One of the first Black settlements in Canada, Wilberforce (named after the leading British abolitionist William Wilberforce [1759-1833]) was established in 1829 near the present-day community of Lucan, 15 miles north of London, by the number of free Blacks from Cincinnati. In Ohio, violence and prejudice had escalated with the strict enforcement of the state’s “Black Laws” which, among other things, required free Blacks to register and provide a $500 bond for “good behaviour.”
Backstory and Context
Initially led by James C. Brown and later by Austin Steward, the immigrants established a farming community that, within several years, grew to include 32 families from Cincinnati and other states. After initial success, the settlement began to decline due to disagreement among the leadership, mismanagement of funds and the overall difficulty residents experienced transitioning from life in an urban setting to a rural existence in the sense bush of Upper Canada. Several of the settlers stayed on however, including Peter Butler, a former slave from Maryland whose descendants remain in the area today.
An Ontario Heritage Foundation plaque describing the Wilberforce Settlement is located near the Lucan Area Heritage Museum, 192 Frank Street, Lucan. The Butler Cemetery is located just north of Lucan on the Coursey Line of Richmond Street.