Freedom City

Upper Canada was the first colony in the British Empire to prohibit further slave importation, and to legislate the gradual abolition of the institution of slavery.

Thousands of freedom-seekers and free Blacks fled American enslavement and racial oppression to forge new lives in Upper Canada/Canada West in the years before the American Civil War. They built new communities across the colony, established churches, schools, farms and businesses. They engaged in the ongoing struggle to end American slavery.

However, even in Upper Canada, the experience of black people in Toronto was unique. While racism was an ever-present factor in their lives, Toronto was the only community in Canada where the two powerful cultural institutions, schools and churches, were never segregated.

In Toronto — Freedom City — Blacks settled into integrated neighbourhoods. They lived, worked, attended schools and churches, and in time of conflict, fought alongside their white neighbours. Black Torontonians have always made vital contributions to this city.

Theirs is a story of profound hardship, determination, pride and courage. The story of African-Canadian Toronto is also a story of achievement, joy and celebration.

Freedom City is the collective tale of a people on a journey toward freedom, transcending generations and borders.

At the most intimate level, this is a story of individuals and families who found a new home in Toronto. Clues to their personal experiences emerge from the documents, pictures and artifacts they left behind, revealing an essential part of Toronto's history.

Many more documents are waiting to be discovered, and many more stories are waiting to be heard, as the fabric of Toronto’s black history unfolds.


Toronto Public Library, with contributions by Dr. Karolyn Smardz-Frost and Dr. Afua Cooper