, requiring Blacks put up a bond of $500.00 immediately or face expulsion. Then, in August, violence erupted, when over 200 whites attacked the Black neighbourhoods in an attempt to force their departure. Unable to pay the bond and with the threat of violence close at hand, many Blacks sought new homes.
A colonization society was formed and Upper Canada was decided on as a potential place of safety. Two representatives met personally with the Lt-Gov. of the day, Sir John Colborne, who enthusiastically welcomed them. They had come at a time when a large tract of land, including what is now Huron County, had just been opened up for settlement. It is possible that Colborne directed them to this land which had been put under the management of a private company called the Canada Company. Seeking to escape city life, they agreed to purchase 4000 acres in Biddulph Township, then part of the tract, at a total cost of $6000.00.
Within weeks, as many as 1500 Blacks departed the city, most making their way to Canada where they dispersed to various locations. 18 families were known to have crossed from Sandusky to Port Stanley, but only 5 or 6 of them walked the additional 35 miles to the township which had just been surveyed. Funding the immense purchase had proved impossible and only at the last minute did Quakers in Ohio and Indiana provide funds to purchase 800 acres located along the main settlement road (now Highway 4). Arriving in the Upper Canada wilderness must have posed a challenge for the settlers. Yet they persevered and were soon joined by several families from the Boston area. By 1832 the settlement was composed of log houses, crops, livestock, saw mills, stores, and a school.
The settlement came to be led by Austin Steward a successful grocer in Rochester who had escaped slavery himself. He heard about the settlement at a convention in Philadelphia he attended in 1830. After an initial visit, he sold his business and brought his family to live there in 1831. He stayed for six years during which time he served as the president of the management board for the settlement. It was Steward who named the settlement after a prominent British abolitionist, William Wilberforce.
The first few years were tough for the settlement. It was unable to grow because the Canada Company was unwilling to sell additional land to prospective settlers fearing it would deter white settlement. As well, Irish immigrants were arriving in increasing numbers creating the potential for tension. Also, many of the initial settlers were finding the gruelling work of creating farms out of a wilderness overwhelming and decided to move on. A population which had reached about 70 by the mid-1830s began to dwindle over the next several years. Steward himself left in 1837. The settlement later contained the small village of Marysville. It would grow rapidly once the Grand Trunk Railway came through in 1859 and was thereafter renamed Lucan.

African Methodist Episcopal

Middlesex County's Black History

The African Methodist Episcopal Church at 275 Thames Street.
Many of Upper Canada’s earliest Black settlers were members of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church which formed an Upper Canada Conference in 1840. In the early 1840s, a London Circuit of the AME was formed and around 1848 a church was built on Thames Street, the centre of early Black settlement in London.
At this time, there were about 300 Black residents in London supporting a total of three churches - two Methodist and one Baptist. This population continued to increase particularly after the passage in the United States of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. The Act was one reason that caused the Canadian AME churches to break away from their American parent in 1856 and form the British Methodist Episcopal (BME) Church.
In the early 1860s, London’s BME minister, Rev. Lewis C. Chambers, reported on the success he’d had in establishing a temperance society, encouraging Sabbath schools, and in the growth of the congregation. In fact, several years later they purchased a lot on Grey Street, in an area where many in the congregation now lived. Here, they built a new church, in 1868, naming it Beth Emanuel. The little wooden chapel was then sold and for many years was used as a house.
When the original church building on Thames Street was threatened with demolition in 2013, Beth Emanuel offered to provide it with a new home. Hundreds of private citizens assisted by the City of London contributed to the relocation of the chapel to a lot next to Beth Emanuel. At the time of writing (2022), the BMEC has offered the chapel to the Fanshawe Pioneer Village. If sufficient funds are raised this historic building might soon find a new home there to tell the history of Black settlement in the area, North American enslavement, and the Underground Railroad.
Unable to proceed with the project, the former church was later offered to Fanshawe Pioneer Village, London’s living history museum. After extensive fundraising, the building was moved to the Village in 2022 where it was restored and opened in 2023.

