Presents from the Past

Black History in Kingston

People

George Mink (c1809 – 1873)

George Mink was a prominent Kingston businessman. He was descended from slaves who were brought to Canada by the Herkimer family after the American Revolution. He owned a livery stable, inn and tavern on Clarence Street. He also ran a stage coach service on Wolfe Island. In spite of pressure and harassment from the introduction of rail travel, Mink continued to run a thriving business until his death in 1873.

Harriet Powell (c1815 – 1859)

She was a slave who escaped during a visit to Syracuse, New York, and made her way to Kingston in November 1839. She married a Kingston musician named Henry Kelly, and they had nine children. The family lived on Queen Street across from St. Paul's Church. Harriet and her husband are buried in Cataraqui Cemetery.

Robert Sutherland (c1830 – 1878)

Robert Sutherland was the first black student at Queen's University. He was born in Jamaica. He registered at Queen's in 1849 and was an outstanding student and treasurer of the Debating Club. Upon graduation he attended Osgoode Law School and became a lawyer in Walkerton, Ontario. He never married, and when he died in 1878 he left his estate to Queen's. It was the largest donation the university had ever received from a single person, and saved Queen's from being absorbed by the Univeristy of Toronto.

James Elder (c1792-1853) and Maria Elder (c1810-1859) 

The Elders sold oysters, fruits and confectionery in a thriving business called the Oregon Saloon. It was on Ontario Street "opposite the Martello tower" near the current location of the Prince George Hotel. In January 1848, fire broke out in the middle of the night, and James barely had time to save his family. The building was ruined and  he lost his life savings of 200 pounds. Kingstonians contributed funds, and three weeks later the Elders were able to re-start the business in a temporary location on King Street. Later it returned to its original spot on Ontario Street. After James died in 1853, his wife kept the business going until her own death.

Joseph Gutches (c1763-1842)

Joseph Gutches was a slave brought to Kingston from Niagara in 1782 by Richard Cartwright (1759-1815). Five years later, he took Cartwright to court,  arguing that he should have been legally entitled to his freedom at age 21. Cartwright responded "I have every reason to believe that he was legally a slave" when bought for $125 from a Mr. Allen in Niagara. The judge ruled against Gutches, and he remained in the Cartwright household at 221 King Street East until his death on October 30th, 1842 at the age of 79.

William Johnson (1799-1881)

Johnson's business as a barber and hairdresser survived no less than three devastating fires and lasted more than fifty years from soon after his arrival in Kingston from Ohio in 1826, until his death in 1881. He purchased property at 49 Earl Street and also at the corner of King and Johnson Streets. His son James B. Johnson continued the business after William's death, and is known to have been Sir John A. Macdonald's barber.

Willie O'Ree (1935 - present)

Willie Eldon O'Ree has been called "the Jackie Robinson of hockey." Born and raised in New Brunswick, he was the first black hockey player in the National Hockey League. In the 1959-1960 season, he played 50 games with the Kingston Frontenacs, scoring 25 goals and 21 assists. He lived on Albert Street with two other players, just around the corner from the Memorial Centre. Later, O'Ree went on to play for Western Hockey League teams in L.A. and San Diego. Since his retirement, he has served as the NHL's Director of Youth Development and ambassador for NHL Diversity. In 2008, marking the 50th anniversary of his first NHL game, he received many honours, and in 2010 he received the Order of Canada. A recently-released film, called Soul on Ice, includes a segment about O'Ree.

Eon Sinclair (1981 - present)

Born in Toronto in 1981 to Guyanese parents, Eon Sinclair says he heard a lot of reggae music while growing up. Twenty years later, while studying fine arts at Queen's University, he joined forces with vocalist/guitarist Jay Malinowski, drummer Pat Pengelly and djembe player Brett Dunlop, to form the group Bedouin Soundclash. While they were at Queen's, Sinclair and Malinowski lived across from each other on the eighth floor of Waldron Tower. The band's first album, Root Fire, was recorded in 13 hours, which was all the studio time they could afford at that time. Since then, the group has played in concerts all over the world. They are known for their commitment to environmental and humanitarian causes, and for their Juno-award-winning music.