General History
Comment 1

Not for Ourselves but For Others

24785_520

Who were they? Unknown black family, Archives of Ontario.

Who were Granison and Luella Price and why should 6A Redwood Avenue be considered a heritage building? And what was the Eureka Club that first met there?

Before I answer these questions, I want to say that sadly I do not have pictures of Luella and Granison. I do have a picture of what is likely Luella’s brother William Cooper.

When I first started researching my neighbourhood some twenty years ago or more, I was told that there were no black people in Leslieville. Oral history I found in the local history collection at the Toronto Public Library supported this.

And I think I should say that it was a WASP neighbourhood. As a matter of fact, I think it was Hughie Garner that said we were WASPO – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Orangemen. Olwen Anderson

It was a predominantly English, Irish and Scotch stronghold. Bruce N. Rooney

When I was a boy, very rarely you met anybody who wasn’t born here or Anglo-Saxon or whatever you call them. Harry Wilmot

I did discover a few black families living in Leslieville around the time of the 1851 and 1861 Censuses and my first book, Pigs, Flowers and Bricks: A History of Leslieville to 1920, reflected a  Leslieville that I assumed was basically an Anglo-Celtic village. I self-published it. One representative of a well known Canadian publisher of local history books first told me that my book was “too local” and then that it needed to be all of the history up to the present. When I pressed him he told me that, “You aren’t the kind of person we want to represent us with a book. We prefer someone like Jane Pitfield [author of Leaside].” This left me wondering if I was too poor, too heavy, too indigenous or….?

But I continued to research and found to my astonishment that almost a quarter of the population of Leslieville in 1861 was black. Not only that but they were leaders in the community, owned stores, businesses and their descendents are still here. More African-Americans moved north throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century and I have found many records of black families on Morse, Caroline, Greenwood, Ashdale, Woodfield, and other local streets. So how did they become invisible to their neighbours? Was it because people did not want to acknowledge their presence, their humanity? What was behind the erasure of black Canadians from the history we were taught in school? Who gained from this and who lost? When did discrimination start to become unrespectable and human rights become the law of the land?  Are there descendents of the Eureka Club women who could tell us stories, share pictures, validate this wonderful history?

robert-edward-lee-cooper

Robert Edward Lee Cooper left Maryland for Hamilton, Ohio where he built a life for himself and his family. Their father William Cooper was a railway engineer in the period directly after the Civil War when the colour bar seemed to slip for a while allowing black men into occupations like this. Soon they would find that they were allowed to be porters but not rise to become conductors.

When Luella Cooper was born on June 30, 1858, in Maryland. Her father, William, was 21, and her mother, Mary, was 20. This was before the Emancipation Declaration which freed slaves on January 1,1864. It appears that her father may have been enslaved although there are records of Coopers as free people of colour in at that time. They were the descendants of white fathers and black mothers as was Luella. By the Civil War almost half of Maryland’s black population were free people of color. Maryland stayed in the Union during the Civil War although many supported slavery. Because it stayed in the Union, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t apply to Maryland. Many people moved from Maryland to Washington, D.C. during the Civil War both because of employment opportunities and to be free. In the fall of 1864 Maryland voted to free its enslaved people.

Luella Cooper was living in Washington, District of Columbia, USA, in 1870 at the time of the US Federal Census. She married Granison Thomas Grandison Price on June 16, 1875, in the District of Columbia, USA. He was a messenger for the US Government. Both were listed as “mulatto”.

Granison Thomas Price was born on March 1, 1857, in Maryland, USA, the son of Eliza, a black woman and Grandison Taylor Price, a farmer of moderate means in Rowlesburg, West Virginia, USA. His father was married to Abigail Ford and had a large family of children with her, as well as more children with Eliza, including William (1855) and Abram (1849). He had a white half-brother also named Granison or Grandison. Many family trees confuse the two men.

sharper

A member of the U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery

West Virginia did not support slavery and withdrew from the Confederacy, separating from the rest of Virginia which strongly supported slavery. It became the 35th state admitted to the Union on June 20, 1863. In West Virginia most slave owners were small landowners like his father. His father, Grandison Taylor Price, enlisted and fought in the West Virginia Infantry for the Union as a lowly private.

A “G. Price” served with the 11th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, enlisting on October 8, 1863. He was a waiter. On October 25, he was appointed a sergeant. (U.S., Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865 for G Price.)

It seems likely that this was Granison Price. This unit served mostly in Louisiana and Texas. He was probably mustered out of service with his regiment in 1865 at New Orleans.

coloured-artillery

A G. Price served in this Regiment of the U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery

Luella and Granison’s (or Grandison’s) only son was born on August 27, 1877, in Washington, District of Columbia, USA and apparently died in infancy as he is not in any other record.

Luella Cooper lived in Washington, District of Columbia, USA, in 1880 with her parents. Some of her family were living in Ohio by this time. Her father is listed as living in Ohio the same year, but that is not at all unlikely as William Cooper was an engineer and black men who worked on the railroad travelled widely. Some of the family lived to Hamilton, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati. His brother, William Price, married Jennie Bronston there in 1925.