Aeolian Hall

Historic Site

This was the site of the first convention of the Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People in 1927.
It "is not what we were yesterday, not yet is it what we are today that gives us so much hope, but it is, according to the handwriting on the wall, what we shall be tomorrow. And thus we have chosen our name: The Dawn of Tomorrow.” - Robert Paris Edwards, Associate Editor, The Dawn of Tomorrow, July 14, 1923
Following WWI, the Black community in London began slowly to grow again, rising to about 250 people by 1930. This was the estimate made by the Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People, an organization founded in London in 1924. The League, whose leadership included both Black and White Londoners, was organized "to improve the condition of the coloured people of Canada,” particularly through the provision of educational opportunities for the young.
The founding of the League was mainly the work of James F. Jenkins, a Georgia native who had been a resident of London since 1907. The League had an official newspaper, The Dawn of Tomorrow, which Jenkins had founded in 1923. The Dawn carried news of interest to the Black community, much of it originating in the United States. It also brought the Black communities in other Ontario towns and cities closer together by listing their activities in columns of social and church notices. It was also Jenkins’s intention to "chronicle any achievements of (the) people and any advance that would spur young people to self effort.”
James Jenkins died suddenly following surgery in 1931. His widow Christina (later Mrs. Frank Howson), who had, from the beginning, supported and encouraged her husband’s work, carried on the publication of The Dawn of Tomorrow with the help of her large family. The success of the newspaper, at first a weekly and then a monthly publication, is a testament to the dedication of the Jenkins family. At its height, about 1971, it had a total circulation of 48,000, and 21,000 subscribers in various parts of the world.
Selected editions are available on-line at the Full files of the newspaper are at the Ivey Family London Room, London Public Library and the Archives at Western University.
Program for the first convention of the Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People, 1927 is

Colonial Church & School Society

Middlesex County's Black History

An artillery gun sleigh, drawn up in front of the British Army barracks in what is now Victoria Park.
Following the Rebellion of 1837, regiments of the British Army were posted to various places in the Canadas. In London, a base covering a large area was established on the north edge of town, part of which would later become Victoria Park. The barracks, which usually housed part of a regiment, were almost empty during the 1853-56 Crimean War and immediately thereafter.
It was during this time that the Colonial Church and School Society was offered part of the Royal Artillery barracks for use as a school. The Society had been organized to minister to settlers in far-flung reaches of the colonies. One section was set up to provide schooling to those in the colonies who had been freed by the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 and to the formerly enslaved who had escaped to Canada. They located their Canada West school in London, where the rapidly growing Black population had reached an estimated 350 by 1855. There was also support there from the Anglican clergy and laity. During this period, few Black children were attending the common schools because of the vociferous opposition to their presence from white parents. This prejudice often extended to the teaching staff.
The school was led by the Rev. M. M. Dillon, a member of the Society in England and a proponent of integrating the Society’s schools. He had volunteered to lead the mission to Canada West himself. Prominent white families impressed with the discipline and a religiously-infused curriculum also sent their children to the school. In June of 1855, Benjamin Drew, an American abolitionist then touring Canada West, found 175 students at the school, 50 of whom were Black. The total number of school-aged children in the Black community was 96 in 1862. Rev. Dillon left London in 1856 due to ill-health and, losing its driving force, the school closed two years later.
Not everyone supported the initiative. Mary Ann Shadd, editor of the Provincial Freeman newspaper in Chatham, called it misguided charity. She argued that Blacks, who paid taxes to support the public schools, should have equal access to them. However, it was very difficult to overcome the widespread white opposition to integrated schools. In fact, in 1863, the school board decided to build a separate school for Black students. This did not happen, possibly because of the decline in the Black population following the end of the Civil War.

Beth Emanuel Church

Historic Black Church

Beth Emanuel British Methodist Episcopal Church, 430 Grey Street.
The new brick church for the Black Methodist community, dedicated May 16, 1869, had been built to accommodate 200 people. Early preachers included Walter Hawkins (1882), born a slave in Maryland and later a BME Bishop, and Thomas Clement Oliver (1890-91), who had been active in the Underground Railroad. Eventually most pastors and worshippers were Canadian-born, augmented in the twentieth century by immigrants from the Caribbean.
In addition to revenues from the collection plate, the congregation raised funds by hosting an annual southern fried chicken supper, organizing a Christmas bazaar, and holding tag days. The congregation boasted social and outreach groups that responded to a variety of Christian needs: the Brotherhood for men, the Stewardess Board for women, a choir ably led for many years by the noted singer Paul Lewis, a baseball team for boys, and the Women’s Home and Foreign Missionary Society.
Frequently, the congregations of Beth Emanuel and nearby Hill Street Baptist Church met for both celebrations and services. Their combined Sunday schools took the London and Port Stanley Railway to Port Stanley for an annual picnic. Attendance began to decline in the second half of the twentieth century, reaching a low of 30 members in 1969, although friends and adherents increased that number somewhat. In 1991 a fire, resulting in $300,000 damage, caused services to be held in the basement until repairs were completed, with many London churches donating to the project.
In recent decades, Beth Emanuel has evolved into a church providing social outreach to individuals and families in need. Its mother church, formerly on Thames Street, was a sanctuary to those fleeing slavery.

