Healthy Communities

Black history in the Canary district: Honouring Lucie and Thornton Blackburn

Blackburn Mural near Cooper Koo Family Cherry St. YMCA

A new facility and mural just steps from the Cooper Koo Family Cherry Street YMCA recognizes the contributions of two prominent and prosperous members of Toronto’s historic Black community. The Lucie and Thornton Blackburn Conference Centre, at George Brown College, is named in honour of two historic citizens who escaped slavery to become cornerstones of their community.

Recognizing the contributions of people like the Blackburns is a core component of Black History Month across Canada. This month at the Y, we’re honouring achievements by Black Canadians in education, medicine, art, culture, public service, economic development, politics, and human rights.

The Blackburns were African American slaves who fled from Louisville, Kentucky, via the Underground Railroad. Their journey first took them to Detroit, where they stayed until they were recognized and jailed. They escaped to Canada, and our country’s refusal to extradite the Blackburns to the United States set the precedent for cross-border relations on the issue of fugitive slaves for decades to come.

The Blackburns arrived in the newly created City of Toronto in 1834, where they settled at the corner Eastern Avenue and Sackville Street, one block from where the Cooper Koo Y now stands. Over the next half century, they continued to participate in antislavery and community activities and made significant contributions to the economic, social, and religious life of the city. Notably, the Blackburns engaged in many entrepreneurial activities, including the launch of the first taxi company in Upper Canada, which further enabled them to purchase investment properties throughout the city.

Join us this month at YMCA locations across the GTA as we celebrate Black history.

Photo courtesy of George Brown College