Adrienne Shadd is living history of Southwestern Ontario and, by extension, Canada.
Her great, great grand-aunt, Mary Ann Shadd, was the first female newspaper editor in Canada and the first Black female lawyer in North America, having graduated from Howard University.
Mary Ann Shadd’s father, Abraham, opposed African colonization and argued for the entitlement of civil rights he felt Black Americans deserved as a result of their significant investment in the country’s foundation. He was also a conductor on the Underground Railroad, president of the National Convention for the Improvement of Free People of Colour and an active participant in the funding of the American Anti-Slavery Society before coming to Canada in 1851 and settling in North Buxton where he was elected Raleigh Township councillor.
Fully aware of her historical lineage, Adrienne Shadd has focused on heritage research and preservation and co-authored and co-edited four books on Black history, race, ethnicity and language.
Last week, the Toronto resident was recognized with the William Hubbard Race Relations award at the City of Toronto’s annual Access, Equity and Human Rights event to celebrate Human Rights Day and the 61st anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.
The city established the William Hubbard award in 1989 to honour Toronto’s first Black councilor who successfully ran for public office at age 51 in the late 1890s and served as deputy mayor and acting mayor.
A visionary, Hubbard led the charge for publicly owned water supply and electric power that resulted in the establishment of Ontario and Toronto Hydro. He also persuaded the city to acquire the Toronto Islands.
“He’s precisely the kind of personality that I sought to highlight in my own work as a historian of the Black Canadian experience,” said Shadd. “When I was growing up, there was no field of Black Canadian history or Black Canadian Studies and in fact such a notion would have been considered laughable.
“But, as I began to learn of some of the events and personalities of African Canadians, I knew that research and writing in this area would be one of my central focuses. Much of my own effort has gone towards the recovery of little known people and events which have not made the history books, but which have changed history nonetheless.”
Some of the stories Shadd has shed light on include the Kent County Civil Rights League’s successful campaign to desegregate Chatham public schools in the 1890s and the deputations of Hamilton’s Black leaders who in 1889 took a petition to city council protesting the shut out of Blacks to city jobs.
“These are some of the cases … I have sought to look at, not only because they are compelling stories in as much of themselves, but because they tell us who we are as a people, about where we were, where we are now and where we still need to go,” said Shadd whose book, Journey From Tollgate to Parkway: African Canadians in Hamilton, will be released next year.
Toronto’s poet laureate, Dionne Brand, paid tribute to the honourees including Shadd, who holds a Master’s in Sociology from McMaster University.
“It would have been sufficient, that name Shadd, but not for you,” Brand told Shadd. “You took the weight of it and added more and wrote down for us a shattering archaeology of race.”
Jane-Finch resident, Paul Nguyen, who started the inspirational website jane-finch.com which is a virtual hub of community resources, history, art, youth forums and local news and the Scadding Court Community Centre were also recognized with William Hubbard awards.
Previous winners of the award include Share columnist, Murphy Browne; AIDS activist, Douglas Stewart and educators Dr. Afua Cooper, Dr. Carl James, Dr. George Dei and Dr. George Elliott Clarke.
Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor David Onley and Mayor David Miller also praised the award winners.
“Our recipients are creative and they bring joy to our lives while working towards making our city more inclusive,” said Miller. “We are celebrating you this evening and we are indebted to you for your commitment, dedication and perseverance in the face of what often must seem like insurmountable obstacles.”
Access, Equity and Human Rights awards were also presented in the Queer, Aboriginal Affairs and Disability categories to mark Human Rights Day celebrated on December 10.