William Peyton Hubbard, the first notable Black elected official in Toronto, and will be honored this weekend with the unveiling of a park in his name. Hubbard, the son of slaves, came to politics when he was in his fifties.
Hubbard was born in 1842 in an area just outside of Toronto known as “The Bush,” to parents who escaped slavery from Virginia via the Underground Railroad. As a young man, Hubbard was trained as a baker for 16 years and later worked for his uncle’s horse-drawn taxi service. It was Hubbard’s heroics while working as a cabbie that would change his fortunes.
During a trip, Hubbard rescued newspaper publisher George Brown from a cab that was close to falling into the Don River. A grateful Brown repaid his debt by making Hubbard his personal driver and encouraging Hubbard to consider public office. After a failed first bid for alderman, Hubbard was elected to represent one of Toronto’s wealthiest districts in 1894 at the age of 52.
Known as a skilled speaker and reformer, Hubbard worked hard as an advocate of the people and did his best to unify Ward 4 and all of Toronto. Realizing that his voice was best used to articulate the will of the people, Hubbard’s devotion to public duty led to him being elected 15 times to City Council. In 1904, Hubbard became the first and only person of color to win a city-wide election in Toronto’s history. So popular and trusted was Hubbard that he also served as acting mayor at varying points.
As Canada’s first visible minority on the elected level, Hubbard used his influence to help establish the Toronto Hydro company and opposed the privatization of city services and believed the electorate should wield more power. The Black population in Toronto was sparse and largely ignored, but Hubbard realized the power of his position and did not shy away from the connection to his people.
After he left public office in 1914 to care for his wife, conditions in Toronto declined for its Black citizens. The city continues to struggle with strained race relations despite the influx of Black and other immigrants of color that have called Toronto home.
This Saturday, Hubbard Park will be opened in honor of the great alderman at the site of the Don Jail.