Richard B. Harrison

Historic Black Figure

Richard Berry Harrison (at right, with Mayor George Wenige) points to the location of his former boyhood home on Wellington Street near the river.
Richard B. Harrison (1864-1935) was a London-born actor, whose parents, both former slaves, escaped to Canada in the 1850s. The family remained in London until 1880 when they moved to Detroit, where Harrison trained as an elocutionist. His stage work, which took him all over Canada and the United States, was comprised of dramatic monologues, as well as readings of poetry and literature.
The role that would make him famous was that of "De Lawd” in a play called the Green Pastures. Seen today as somewhat patronizing and fostering African-American stereotypes, the play at the time was well received. It won the Pulitzer Prize for author Marc Connolly in 1931 the same year that Harrison received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal, presented annually for outstanding achievement by a Black American. Harrison toured with a production of the Green Pastures to over 200 cities including London, his hometown.
In 2019, London playwright and actor Jeff Culbert, created a one-man theatre piece entitled "Elocution: The Life of Richard Berry Harrison” starring legendary Canadian actor Walter Borden. It can be heard at

Kay Livingstone

Historic Black Figure

Kay Livingstone, left, and her sister Mrs. Evelyn Johnson in front of Beth Emanuel Church.
Born in 1918, Kay was one of eight children born to James and Christina Jenkins. Her father was a juvenile court judge in London, and was largely responsible for the founding of the Canadian League for the Advancement of Coloured People, in London, in 1924, as a way "to improve the condition of the coloured people of Canada.” The League had an official newspaper, The Dawn of Tomorrow, which Jenkins had founded in 1923. The Dawn brought the Black communities in Ontario towns and cities closer together by listing their activities in columns of social and church notices.
James Jenkins died suddenly following surgery in 1931. His widow Christina (later Mrs. Frank Howson), who had, from the beginning, supported and encouraged her husband’s work, carried on the publication of The Dawn of Tomorrow with the help of her family.
With her parents as an inspiration Kay spent much of her life founding and leading a number of organizations involved in fighting racial discrimination and giving a voice to the Black community’s interests and concerns.
From a young age, she developed an interest in the performing arts, studying music in Toronto and Ottawa. In 1942, she married George Livingstone, and they moved to Toronto where they raised their children. Not confined to the family home, Livingstone maintained a brilliant acting career. She was called "one of Canada’s leading Black actresses” during this time, performing in both amateur and professional productions and having a career in radio.
In the 1950s, as the civil rights movement gained momentum in the United States, Livingstone’s thirst for action and change transformed her social gatherings into a mutual aid association called the Canadian Negro Women’s Association. She served as its first president, from 1951 to 1953, and remained an active member afterward. Livingstone provided the organization’s vision to promote the pride and the contributions of the African Canadian community. Through this organization, Livingstone initiated and organized the first National Congress of Black Women, held in Toronto in April 1973. This filled a void on the political spectrum, as African Canadian women’s concerns were lesser priorities for both the Black civil rights movement and the second wave feminists. Given the event’s success, other conventions followed in cities across Canada, which led to the creation of the permanent organization that exists today.
She worked to involve the nation in a dialogue on the role of women and African-Canadians as a consultant for the Privy Council of Canada. In 1975, during the United Nation’s International Women’s Year, she travelled the country with a plan to organize a national conference of women who belong to a visible minority. Livingstone died suddenly in the summer of 1975, leaving the Black community in a state of shock. Her story is one of a fighter who worked tirelessly for the African-Canadian community and for the betterment of society.
(Reproduced from the designation of Kathleen 'Kay' Livingstone as a National Historic Person by the Government of Canada, 2011).

Lloyd Graves

Historic Black Figure

Lloyd Graves and his wife Amanda in front of their home in Mount Salem.
One of the few stories of fugitive slaves arriving in Port Stanley is that of Lloyd Graves. He escaped his "master” in Kentucky around 1854 after hearing that he was to be "sold south” meaning to a cotton or sugar plantation in the deep south which promised a life of great hardship. He came north with another fugitive on horses stolen from the master. They were taken across the Ohio River to Cincinnati and hidden in the attic of a house. They continued north to Cleveland, travelling part of the way concealed in a wagon. Here they were put onto a steamer which crossed the lake to Port Stanley.
Graves soon found his way to St. Thomas where he worked for a merchant named Thomas Lindop as a teamster. He eventually earned enough to buy a small farm of several acres on the second concession of Malahide Township. In 1868, he married Amanda Irons, the daughter of a fugitive slave and his wife. At one time her parents had lived on River Road, just east of St. Thomas.
The Graves eventually moved into the village of Mount Salem bringing this small house with them, to which they later built an addition. They had a family of 12 children. Mr. Graves died in 1927 at the age of 105. Mrs. Graves was 99 when she passed away in 1939.

