This Week in History


Champion of Freedom!

For the week of Monday February 26, 2001

On February 26, 1851, George Brown and other Torontonians founded the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada. This was a reaction to the Unites States' passing the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 that led to many refugees from American slavery entering Canada.

George Brown

George Brown
© LAC / PA-1079

The abolition movement had strong roots in the British Empire, and many prominent men and women were involved in the debate. That led to the Upper Canadian Act of 1793 Against Slavery, limiting Canadian slavery and ensuring freedom for all people entering Upper Canada. The Imperial Act of 1833 went further, abolishing slavery in all British territories. Slavery continued in the southern United States. Many formerly enslaved people had escaped to the northern states, but the Fugitive Slave Law changed that by allowing southern slave owners to arrest escapees and even free African Americans, without warrant or trial. The law also penalized Northerners who aided escapees. Many Canadians took notice as steady streams of refugees followed the "Underground Railroad" to Canada.

St. Lawrence Hall

St. Lawrence Hall
© Parks Canada / B. Morin

George Brown was an abolitionist and a political activist who wanted to ensure that slavery was prohibited both in law and in practice. In the 1840s and 1850s, in his newspaper The Globe (now The Globe and Mail), Brown printed articles and editorials condemning the practice in the United States. In 1851, after the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, Brown and a group of prominent men in Toronto called a public meeting to deal with the issue. A capacity crowd gathered in St. Lawrence Hall and unanimously supported creating the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada. Their purpose was to end slavery, beginning with the United States. In addition to speaking and writing against slavery, many of the abolitionists, both black and white men and women, helped refugees reach Canada through the Underground Railroad. They also worked with refugee community leaders to fight against extradition back to the United States, and to try and provide equal access to services such as education.

George Brown, abolitionist, founder of The Globe, and Father of Confederation, is commemorated at the George Brown House in Toronto, Ontario. Two other national historic sites associated with Abolitionist activity in Toronto are St. Lawrence Hall, the meeting place of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada, and Osgoode Hall, associated with extradition cases. The Upper Canadian Act of 1793 Against Slavery and The Underground Railroad, commemorated at Niagara-on-the-Lake and Windsor, Ontario, respectively, are events of national historic significance.

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