Celebrating William Peyton Hubbard: Toronto’s trailblazing Black politician

William Peyton Hubbard

This summer, Toronto will honor the legacy of a pioneering figure in its political history through a unique walking tour celebrating William Peyton Hubbard, the city’s first Black politician. Organized by East End resident Lanrick Bennett, the tour will trace the significant landmarks of Hubbard’s life from his former residence on Broadview Avenue to the recently named Hubbard Park at Broadview and Gerrard Street East.

William Peyton Hubbard, who served as a City Alderman from 1894 to 1914 and occasionally acted as mayor, broke racial barriers in Toronto’s governance. Despite his critical role, Bennett admits to only having learned of Hubbard in the 2010s during a park-naming contest in Riverdale, sparking his interest in commemorating the influential figure.

In 2016, following a robust community campaign led by Marie Wilson, Hubbard Park was officially named, providing a permanent public acknowledgment of Hubbard’s contributions. Wilson, who initiated the park-naming effort, emphasized the importance of recognizing those forgotten by history.

Lanrick Bennett and Marie Wilson photo from Wilson’s facebook page

“I’m not only fascinated by history, but by forgotten history and the forgotten people in history,” Wilson stated. She first discovered Hubbard through a plaque at his former home and has since been a staunch advocate for his remembrance.

The walking tour, part of Bennett’s #HearThis series of Black history tours coinciding with Emancipation Day in August, aims not only to educate but to inspire.

“As a parent, I want my kids to understand that there are people that look like them that were around, that were here, that came before,” Bennett explained. He also secured a $1,000 grant from the Toronto Foundation and Volunteer Toronto to facilitate these educational walks.

Moreover, Bennett plans to digitize the routes allowing individuals to explore them independently, encouraging personal engagement with the city’s rich history. “This entire project is about amplification,” he said. “I don’t know everything about all the history within this neighborhood and within this community, but I want people to start digging.”

Hubbard, born near Bathurst and Bloor streets to parents who had escaped enslavement in America, didn’t start his political career until his 50s. After working as a baker and cab driver, he was elected in his second attempt to represent one of Toronto’s wealthiest and predominantly white wards. He was re-elected 14 times, advocating tirelessly for public utilities and the creation of green spaces like High Park.

Heritage Toronto highlights that Hubbard was a staunch defender of marginalized groups, including the city’s Chinese and Jewish communities, against discrimination and violence. Despite facing racial abuse himself, Hubbard’s resilience and dedication to justice left a lasting impact on Toronto’s civic landscape.

The tour and Hubbard’s story provide a powerful context for understanding the Black history embedded in Toronto’s East End, as Bennett hopes to showcase. “It’s kind of cool to be living where we do and to know that history is around you and it’s literally outside of your front door,” he reflected.

Through this walking tour and the broader #HearThis project, Bennett and Wilson aim to illuminate the legacy of William Peyton Hubbard, ensuring that his contributions are not just a footnote in history but a cornerstone of community identity and pride.