Home of Peter Butler III

Historic Black Figure

Home of Peter Butler III, 158 Princess Street, Lucan.
Peter Butler III’s grandfather was one of the original Wilberforce settlers arriving in the 1830s from the Boston area. He was married to one of three sisters from the Quacum family, women of Indigenous descent each of whom came to the settlement with their husband and children. All three men would have a role in directing the operation of the settlement.
Peter Butler took a circuitous route to get to Biddulph Township working a as caulker in shipyards in Port Dover and Port Stanley along the way. He had escaped slavery in Baltimore where he had been born in 1797, by going to sea for 7 years. On his return, he married Salome Quacum in Marshfield on the coast of Massachusetts, south of Boston. They later moved to Boston, a centre of abolitionist activity and probably heard about the Wilberforce settlement there.
Peter cleared and farmed Lot 5 on the main road between London and Goderich (now Highway 4). Clearing that road was one of the requirements for owning land in the settlement. Today about one half of the town of Lucan is located on what was Lot 5. The town’s establishment and growth were largely the result of the building of the Grand Trunk Railway in 1859, which ran right through Peter’s lot.
These three families were among the few that had remained in the settlement by the end of the 1830s. Clearing the land was hard, progress was slow and some gave up after a few years. Both Peter and his son, Peter II, served the community as healers with their knowledge of herbal remedies.
The third-generation Peter Butler, born in 1859, also farmed and in 1883 became a county constable. He later joined the Ontario Provincial Police, becoming the first Black officer to be hired by the force. Descendants of the family can still be found in Lucan and area.

Port Burwell

Middlesex County's Black History

Bridge Street, looking east towards Otter Creek in Port Burwell.
Port Burwell and Port Stanley received a number of free Black and formerly enslaved immigrants in the years before 1865. Few left a record of any kind so it is difficult to gauge the number that actually arrived on these shores.
Port Burwell was the landing place for many formerly enslaved persons who crossed Lake Erie looking for freedom in Canada. Here, they travelled inland on what is known today as Plank Road (County Road 19), a name it acquired in the 1850s when it was literally paved with wooden planks. In 1849, legislation was passed giving private companies the power to lease public roads and collect tolls. In exchange the roads were to be maintained to certain standards. The best surface obtainable then was plank. Bayham Township was in the midst of a timber boom in the 1850s. Millions of feet of sawn lumber were shipped out every year and it would have been relatively easy to surface a road with planks all the way to Ingersoll.
From the port, fugitives took a stage coach as far inland as Ingersoll. The stage was often driven by Harvey C. Jackson, a well-connected abolitionist. Jackson served as a guide for John Brown when he visited this area in the 1850s, recruiting for his raid on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. Most of the newly arrived fugitives travelled north on the stage where many found jobs cutting wood for the building of the Great Western Railway. As many as 2500 African-Americans were at work on the railways in this part of Canada in 1851. The 1861 census recorded 149 Blacks as resident in Ingersoll, the most common stopping point, but it is likely lower than the actual number.

Port Stanley

Middlesex County's Black History

Elgin County became both a home and a landing point for many free Blacks and formerly enslaved persons. A relatively short trip across Lake Erie brought freedom for many. Port Burwell and Port Stanley received a number of Black immigrants in the years before 1865. Few left a record of any kind so it is difficult to gauge the number that actually arrived on these shores.
At least 18 families fleeing riots and repression in Cincinnati landed at Port Stanley in 1829, on their way to establish a settlement north of London near what is now Lucan. Known as the Wilberforce Settlement, it grew to about 70 people and then declined to just a few families. Its leader Austin Steward, an escaped slave who had later prospered in Rochester, also arrived in Port Stanley in 1831 before heading north.
The narrative of one couple, known only as Peter and Polly, is found in the memoirs of Alexander Ross, a Canadian abolitionist and an agent of the Underground Railway (UGRR). He was responsible for bringing 30 slaves to freedom from the US.
Just before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Ross went to Harrodsburg, located near the middle of Kentucky, then a slave state, pretending to look for a farm to buy in the area. He was given a guide, an enslaved man, who told Ross his wife had been sold to a hotel-keeper in Covington, a town across the Ohio River from Ohio, a free state. He asked Ross for help to escape and to rescue his wife. He sent the man to Cincinnati, providing him with the names of contacts who would hide him once he got there. He then found the man’s wife in Covington and took her away in a row boat to the Ohio side of the river. Ross then departed for Cleveland to make arrangements to get them to Canada. Meanwhile other members of the UGRR shipped the couple to Cleveland in a box marked "hardware and dry goods.” Ross met the train and brought the couple to the docks where they were stowed away on a steam boat by the captain and taken to Port Stanley. From there Ross took the couple to London and found them work.

