Metro Morning

'Welcome to Blackhurst Street' exhibition spotlights black history at Bathurst and Bloor

A new exhibition in Toronto is shining a light on black history in the Bathurst and Bloor area. Using archival material and original artwork, Welcome to Blackhurst Street takes a look back on the waves of black migration to the neighbourhood, beginning with the underground railroad in the 1860s.

Neighbourhood was a hub for black families and businesses beginning in the 1860s

A group of men pose outside of the offices of Contrast newspaper in 1976. Contrast served the black and Caribbean population of Toronto and was a source of inspiration for curator Chinedu Ukabam. (Claudio Lewis)

A new exhibition in Toronto is shining a light on black history in the Bathurst and Bloor area.

Using archival material and original artwork, the exhibit Welcome to Blackhurst Street takes a look back at waves of black migration to the neighbourhood, beginning around the time of the American civil war.

"From the 1860s we have records of African-Americans coming up through the underground railroad and taking up residence there," said curator Chinedu Ukabam on CBC's Metro Morning.

One of them was Deborah Brown, a fugitive slave who escaped to Canada with her husband, who is reputed to have lived at 691 Markham St.  

About a hundred years later, another wave of black immigrants arrived, this time from the Caribbean.

"People from Jamaica took up residence in the area and started businesses, some of which are still around today," Ukabam said.

By diving into the area's history, Ukabam said he has gotten to know the characters and entrepreneurs who shaped it, including the first black postman in Toronto and one of the first black millionaires in Canada.

But he said the exhibit's about more than just documenting the neighbourhood's history.

"We want to also begin thinking about how we keep that history going in the new Bloor and Bathurst, whatever it looks like three or four years from now."

Visitors to the exhibition are able to submit memories of the area and ideas for preserving it using the hashtag #WelcomeToBlackhurst.

with files from Metro Morning