BHM: Dr Dan Hill was a human rights pioneer

Dr Dan Hill
By Gerald V. Paul

“One of the reasons we founded the Ontario Black History Society is because Black children from the islands, from the United States, from Africa have been told they have no heritage here. …they will know that their Black ancestors who came from Africa and who came to Canada and the United States did indeed contribute to the life and to the community and to the building of this country.” Dr. Dan Hill

If the name sounds familiar, you might be mixing him up with his son, singer/songwriter Dan Hill, famous for the mega hit “Sometimes When We Touch.”

But Dr Dan Hill is far more than just a father of famous children (his other son, Lawrence, is the author of The Book of Negroes while daughter Karen is a poet). He served faithfully in many roles in our community, especially as Ombudsman, a voice for all Ontarians who were battling prejudice and illness.

Indeed, he made such a high contribution to Canada that on his deathbed, former Governor General Adrian Clarkson visited his home to present him with the Order of Canada.

While slavery was his ancestors’ legacy, Dr Dan Hill was the founding father of Human Rights in Ontario, served as the first Director and Chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and poured his life in the quest for fairness for all.

Daniel Grafton Hill III, was born in Independence, Missouri but raised in Colorado, Oregon and California. He moved to Canada with his wife Donna to escape racism, but it followed him here.

According to Lawrence, as an interracial couple, Dan and Donna could not find an apartment to rent in Toronto in 1953. But instead of becoming bitter about it, Dr Hill saw it as just a challenge to press on and keep on doing good.

Dr Hill was also a lecturer at the University of Toronto, writer and community activist with a sustained interest in the history of Blacks in Canada and a business person who created Canada’s first consulting firm.

In 1981, he published his major book, The Freedom Seekers: Blacks in Early Canada. Although other scholars had already written about the history of Blacks in Canada, Hill became the first person in the country to write a popular book on the subject. The book found a broad readership, and remained in print for 21 years.

After a lifetime of devotion of the cause of human rights and documenting black history, Dr Dan Hill passed away in 2003, after being awarded the Order of Canada.