The B.M.E. Church

Chatham-Kent's Black History

This church and all the other churches of Buxton were envisioned by Rev. William Kings in his dream of the “City of God” that would result from his labors, on behalf of the fugitives arriving in Canada west. As both the architect and the Shepard of the new community, Rev. King planned that one of the cornerstones for his “City of God” would be a strong religious foundation. This, along with education, family values, and a strong economic base would assure that his flock becomes self-sufficient.
The central and most essential institutions in Buxton and in other early Black communities were the church and the school. These gathering places were what gave the people a sense of community and provided instruction, spiritual comfort, opportunities for socialization, protection, and a sense of well-being to the people. Only two of those churches have survived and been in continual use throughout the years of the existence of Buxton - this church and St. Andrews in South Buxton. This Church began as Bethel African Methodist Church in the 1850s with Rev. Blount, a runaway slave, as one of the earliest pastors. This church burned down and was replaced by the present structure in 1866.
The church was one of several B.M.E. churches that left the B.M.E. conference and became British Methodist Churches in an attempt by the people to show their loyalty to the British Crown in their homeland. In other words, around 1856, this church, along with many other African Methodist Episcopal Churches (A.M.E) decided to become independent of their U.S. connection and replace the word “African” with “British” to honour the nation that gave Blacks their freedom. In 2002, this church withdrew from the B.M.E. conference and became incorporated as the North Buxton Community Church, an undenominational church serving the entire community.

The Victoria Chapel

Chatham-Kent's Black History

The B.M.E. Church came in to existence in Chatham, Ontario in 1856. Willis Nazrey was the first bishop of the local church. The first B.M.E. Church in all of Canada was built in Chatham in 1857 on Princess Street. The church soon after became known as the “Victoria Chapel”.

The Bradford house

Chatham-Kent's Black History

This establishment was owned and operated by Mr. John Bradford and his wife Mrs Bradford, better known as Madame Bohee. Madame Bohee along with her mother Madame Hyers were popular vaudeville performers and concert singers who travelled across North America preforming their routine. They were also often joined by another daughter, Chonita on their musical tours.

The Buxton Garage

Chatham-Kent's Black History

Before you cross over the railway tracks, you will see a building across the street from Bradonna Woodworking that used to be the Buxton Garage and Gas Station. Charles “Chug” Shreve was the owner/operator of the local garage. The garage was built in 1945 on property owned by Ira Shadd. He was self taught electrician and mechanic learning as a child. He spent a lot his time tearing things apart to understand how they worked. He was one of the first people who wired homes for electricity and he also wired the school in 1937. He also repaired farm machinery as well. To the left of the building near the old tracks was the location of the Saw Mill.

The Charity Block

Chatham-Kent's Black History

The Charity Block was located at the corner of King and Adelaide Street in the city of Chatham. Owned by James Charity the block was home to a few businesses. James owned the Great Western Boot and Shoe Store in the block. From an early advertisement in 1854, he offered a complete stock of gentlemen, ladies and children’s shoes of every description.
The Charity Block was also more famously home to the Provincial Freeman newspaper during its time in the city of Chatham. Beginning publication in 1853, the Provincial Freeman, a weekly newspaper, advocated for equality, integration and self-sufficiency for the Black community in Canada and the USA.

Chatham Coloured All-Stars

Chatham-Kent's Black History

This photo shows the famous baseball player Earl 'Flat' Chase outside his home in Chatham. An all-Black group of men began playing baseball together in 1932 at Stirling Park in the east-side of Chatham and in later years had players even join from Walpole Island First Nations.
In 1933, Archie Stirling, a Chatham business man in Chatham's east-side and local representative for the OBAA noticed the skills and talent of the team and helped get them into the city's baseball league where they played against the white teams of the city.

The First Baptist Church

Chatham-Kent's Black History

The First Baptist Church in Chatham first appeared in the Amherstburg Baptist Association records in 1845 with Elder Stephen White as their paster. Membership to the church numbered nine people at that time.

