Black History Month: Archival Sources Across Ontario

The contributions of Black Canadians has historically been underrepresented in the archival record. Often the voice of Black agents of history can be hidden in the records of other donors and organizations. Researchers have to dig deeper into the record to access rich resources that document the activities and agency of historically marginalized groups.

Here are a selection of archival holdings in other institutions in Ontario that document the Black experience in the province.

The Harriet Tubman Resource Centre

Located at York University, The Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African  Peoples is part of an international network of research centres focused on overcoming injustice and inequity resulting from slavery.  The Tubman Institute is centred on the study of forced and voluntary movement of African peoples around the world.   Associated faculty and researchers conduct research and gathers documentation (both official and personal accounts) regarding the historical foundation and legacy of slavery. The Tubman Institute is currently in the process of digitizing and preserving their resources, as well as collaborating with international efforts, such as the UNESCO “Slave Route” project and UNESCO’s  “Memories of the World” program aimed at saving endangered archives.

The Harriet Tubman Resource Centre is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings.  Please contact the staff ahead of time to confirm availability.

Archives of Ontario

The Archives of Ontario hosts a number of permanent online exhibits on black history on its website, including an exhibit on the holdings of Alvin McCurdy, one of the province’s most important sources of information about the history of the black community in Ontario.  McCurdy’s meticulous collecting resulted in a rich treasure of photographs, documents and ephemera of Black Canadians.

The Bell and Sloman Families

Brock University Archives have acquired the records of the Bell and Sloman Families, two families from the Niagara region who are descended from former slaves who moved north after the Civil War.

Items include include marriage certificates and a note from William Still,  a ‘conductor’ on the Underground Railroad whose boarding house in Philadelphia was a haven for hundreds of slaves en route to freedom.

The records were donated by retired Thorold firefighter Rick Bell, a Niagara Falls native who was the first black professional firefighter in Niagara. He now lives in the London area.

A selection of these items have been digitized and made available through OurOntario.ca.  See here.
 

An article about this acquisition by the Brock University Special Collections and Archives can be found here.

The City of Toronto Archives

The City of Toronto Archives has an online exhibit and resource guide regarding documentary evidence of black citizens of Toronto held by the archives.

The Black Historical Museum

The Black Historical Museum is located in Amherstburg.  Founded in , the museum also holds significant archival resources to support researchers studying black communities in the province.

Other museums and historical sites in the province include The Buxton Museum in North Buxton and  Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Dresden.

The Black History Society

The Black History Society was founded in 1978 to promote and celebrate the contributions and shared experience of Black history in Ontario as well as support the research and preservation of the history of various black communities. In addition to working to preserve historical records, the Society works to document contemporary figures in the black community through oral history interviews and profiles.

The Society provides research materials for professional development, as well as audio-video presentations to schools, organizations and libraries to promote the understanding of Black heritage in Ontario.

The Society’s office is open to the public.  See here for contact details.

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