When the Civil War was over, black Americans returned to the US though not to the South.  Instead they moved to the large cities of the American north and mid-west:  Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago, etc. While some stayed most black people in Leslieville joined the exodus. Others came north to escape Jim Crow laws and the violent racism of the South. However, Leslieville and Toronto too became whiter and whiter as the 19th century drew to a close.

By 18961887 the Prices were living in Toronto where Luella was working as a dressmaker. They lived downtown on York Street. The heart of the business district now was the heart of Toronto’s black community then. They were members of the First Baptist Church when they lived in Toronto. The Prices were devout Baptists and seemed to have been warm and generous people. They must have saved every penny and worked long hours to build up savings to invest in their businesses. He was a barber in 1891 but soon became a porter on the railroad and worked for the CPR. By 1893 Luella had her own restaurant there at 192 York Street. Her foster son Robert Lynch was born in 1881 in the USA. Robert J. Lynch  was a waiter on the railway. By 1896 they were living on Morse Street in the East End as the wealthy landowners of York Street cleared the houses to build offices and factories.

1901-census

The 1901 Census shows Mary Cooper, probably Luella’s mother, living with them in the Prices in their boarding house.

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Grand Trunk Pacific Railway – Chef and porters standing beside the train, 1914, Library and Archives Canada

Toronto was emphatically not a multicultural or tolerant society in 1910. Racism became more open, acceptable and obvious than it had been before the Civil War when thousands followed the North Star to Canada with or without the help of the Underground Railroad.

19100917-cdncour-vol-viii-no-17-racist-ad

Canadian Courier, Vol. VIII, No. 17, September 17, 1910 racist ad

Racists ads like this were common and even the Toronto Star mocked black people openly.

THE COLORED PEOPLE

Emancipation Day Celebrated by an Excursion from Toronto to Waterloo To-day

 “Come out de patch,” said the good-natured conductor at the Union Station this morning as a black cloud appeared at the eastern horizon of the Union Station. It was the Emancipation day excursion, which this year is being held at Waterloo.  There were colored people from all parts of the city, and they were all happy.

 Big Eliza was on hand and occupied two seats in a first-class car.

 Two excellent bands accompanied the excursionists and lustily played plantation melodies as the train moved out of the Union Station at 8 o’clock.

 To-day the colored people will own Waterloo and Berlin [now Kitchener].

 They will view the sights and eat gingerbread during the day, and to-night there will be the historic cake walk, when negroes’ short and tall, stout and slim, lean and willowy, fat and billowy will do their utmost to outrival all competitors in the grand walk for fame and cake.”

Toronto Star, August 1, 1894

Immigration laws and policy tightened to keep people of colour out. Between 1896 and 1907, one and a half million immigrants came to Canada, but less than a thousand were black.

19120330-cdncour-vol-xi-no-18-racist-seed-ad-clip

Canadian Courier, Vol. XI, No. 18, March 3, 1912 Racist stereotyping

Black people were not welcome here. Canada’s Immigration Act of 1910 prohibited “any race deemed unsuited to the climate or requirements of Canada”. On the other hand white immigrants from Britain received a financially incentive called the “British Bonus” for coming to Canada. Immigrants from Britain’s large cities like London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Glasgow and Belfast, poured into Leslieville from 1890 through to 1930 (with a gap in 1914-1918 when World War I was swallowing a generation).  They populated the new streets like Ashdale, Woodfield Road, Craven Road, Hiawatha Avenue, Prust Avenue, Gerrard Street East, etc. Some of these streets became whiter than snow thanks to the use of restrictive covenants in mortgages that kept the property to “Anglo Saxon Protestants”. But, at the same time, a black man was one of Toronto’s most powerful municipal politicians and black people did live here. I am tracing the history and genealogy of some of those black families.

Granison worked on the railroad as a porter as did their foster son. They ran a boarding house where some of the most prominent people in the black community stayed from time to time.

In 1910 Granison and Luella built a tiny frame house on Redwood Avenue, near Greenwood and Gerrard, in Toronto’s east end and moved there from 105 Morse Street.

That year something extraordinary happened.

Luella Price and a handful of other women met in her home at 6A Redwood Avenue to discuss how to help someone in their community who needed help. They saw one individual in need in their community and put their resources together to meet that need, banding together as the Eureka Club or the Eureka Friendly Club. Their motto was “Not for ourselves, but for others”.

As a Globe article of June 5, 1923 said:

Effective Work Being Done. So it is evident that those of the colored people who have achieved prominence in the affairs of the community are not losing sight of the needs of their less fortunate countrymen.

globe-05-june-1923-eureka-club

Poverty was not a black problem, but a human problem:

As for those who need the help of the social worker, their problems are unemployment, illness, desertion – just the same problems that confront the poor of any other race in our city.