Henry Weaver

Chatham-Kent's Black History

Henry and his wife Annie were both born enslaved in South Carolina in the 1830s. With their one daughter named Caroline, they decided they were going to escape the bonds of slavery on foot. Family history tells us that at one time on their journey to freedom Henry hid under his wife’s skirt to avoid detection on their escape.

Village of North Buxton

Chatham-Kent's Black History

The village of North Buxton was laid out by Enos & Sarah Johnson in 1874, on land owned by them on lots 9 and 10, Concession 8, facing on the Centre Rd. So they were actually the first residents of this tiny hamlet. There were buildings already here, the British Methodist Episcopal Church, the school, the railroad station, the hotel and the lodge as well as a few homes which had been built on the early farms. Among the first merchants were Frederick Griffin, Robert Allen and Elbert Dyke who also opened the first post office in 1875. By 1879, they all kept store in the building which once stood on the corner of Johnston Street and Centre Road. It is interesting to note that there was an old custom in the naming the streets after family members such as Sarah, Johnson, Garrel, Dyke and Charleston.

Papa Prince's Pleasure Parlor

Chatham-Kent's Black History

This is the location of what was once Papa Prince's Pleasure Parlor. Owned by Alpheus Prince, Papa Prince's Pleasure Parlor was extremely popular among the youth of the 1930s and 1940s. It's noted that children would spend their carefully hoarded pennies at the parlor for jawbreakers, candy corn, and jelly beans. The parlor also sold tobacco, gas, and coal oil for oil lamps as most of the community at the time hadn’t yet converted to hydro.

The Shadd Store

Chatham-Kent's Black History

This area is the former site of the Shadd Store last owned by Ira and Saxonia Shadd. In 1934, Ira Shadd opened up the Shadd Store which served the community for many generations. The store also served as a post office and in the back, they had a pool table where community members could come to socialize.

Woodstock Industrial Institute

Chatham-Kent's Black History

The Woodstock Industrial Institute was established in 1908 with the purchase of the former King Street School building. The purpose of this school was to establish an institution to help supplement the waning skilled labour force in the area. Rev. John G. Taylor was elected as the collector for the school in 1908.

Josiah Henson Museum of African-Canadian History

Black History Museum

Recognized internationally for his contribution to the abolition movement, Josiah Henson asserted his leadership as preacher and a conductor on the Underground Railroad. He worked with energy and vision to improve life for the Black community in Upper Canada (now Ontario).
After escaping slavery in Kentucky, 'Father Henson' quickly attained the status of leader within the Underground Railroad community of Southwestern Ontario. In 1841 he co-founded the British American Institute, a vocational school for Underground Railroad refugees.

Wilberforce Educational Institute

Chatham-Kent's Black History

The Wilberforce Educational Institute was opened in Chatham in 1873 in a standard frame building. The creation of this school was from the merger of two institutions, The British American Institute at the Dawn Settlement and the Nazrey Institute. The school was found at the corner of Princess and Wellington Street in Chatham.

Otterville African ME Church & Cemetery


The Otterville African Methodist Episcopal Church was constructed on the outskirts of Otterville by 1856. This structure became the centre for large church camp meetings attended by both Black and white people from the surrounding area. Often the visiting Black minister preached in the Otterville Methodist Church. In 1856, the AME Church in Canada split from its prdecessor in the United States and was renamed the British Methodist Episcopal Church, in order to give it a more Canadian identity. Surrounding the site of the former church is the cemetery, which was restored by the South Norwich Historical Society in 2007.

Ingersoll BME Church

Historic Black Church

The large population of Black Ingersoll residents wanted their own church, and so they built the British Episcopal Church (BME) in 1858. Also called the “Negro Church”, the BME Church was erected on the south side of Catherine Street on the east side of the stream, located near where the majority of Black people in Ingersoll had lived. In addition, many Black people were buried in the Ingersoll Rural Cemetery as well as in Potter’s Field. The Church was built like a barn, with vertical board and batten siding and three large windows to let in light. Reverend Solomon Peter Hale was the last Minister of the BME Church; he died in Ingersoll in 1904. In 1933, the BME Church was sold to R. Cuthbert of Sweaburg who demolished the building and used the lumber to build a hog pen. Few known photographs of the BME Church exist.

