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The Underground Railroad

The Story

Despite all the talk of conductors, stations and pilots, the Underground Railroad had no trains or tracks. Those terms, Daniel Hill explains in this 1979 CBC Radio clip, were employed simply to confuse the enemies of blacks fleeing slavery and persecution in the pre-Civil War U.S. Instead, passage to safety and freedom in Canada relied on the secret, coordinated efforts of white and black "conductors" who helped move people north to freedom. Once in Upper Canada, the government assured, "any slave who reached British soil would forever be free."

Medium: Radio
Program: Voice of the Pioneer
Broadcast Date: April 1, 1979
Guest: Daniel Hill
Interviewer: Bill McNeil
Duration: 9:04

Did You know?

• The Underground Railroad, also called the Underground Railway, was at its height between 1820 and 1860. It operated as a clandestine series of safe houses and secret routes leading from the deep south of the U.S. as far north as Owen Sound, Ont. As Daniel Hill indicates in this clip, transport all the way to Canada became ever more urgent after 1850 as the Fugitive Slave law passed in the U.S. meant the slave owners could pursue and attempt to re-capture their former slaves even in U.S. states that did not allow slavery. It is estimated that more than 40,000 souls made the trek north, settling primarily in southern Ontario and up into the Bruce Peninsula.

• Lt.-Gov. John Graves Simcoe outlawed slavery in Upper Canada in 1793. Although it did not emancipate all currently held slaves, it was nonetheless pioneering legislation that made Upper Canada the first jurisdiction in the British Empire to abolish the heinous practice. While the British parliament banned the trade in slaves as of 1807, it was not until 1834 that all slaves in the empire were finally emancipated. Slaves in the U.S. were not fully emancipated until the passage of 13th amendment to the constitution in 1865, at the conclusion of the American Civil War.

• Daniel Hill, historian and sociologist, championed human rights in Ontario for most of his life. In 1962, he was appointed the first head of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), where he spent over a decade building the institution and promoting progressive human rights legislation in the province. Born in the U.S., Hill came to Canada with his wife in 1953 to pursue an MA and PhD in sociology at the University of Toronto. The interracial couple settled in Toronto and raised three children: singer-songwriter Dan Hill, writer and journalist Lawrence Hill and poet Karen Hill.

• After his time at the OHRC, Hill founded the first human rights consulting firm in Canada. In 1981, he published The Freedom Seekers, the first history of early black life in Canada for a popular reading audience. Hill helped found the Ontario Black History Society and worked as Ontario ombudsman from 1984 to 1989. He was awarded the Order of Ontario in 1993 and was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 1999.



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