• November 27, 2008 5:00 PM
  • - General

Provincial plaques celebrate black history in Chatham


    CHATHAM, ON, Nov. 27 /CNW/ - Today, the Ontario Heritage Trust and the
Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society unveiled two provincial plaques
commemorating Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott (1837-1913) and the Provincial
Freeman newspaper - both significant in Ontario's black history.
    "Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott and Mary Ann Shadd - chief editor of the
Provincial Freeman - were pioneers in Ontario," said The Honourable Lincoln M.
Alexander, Chairman of the Ontario Heritage Trust. "They were leaders in the
struggle for freedom and equality, helping to pave the way for future
generations of blacks in this province and across the country."
    Anderson Ruffin Abbott was born 1837 to Wilson and Ellen Toyer Abbott,
free African-Americans who settled in Canada. Abbott was enrolled in the first
class of the Buxton Mission School near Chatham and later continued his
education at the Toronto School of Medicine. He received his medical licence
in 1861, becoming the first Canadian-born black to graduate from medical
school. Despite his success, Abbott was aware of the injustices faced by
enslaved blacks in the United States. In 1863, he became one of eight black
surgeons to serve in the Union Army during the American Civil War. After
returning home, he established a medical practice in Chatham and was active in
the community. He became one of the first coroners for Kent County, and its
first black coroner. Eventually, he and his family returned to Toronto, where
he died in 1913.
    "The stories of Dr. Abbott and the Provincial Freeman highlight the
extraordinary contributions by the black community in Ontario," said Culture
Minister Aileen Carroll. "These provincial plaques will ensure that both are
remembered for their place in our history."
    For over six years, the Provincial Freeman newspaper catered to
abolitionists in British North America and the Northern United States, and
successfully promoted black political discourse. First published in 1853 in
Windsor and later in Toronto and Chatham, the paper championed temperance,
social reform and African-American emigration to British North America, which
outlawed slavery in 1833. Guided by chief editor Mary Ann Shadd, an
African-American émigré who was committed to anti-slavery issues, the
Provincial Freeman advocated that "Self-reliance is the true road to
independence." Published until 1860, Shadd's newspaper reveals the degree to
which middle-class black women participated in the public sphere and confirms
the significance of Ontario as an important and celebrated destination for
African-Americans.
    "We are very proud to have the Ontario Heritage Trust enhance our BME
Freedom Park with these two provincial plaques," said Gwen Robinson, historian
at the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society. "Both the Provincial Freeman and
Dr. Abbott figure significantly in the black history of Chatham and Ontario."

    The Ontario Heritage Trust is an agency of the Government of Ontario,
dedicated to identifying, preserving, protecting and promoting Ontario's
heritage.

    These provincial plaques were developed with funding support from the
Government of Ontario and the TD Bank Financial Group.Quick Facts:

    -   The Ontario Heritage Trust's Provincial Plaque Program commemorates
        significant people, places and events in Ontario's history.
    -   Since 1953, over 1,200 provincial plaques have been unveiled.
    -   There are 22 provincial plaques across the province commemorating
        black heritage.

                         Aussi disponible en français
For further information: Gordon Pim, Marketing and Communications
Coordinator, Ontario Heritage Trust, Telephone: (416) 325-1484, E-mail:
gordon.pim@heritagetrust.on.ca