Frederick Stover

Historic Black Figure

One of the first settlers in Norwich in 1811, Frederick Stover (1770-1857) was an arch proponent of Black settlement in the Norwich area. Born in Dutchess County, New York, Stover came to Norwich Township with much of his extended family. He owned land on what is now Quaker Street, on which he built a farmstead, as well as donating twenty-five acres of land for the construction of a Meeting House, on which this cemetery now stands. Stover, a Quaker, became an abolitionist on his travels to the Yearly Meetings of the Society of Friends in the United States in the 1830s. Stover was appointed to purchase the land for the Wilberforce settlement in 1830, having corresponded with the Indiana Yearly Meeting’s Standing African Committee.

Ingersoll Cheese Museum


Ingersoll, located in the heart of Southwestern Ontario in Oxford County, was incorporated on January 1, 1852. In the mid-1800s, the size of Ingersoll’s Black community was second only to Chatham in the region. Of the town’s 2,000 residents, 400 were Black. The Ingersoll Cheese & Agricultural Museum was first opened on August 27, 1977, consisting of a re-creation of a 19th century cheese factory. A former barn had been dismantled and the pieces moved to Centennial Park, where they were re-assembled in the shape and design of a typical cheese factory in Oxford County.

Marshall Anderson

Historic Black Figure

Born in Summerville, Norwich Township, in 1845, Marshall Anderson was the son of Hannah and Rev. Lindsay B. Anderson, a preacher at the British Methodist Episcopal church in Otterville. Marshall married Sarah Turner with whom he had a daughter, Frances, ca. 1863. When Sarah died young, Marshall married her sister, Mary, with whom he had two children, Ernest and Maud. The family moved to Woodstock in 1880 after the death of Sarah and Mary’s mother, Mary Turner. The younger Mary, Marshall’s wife, died in 1881.

Milldale Burial Grounds


While many of the Black families in Norwich Township attended the Otterville African Methodist Episcopal church, others chose to attend different churches. Robert (pictured above, left) and Harriet Williams (right) are buried in the Milldale Burial Grounds, a Friends (Quaker) burial ground associated with the Milldale Meeting. Robert and Harriet attended this meeting in their later years.

Norwich & District Historical Society

Oxford County's Black History

The town of Norwich was founded in 1810 by settlers from Dutchess County, New York, many of whom were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers). By the 1830s, these Quaker settlers began to encourage free Black people from the United States to move to Upper Canada. Of these Quakers, Frederick Stover was of particular importance. He became involved in abolitionism as he travelled to Quaker Yearly Meetings in the United States, and was involved with the establishment of the Wilberforce settlement.
Other Norwich Quakers were involved in the abolitionist movement, including town co-founder Peter Lossing. As the dowry from his first marriage, Lossing was offered a number of enslaved people; on receiving these people as property, he not only freed them but helped the adults find work, and the children find new homes. The Norwich and District Museum is housed in one of several Quaker Meeting Houses built in Norwich. This one was constructed in 1889. This building was sold to the Norwich and District Historical Society in 1968 for $1.00 so that it could serve as a permanent museum site, a function it serves to this day.

Otterville Cemetery


The Otterville Cemetery was established in 1892 with no church affiliation. It is the resting place of many Black people who lived in Otterville, including Ida Gray, the only granddaughter of Robert Williams Sr. and Harriet Cooley Williams, and her father, Benjamin Gray.

Otterville Mill & Station Museum


The Otterville Mill and Station Museum stands on the site of the Pine Street Quaker Meeting House. Many of the Quakers at Pine Street were ardent abolitionists involved with their fellow Quakers in New York State. William Cromwell, who came to Otterville from Canandaigua, New York, was a particularly ardent abolitionist. He was financially involved with the Otter Creek Mills, and seems to have been the reason why the free Black families that migrated from the United States established themselves a mile north of the mill. While most of these Black settlers had the wealth to buy land in Otterville and establish successful farms, those who were not farmers could find work at Cromwell’s mills.

The Pine Street cemetery is the resting place of several prominent Black members of the Otterville community. Those buried here include Rev. Lindsay B. Anderson, one of the founders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The Marshall Family

Historic Black Figures

Thomas George Marshall was one of the oldest sons of Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Marshall, born in Dunville, Ontario, around 1870. Charlotte Ann Martin was born ca. 1880 to Joseph Martin and Emily Campbell in Dereham Township. Thomas George and Charlotte married in 1902. They lived at 226 Oxford St. in Woodstock. The house, which still stands today, is on a corner lot just across from the site of the Old Thomas Organ factory and the Stewart Brothers Foundry at Brant Street. Thomas George’s parents lived at 222 Oxford and his uncle at 224. Most of the men in the family worked as labourers at either of the two factories. Thomas George himself worked at the Stewart Foundry for many years until his death in 1952. Besides working at the Organ factory, the family was very musical, and the children learned a variety of different instruments.

