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Published on Friday, February 24, 2017

Oakville Beaver Editorial: Black heritage

Oakville was an end point of the Underground Railroad

Oakville Beaver Editorial: Black heritage
Oakville Beaver
Each February, Canadians are invited to celebrate Black History Month to recognize the contributions of black Canadians, past and present.

The Spirit of Harriet Tubman is often a show that is performed — the story of Tubman’s life from her early years of slavery and then Underground Railroad conductor, to being a social justice advocate.

We may not always remember the ties Oakville has to the Underground Railroad, as our town was once an end point for African-Americans fleeing to Canada.

As we celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary this year, it’s important to remember our black heritage, our Canadian heritage and our own Oakville history.

Tubman was among many black Canadians — some Oakville residents — who helped shape this nation:

For example, Lincoln Alexander was born of West Indian immigrant parents and sworn in as Ontario’s Lt-Gov. in September 1985, the first black person to hold the vice-regal position in Canada. He was also the first black MP and cabinet minister. His widow still lives in Oakville.

• Captain Robert Wilson, who lived in the Mariner’s Home on Lawson Street was a Great Lakes ship’s captain of ‘Lady Colborne’ and ‘Baltic,’ who helped slaves escape to Canada. The African-American escapees were concealed in the grain vessels aboard his ship and he was an important member of the Temperance Union.

Following the American Civil War, African-Americans celebrated Emancipation Day at George’s Square on Trafalgar Road and would visit Wilson’s home.

Oakville’s James W. Hill Public School is named in honour of one of the hundreds of African-Americans came to this area, including Maryland-born James Wesley Hill, also known as ‘Canada Jim,’ who came here via the Underground Railroad.

After crossing the border in a packing box, Hill settled on a farm in Oakville. He helped many slaves who followed by giving them work on his strawberry farm, helping make Oakville the one-time strawberry industry capital of Canada. Hill became an agent for the Underground Railroad, returning to the United States several times over the next few years and leading an estimated 700-800 African Americans back to Oakville.

He became known as ‘Canada Jim’ for his escapades. Hill built a house at 457 Maple Grove Dr. Hill’s memory is honoured in Montgomery County, Md.

Through their contributions, and those made by many other black Canadians, our country and our world is a richer place in which to live.

This month the Canadian Caribbean Association of Halton (CCAH) hosted an evening at Town Hall to celebrate Black History Month. It featured performances by talented artists and the black history exhibit presented by the Oakville Museum, The Underground Railroad — Next Stop, Freedom!, is not to be missed.

If you don’t know it, find out about it, learn about it and celebrate Oakville’s noteworthy contributions to black heritage in Canada.
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Author: Mayor Rob Burton

Categories: Features, Opinion

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