Thornton & Lucie Blackburn escaped Kentucky slavery via Underground Railroad

Some communities did more, but TORONTO played a significant role as an Underground Railroad terminus for escapees from slavery in the American South.  Many came, and many stayed.

Two such refugees from KENTUCKY – Thornton and Lucie Blackburn – made their TORONTO home 54 Eastern Avenue, which today would occupy the southeast corner of Inglenook Community High School’s playground.  They lived there from 1834 until 1890.

The Blackburns left Kentucky on July 3, 1831, and made their way north to Detroit.  Two years later they were captured, and faced certain extradition.  But Detroit’s black community forcefully stepped in (the Blackburn Riots of 1833), and managed to get the couple safely across the border into Canada.  Requests from Michigan’s governor to have them returned to the US were denied.

In 1985, archeologists digging in the Inglenook schoolyard, found clues to TORONTO’s history as a terminus of the Underground Railroad, and artifacts belonging to the Blackburns.

While working as a waiter at Osgoode Hall, Blackburn saw the need for a taxi service.  Using blueprints obtained in Montreal, he had a red and yellow box cab constructed.  Drawn by a single horse the little cab, named The City, was a huge success.  Upon his death, Thornton Blackburn left an estate of $18,000 and six Toronto properties.  He and his wife are buried in the Necropolis, Sumach Street at Amelia.

The Blackburns are honoured in Kentucky by a plaque in downtown LOUISVILLE.  In TORONTO, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated the Blackburns as “persons of national historic significance” – not only for their personal struggle for freedom, but because theirs was emblematic of so many similar, but typically undocumented, cases.  A plaque on the site of their home was erected in 2002.




Enoch Turner Schoolhouse, 106 Trinity Street, 1849

Enoch Turner Schoolhouse, 106 Trinity Street, was established by brewer ENOCH TURNER, to educate poor children in Corktown.  It was the city’s oldest free school from 1849-59, and later became a Sunday School, a Boer War recruitment centre, a soup kitchen in the 1930’s, and a youth clubhouse in the fifties.  It nearly became a vacant lot, but was saved by the citizenry and Eric Arthur (author and architect, “Toronto, No Mean City”).  The schoolhouse was restored and is now a museum.
Eastbound King streetcar #504 to Trinity Street


Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, 34 Isabella Street

TORONTO is home to one of the largest gay and lesbian archives in the world.  The Canadian Gay and Lesbian Archives, a volunteer organization, was established in 1973.  Its Georgian-style home at 34 Isabella Street contains a research reading room, large gallery and a reference library.  The collection includes paintings, photographs, posters, video and audio recordings, matchbooks, t-shirts, sports paraphenalia and advertising.
HOURS – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, 7:30-10 pm; Subway stop – BLOOR, and walk south to Isabella Street


Heritage buildings cling to the sides of Adelaide Street’s ‘urban spillway’

Motorists heading east on Adelaide Street to the Don Valley Parkway pass through the Old Town of York, where the City of TORONTO began.  Along the sides of this 4-lane ‘urban spillway’, are several heritage buildings of note.  Fortunately, they’ve survived road widenings and demolitions – and today, appear to be in pretty good shape.

The oldest purpose-built post office in TORONTO (fourth in York Region) functions both as a museum and full-service post office at 260 Adelaide Street East.  Originally a department of the British Royal Mail, its doors opened in 1833.


To the west you’ll find the former head office of the Bank of Upper Canada.  Constructed in 1827, the Bank occupied the building until 1861.  After a long period of neglect, the grey stone structure was renovated inside and out, and is now a national heritage site.  It received the Heritage Canada National Award of Honour in 1982.  <B/W PHOTOS BELOW – Bank of Upper Canada, 1970’s, City of Toronto Library>


Between the two – Bank of Upper Canada/Oldest Post Office – sits the De La Salle Institute, a Catholic boy’s school founded by the Brothers of the Christian Schools.  This yellow brick property, constructed in 1871, is pictured below in the winter of 1952.


The surrounding streets of the Old Town of York are well worth exploring.  You’ll find restaurants, coffee bars, a bistrot or two, the Alumnae Theatre, Victorian townhouses, old warehouses, this, that and the other.


Delft University’s ‘superbus’ is a beaut!

Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands has created the world’s first Superbus.  Backed by the Dutch government, Dow Chemicals, and the Saudi conglomerate Sabic, the glamourous midnight-blue, electric-powered vehicle recently made its debut.  Top speed: 250 km/h (155 mph); seats 23; length: 49 feet; can cover 75 miles in 30 minutes; equipped with 8 gullwing-style doors on each side; cost per vehicle: $11,000,000 CAD.

<PHOTOS – Delft University, Netherlands>