IMMORTALIZED IN PAINT

Cou­ple who fled slav­ery and be­came com­mu­nity lead­ers hon­oured by Ge­orge Brown Col­lege,

Toronto Star - - GTA - ALICJA SIEKIERSKA STAFF RE­PORTER

Nearly 200 years ago, shortly af­ter flee­ing slav­ery in the United States us­ing the Un­der­ground Rail­road, Lu­cie and Thorn­ton Black­burn be­came lead­ers in their newly adopted com­mu­nity in Toronto.

They helped con­struct the his­toric Lit­tle Trin­ity Angli­can Church on King St. and Thorn­ton es­tab­lished Toronto’s first cab com­pany — a redand-yel­low horse-drawn car­riage that seated four.

On Tues­day, Ge­orge Brown Col­lege will hon­our the legacy of the Black­burns, nam­ing a con­fer­ence cen­tre at their stu­dent res­i­dence, The Ge­orge, af­ter the coura­geous cou­ple and un­veil­ing a mu­ral de­signed and painted by Ge­orge Brown stu­dents.

“This goes beyond the in­cred­i­ble story of a cou­ple flee­ing slav­ery to seek free­dom in Canada, build­ing in­cred­i­ble com­mu­nity part­ner­ships and open­ing up the doors to blacks in Toronto,” said Nikki Clarke, the pres­i­dent of the On­tario Black His­tory So­ci­ety.

“Their story runs par­al­lel to many peo­ple’s sto­ries: tak­ing refuge, seek­ing safety and try­ing to start over in a new coun­try. It res­onates with many.”

The Black­burns es­caped their Ken­tucky slave own­ers in broad day­light in 1831 and be­gan a new life in Detroit. But two years later, they were spot­ted by an ac­quain­tance from Ken­tucky and the cou­ple was taken to court and thrown in jail. With the help of the lo­cal abo­li­tion­ist move­ment, the Black­burns again es­caped, this time to Canada.

De­spite de­mands for ex­tra­di­tion from the gover­nor of Michi­gan, the lieu­tenant-gover­nor of Up­per Canada at the time re­fused to re­turn them, and the Black­burns set­tled in Toronto in 1834. The Black­burns were highly re­spected as both ac­tivists and busi­ness peo­ple in Toronto. Thorn­ton es­tab­lished the first cab com­pany in Up­per Canada, a sin­gle-horse car­riage painted red-and-yel­low called “The City.”

Karolyn Smardz Frost wrote a book about the cou­ple af­ter a pub­lic arche­o­log­i­cal dig un­cov­ered the re­mains of the Black­burn home in 1985.

“Their achieve­ment is re­mark­able and an ex­am­ple for all of us,” Smardz Frost said.

“They built the fab­ric and in­fra- struc­ture of our coun­try and we stand on their shoul­ders.”

Adri­enne Gal­way, spe­cial ad­viser to Ge­orge Brown’s pres­i­dent Ann Sado and chair of the Black­burn Con­fer­ence Cen­tre Com­mit­tee, said nam­ing the build­ing af­ter the cou­ple was an ob­vi­ous choice for many rea­sons.

The lo­ca­tion of the Black­burns’ for­mer home is just steps away from the down­town cam­pus, not to men­tion Ge­orge Brown and the Black­burns worked to­gether on the anti-slav­ery abo­li­tion­ist move­ment.

To­day, the Black­burns are buried be­side Ge­orge Brown at the Ne­crop­o­lis Ceme­tery.

“That di­ver­sity is what we like to rep­re­sent as a down­town Toronto col­lege,” Gal­way said.

“It’s a great fit, es­pe­cially given that the con­fer­ence cen­tre is go­ing to be the spot where peo­ple will be com­ing to ex­change ideas.”

There will be a pri­vate un­veil­ing of the con­fer­ence cen­tre on Tues­day, and open house for the pub­lic on Thurs­day from noon to 8 p.m.

ANNE-MARIE JACKSON PHO­TOS/TORONTO STAR

Project leader Graeme Kon­druss and mu­ral artists Jamie (Jung Yoon) Choi put the fin­ish­ing touches on the Black­burn Mu­ral.

Dr. Mag­dalena Sa­bat, re­seach and cre­ative ad­viser, works on the mu­ral, which is ded­i­cated to the pi­o­neers who fled slav­ery in the 1830s.

Mu­ral artist Huda Tariq looks over plans for the mu­ral. Ge­orge Brown named a con­fer­ence cen­tre at their res­i­dence af­ter the Black­burns.

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