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Images of Black History

The Alvin McCurdy Collection at the Ontario Archives.


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Amherstburg—a small town in the southwest corner of Ontario—is located across the Detroit River, about 25 minutes south of  Detroit. But there is something special about this town - it was one of the final Canadian destinations in the Underground Railway, and is the birthplace of Alvin McCurdy.

Alvin D. McCurdy, born in 1916, lived out his entire life there. Besides being a long-time carpenter, he belonged to the Baptist Church and was involved in the Amherstburg Community Club, as well as the Amherstburg Progressive Association of Coloured People.

In 1990, the records he collected were acquired by the Ontario Archives, and in February 2006, the collection was made public. It is the archive's biggest and most important source of information about the black community in Ontario.

It encompasses dozens of newspaper clippings, postcards, minutes, research files, scrapbooks, and correspondence, as well as roughly 3000 photographs of family and friends, church activities, and social and cultural events. The collection pre-dates 1791, and goes to the mid-20th century.

The collection covers the following sections: From Slavery to Settlement; Economy and Education; Community and Social Life; Genealogy in the McCurdy Collection; and The Enduring Value of the McCurdy Collection.

Items in the From Slavery to Settlement section show, for example, that in 1819, all black residents of what today is Ontario were free and protected by British law. In 1833, Emancipation Day was declared throughout the British Empire, and almost a million slaves were freed on that first day of August.

After the American Revolution, an informal network of people—called the Underground Railway—helped escaped slaves move to the North to such sites as Amherstburg, one of the places where they settled in Canada. Martin Luther King Jr. called Canada "the North Star", where freedom lived.

They opened a number of safe houses for the slaves; started the Voice of the Fugitive newspaper; purchased property; and built houses, towns, and villages. They became farmers, merchants, lawyers, doctors, and teachers. Today, there is a museum to the slaves who first came: the North American Black Museum, found online at <>.

Other sections of the collection cover, for example, the genealogy of the McCurdy family from 1808 to 1986; Amherstburg schools from 1881 to 1987; Black churches from 1852 to 1998; and Amherstburg Citizen's Advancement Association minutes from 1887 to 1983.

The collection also contains 12 scrapbooks of news clippings from 1880 to 1989. Families mentioned in the texts of the collection include those of McCurdy, Adams, Banks, Holten, Kirtley, King, Munroe, Saunders, Thomas, and Thompson.

A finding aid is available for this collection, and is found under the title of Fonds F2076. A visit to the website <> reveals many of the pictures included in the McCurdy fonds, as well as where they can be found in the record.

The archives would like to hear from you. You can leave your remarks in a feedback form provided right on the website, or you can direct questions about the Alvin McCurdy Collection to: Team Leader, Strategic Business Solutions, Archives of Ontario, 77 Grenville St., Toronto, ON M5B 1B3 Tel: (416) 327-1527.

Source Information: Canadian Connections, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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