George Washington Jones

Historic Black Figure

George Washington Jones was born into slavery in the United States around 1856 and escaped in a boxcar to Canada. He came to Woodstock in 1925 as part of a travelling carnival and decided to stay. Being friendly and outgoing, and with his huge smile, he became everyone’s friend. Wearing a top hat, a long coat with tails, striped pants, a sandwich board, and carrying a megaphone or bells, he appointed himself town crier. Business, theatre and restaurant owners purchased space on the board, and he advertised sales and events.

Woodstock BME Church

Historic Black Church

As the Black population in Woodstock slowly grew, the need for a church arose. The movement to build a church began around 1883 by George Washington, a porter, and Dan Anderson, a stonemason. After raising funds from the community, they purchased a lot on Park Row and started construction in 1888. Throughout its history the church was known by three names: Hawkins Chapel, British Methodist Episcopal Church, and Park Row Community Chapel. At its height, the church ministered to 75 Black families. Reverend H.H. Clarke once stated that there were no colour lines at the church, and that anyone, regardless of race, was welcome to attend. The church operated from 1888 to 1972, re-opened in 1978 and then was closed permanently and sold in 1985.

Woodstock Museum NHS


The Woodstock Museum National Historic Site strives to interpret the past, present and future through conservation, education and exhibition of local history.
Visit the nationally designated Old Town Hall and experience the original 1879 Council Chambers and the Victorian designs of the 1889 Grand Hall. Tour the galleries interpreting the History of Woodstock from the 1790s to the present day.
Originally constructed in 1853 as the Town Hall and Market House, the building was completely restored in 1993 – 1995 and offers a wide variety of programs and services.

Daly House

Oxford County's Black History

The Daly House was also associated with the Underground Railroad. Located at the corners of King Street West and Oxford Street, legend had it that a tunnel joined the Wesleyan Methodist Church to the Inn. It was said that those escaping their enslavement by hiding in the Church could be brought out through the Daly House by way of this tunnel. However, when the former hotel was demolished in 1994, no traces of a tunnel could be found. The Daly House is also where John Brown stayed when he visited Ingersoll in 1858, awaiting Harriet Tubman, who did not arrive.

Kirwin House

Oxford County's Black History

"First known as the Chamber Hotel, then Oxford House and then later known as the Kirwin House, it was built in 1891-92 on Oxford Street, west side, opposite the old Market Building (municipal parking lot). It served Ingersoll until 1967, when it was torn down for a new modern building (presently the Oxford Small Business Centre). It was a farmer’s hotel with auction yards and there were stalls for the cattle to wait in before they were sold across the road. The farm implement dealer, W. J. Fishleigh would put on dinners for his perspective buyers at the Kirwin Hotel."
- Excerpt from Ingersoll: Our Heritage by Harry Whitwell.

The Old Brick Meeting House

Oxford County's Black History

In 1847, the Norwich Quakers assembled a committee to raise money for the purpose of constructing a new meeting house. Having met in a frame building on the hill by the old burial ground (the Norwich Pioneer Cemetery, also on Quaker Street), the Norwich Friends required a more substantial building in which to hold their meetings. Twenty-five acres of land for the new building was acquired from Frederick Stover, of which nine and a half were sold to pay for its construction. It was completed in 1850 and became known as the Old Brick. Therefore, it was while this meeting house was in use that much of the local Quaker activities to encourage the settlement of Black people in the Township occurred. The Old Brick was demolished in 1949, but the cemetery continued in use for many years.

Wesleyan Methodist Church

Black History Story

The Wesleyan Methodist Church on Oxford Street in Ingersoll was built in 1854 by residents of the town who had formerly been enslaved in the United States. It is said to have been the northernmost terminus of the Underground Railroad in this part of Southwestern Ontario. The Church consisted of a three-storey brick building which could seat five hundred people, with living quarters for the minister on the top floor. Pine boards in the attic measured twelve to fourteen inches wide, which indicates the size of white pine trees that inhabited Oxford County then. Led by Quakers by the way of St. Thomas, Black people escaping enslavement in plantations in Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana, and even as far as New Orleans, were smuggled into the attic of the Ingersoll Church during the night. Others were brought here as part of a stage couch operation from Port Burwell by abolitionist Harvey C. Jackson, who made regular trips inland to the Daily House Hotel. Opponents of slavery would try to find work for them on neighbouring farms throughout Oxford County, or would transport them to other areas to work, to enable them to safely reach their destinations.


This project was funded by the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative in partnership with several of the area’s museums, archives and public historians.

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