The women of the Eureka Club were determined to reach out with assistance, tactfully and privately, on a one-to-one basis. Whatever the need was they quietly met it to the best of their ability.  They never sought publicity and, by and large, they didn’t get it. The Toronto Star of October 16, 1980 was an exception:

The Eureka group has done everything: Assisting with rent, hospital or funeral payments, visiting shut-ins, distributing food and clothing, supplying glasses for children, making cancer pads; awarding scholarships to students entering university, coating a wheelchair to Bloor-View Children’s Hospital, assisting churches in purchasing hymnals…Their work, ever since that first session 70 years ago to help one needy individual, has been largely in the black community, but not confined to it.

toronto-star-october-16-1980-photo

The Eureka Club was never larger than eighteen women.

toronto-star-october-16-1980-articleViola Deas was another of those involved in the Eureka Club. Her husband Horatio, like many of the spouses of the Eureka Club, was a railway porter as was Luella’s husband, Granison. This may have been one of the things this handful of women had in common as, in this case, it was not their church. They came from all denominations: Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, etc. Some lived in the East End. Viola Deas was later to live on Caroline Street.

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Canadian Courier, Vol. V, No. 23 May 8, 1909

In 1980 at its 70th anniversary, the Eureka Friendly Club was the oldest black women’s organization in Ontario.

The Prices like most in the black community worked hard, saved their money and used it wisely. Most owned their own homes. By 1914 the Prices had earned enough money for Luella to take a vacation. On May 4, 1914 she sailed aboard the Bermudian from Hamilton, Bermuda to New York City. From there she probably took a train to Toronto.

In 1915, at the age of 57, Luella Price had secured a permit for a three-storey brick apartment house to cost $9,500, on the site of  the Price’s home. (Toronto Star, Feb. 6, 1915)

toronto-star-feb-6-1915

Toronto Star, Feb. 6, 1915

The apartment at 6A Redwood Avenue is still standing.

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6A Redwood Avenue, Birthplace of the Eureka Club Photo by Joanne Doucette

Granison Thomas Price passed away on April 10, 1921, in the Hospital for the Incurables, Toronto, Ontario, at the age of 64. He had had a stroke some years earlier and was partially paralyzed. They had been married 45 years.

Luella Cooper continued to live in her apartment building on Redwood Avenue until she died on June 15, 1935, in York, Ontario. She was 76 years old. Her foster son, Robert C. Lynch reported her death. She was buried beside Granison in the St. John of Norway Cemetery, on June 18, 1935. On her death certificate the neat handwriting of Robert J. Lynch has her “racial origin” as “Canadian”, but an official has crossed this out and written in “Coloured”.

luella-death-certificate

Only two years, on May 7, 1937, one of her neighbours only a few blocks away wrote to the Toronto Star:

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Toronto Star, May 7, 1937

We are beginning to understand more about how some people literally “don’t count”, disappear from records and become invisible to their neighbours. Professional historians are mostly of European heritage, well-off and have never experienced the denial of housing, the inability to get a decent job, or violence because of their complexion. For most of the twentieth century, racism in Canada was the norm. People truly believed, and some still believe, that other people are racially inferior. They do not want to acknowledge their presence, their humanity and wish somehow time could be rolled back to whiter, brighter days. The history being taught in our schools is increasingly highlighting that of indigenous peoples, black Canadians, and others who are no longer Toronto’s minority, but majority. The Boards of Directors of corporations that are the backbone of the economy are still mostly European in origin and male.  People do gain and others do lose when discrimination permeates a society.   It is no longer good enough to place the burden of fighting racism on those who are the target of this malign heritage. It’s up to us all and we all win when we can truly see each other.

The Leslieville Historical Society has proposed that a plaque be placed near Logan and Queen to recognize the Underground Railroad and the black families of Leslieville. It is to be put in place in 2018. Check this website for updates or the Leslieville Historical Society Facebook page.

For more about the Underground Railroad and Leslieville go to:

https://leslievillehistory.com/weaving-our-history-the-isaac-price-house-and-the-underground-railroad/

For a copy of my new book, Leslieville: Pigs, Flowers and Bricks, 2016, go to

https://archive.org/details/PigsFlowersAndBricksFeb32017

You can read it online or download it free as a PDF. This edition does include the history of black Canadians, but not as a separate chapter. Instead, they are woven through the book. I did this because a chapter is insufficient and smacks of tokenism. Black men and women have been here since Simcoe and the British landed at York, now Toronto in the 1790s. They do not stand outside Toronto’s history but are an integral part of it. However, I wanted to acknowledge that we are all living on the homeland of various First Nations, including the Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Anishnaabe. I have been researching my own roots and struggling with Metis/metis/bois brules/chicot identity. We live and work and many like me retire on the traditional territory of the Mississauga of the New Credit. All my relations.

This entry was posted in: General History

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Welcome to the Leslieville Historical Society's website. Please feel free to join us, to ask questions, to attend walking tours and other events, and to celebrate Leslieville's past while creating our future. Guy Anderson, President, Leslieville Historical Society and Joanne Doucette, local historian and webmaster.

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  1. Pingback: Not for Ourselves but For Others | Leslieville Historical Society

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