OTD: George Brown co-founds Anti-Slavery Society of Canada

On today’s date in 1851, George Brown co-founded the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada in Toronto.

The Anti-Slavery Society of Canada was “one of the forms in which the abolition sentiment of the province of Upper Canada made its contribution to the final settlement of the great issue in the neighboring country,” according to a January 1919 article by Fred Landon in The Journal of Negro History (Vol. 4, No. 1).

“Its purpose was solely to bring united effort to bear upon the great task and the great responsibility that fell upon Canada when the passing of the Fugitive Slave Bill drove the Negroes from the North into Canada by the hundreds, if not by the thousands. With more newcomers arriving every day, destitute, friendless and more or less dazed by the experiences through which they had passed, it was no small task that these Canadian abolitionists had undertaken to care for the fugitives, give them opportunities for education and social advancement and enable them to show by their own efforts that they were capable of becoming useful citizens.”

A first-day cover issued by Canada Post for the 1968 Brown stamp was mailed to Edmond Struyf, a Belgian postal official. (Photo by
Andrew Liptak, also known as ‘Philcovex’ on his Postal History Corner blog)

Landon, who produced more than 300 publications on Ontario’s history and pioneered the study of African Canadian history, explained “there had been attempts before this to found such an organization but they had come to nothing. By 1851, however, the situation in the United States had changed and the effect had at once shown itself in Canada, so that the time was ripe for the bringing into one body of the various individuals who had been showing themselves the friends of the slave.

“The Society of Canada continued active right through the fifties and early sixties, not resting until the aim for which it had been founded had been accomplished.”

Among its active membership were “some of the best-known men in the province and as its organ it had an outstanding newspaper, The Globe, of Toronto,” wrote Landon.

At that time, Brown – one of the Fathers of Confederation – was serving as editor of The Globe, which he established in 1844.

The Globe, under Brown as editor, was a stout ally. Brown’s personal interest in the fugitives was marked. His private generosity to the needy has been recorded by one of his biographers but greater service was rendered through the columns of his paper. He was outspoken in denunciation of anything that savored of an alliance with slavery.

“Canada, he believed, should stand four square against the whole system of human bondage.”

At an 1852 meeting, Brown went as far as bringing forward a resolution “deploring the indifference of some church bodies.”


Brown is widely credited for the support given to the society by The Globe; however, according to Landon, “it must be said in justice that no small share of the credit for The Globe’s attitude should go to the lesser known brother, Gordon Brown, who was regarded by many as really more zealous for abolition that George Brown. This was tested during the Civil War period when the turn of sentiment against the North in Canada brought much criticism upon The Globe. There was a disposition on the part of George Brown to grow lukewarm in his support of the North, but Gordon Brown never wavered and is said to have threatened on one occasion to leave the paper if there were any more signs of hauling down the colours.”

“When the war was over American citizens in Toronto presented Gordon Brown with a gold watch suitably inscribed, an indication possibly of the opinion of that day with regard to his services,” wrote Landon.


On Aug. 21, 1968, Canada’s Post Office Department (now Canada Post) featured Brown on a five-cent stamp (Scott #484) showing a portrait of Brown alongside the Prince Edward Island legislature and the front page of The Globe, which is known today as The Globe and Mail.

The stamp was slated for release on Aug. 7, 1968, but its issue date was postponed until Aug. 21 because of a rocky relationship between the government and the postal unions that resulted in a postal strike.

In addition to his legacy in Canadian media, Brown helped the nation push passed its differences with a coalition government in 1864; before this, in the 1850s, the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada fought to end slavery in Canada and abroad by raising money to feed, house and clothe destitute refugees.

After being shot by a disgruntled employee at The Globe office in Toronto, Brown’s relatively minor injury (he was able to push the gun down and away from his body) turned gangrenous and he died seven weeks later.

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