Saturday, January 29, 2011

BHM Toronto History - Old Cicero, the last Grand Old Man

Black History Month is for everyone.  Unlike Thornton Blackburn, William Peyton Hubbard was a full Torontonian, born and raised. Much like Blackburn, Hubbard would also establish a Toronto institution.

Hubbard's parents were Virginia slaves who took the Underground Railroad to freedom, finally establishing themselves in Toronto. Born free in Toronto in 1842, Hubbard went to school to be a baker on the grounds currently occupied by Ryerson University. While most schools in Ontario were segregated, Toronto schools were not.

One night, a young Hubbard saw a man whose carriage was about to plunge into the Don River.  He dashed to his rescue - that man was George Brown, one of Canada's "Fathers of Confederation," founder of the Toronto Globe (precursor to the Globe and Mail) and one of the founders of the beginnings of the Liberal Party of Canada. Brown would take Hubbard under his wing and encourage him into politics.

Hubbard would be elected alderman of the most affluent ward in the city - Ward 4, thirteen years straight. He would rise to the powerful Board of Control (topping the polls in 1906) and the office of Deputy Mayor, including periods as acting mayor. His eloquence earned him the nickname "Old Cicero".

Hubbard partnered with Adam Beck to create the publicly owned hydroelectric company now known as HydroOne.

He retired to his home on Broadview Avenue, and was regularly visited by reporters looking for a quote, right up until his death in 1935 at the good old age of 93, Toronto's last "grand old man."

For more details and images of William Hubbard's life, see the excellent article Historicist: Public History and William Peyton Hubbard, or this fine article in the Star.

Today, Hydro One's William Peyton Hubbard Award goes annually to two black, Ontario university students enrolled in power industry programs.

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