William Lafferty arrived in Canada destitute and illiterate in 1830, after escaping slavery in the United States.
A Black Family’s Journey follows the Lafferty family through a turbulent period in Canadian history. Over three generations, the Lafferty family played roles in pivotal events, including the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and the U.S., women’s winning the right to vote, Toronto’s expansion from a pioneer outpost to a modern economy, and the development of the black community of Buxton, Ontario.
Canada in the nineteenth century was no haven from prejudice, and the stories of William, his children, and his children’s children offer firsthand accounts of black Ontarians responding to racism with a mix of assimilation, solidarity, and the pursuit of personal excellence. The record they left behind is a rare and detailed account of changing racial and class dynamics in Ontario from the 1830s to the mid-twentieth century.
Hilary J. Dawson is a senior historical researcher at York University’s Harriet Tubman Institute, where she works to bring African-Canadian history into Ontario classrooms. She has worked at numerous museums and is a member of the Ontario Genealogical Society and the Ontario Historical Society. She lives in Toronto.