William Peyton Hubbard (1842 – April 13, 1935), a City of Toronto alderman from 1894 to 1914, was a popular and influential politician; he was the first politician of African descent elected to office in Canada.
Hubbard was born in a cabin in what were then the outskirts of Toronto, in a rural area called “the bush” near the intersection of what are now Bloor Street and Bathurst Street. His parents were refugee American slaves who had escaped their plantation in Virginia and reached Canada in 1840 via the Underground Railroad. Raised a devout Anglican, Hubbard was trained as a baker at the Toronto Normal School. He invented and patented a successful commercial baker’s oven, the Hubbard Portable.
By his thirties he had married Julia Luckett. After having worked 16 years as a baker, he joined his uncle’s horse-drawn livery taxi service. One winter night, he rescued another cab and its occupant, newspaper publisher George Brown, from drowning in the Don River. A grateful Brown hired Hubbard as his driver. They became friends and the publisher later encouraged Hubbard to seek public office. His lifelong friend was Anderson Ruffin Abbott, Canada’s first black physician.
Hubbard first sought public office in 1893 at the age of 51, running in Toronto’s Ward 4, where he lost by 7 votes. Encouraged, he ran again in Ward 4 in 1894 and was elected to represent the quiet, tree-lined ward of grand homes; it was one of the wealthiest and whitest wards in the city (encompassing an area between University Avenue and Bathurst Street). He was elected to city council a total of 15 times in his career.
A reformer armed with a sharp wit and a powerful oratory skills, which earned him the nickname “Old Cicero“, Hubbard was known for his strong sense of public duty. He made his name fighting for public ownership of Toronto’s water and hydroelectric supplies. Hubbard was appointed to the Toronto Board of Control, the city’s powerful executive body, in 1898 and agitated to have the body directly elected by the people. He won election to the body in the first city-wide election in 1904, the first and only person of colour to win a city-wide election in Toronto’s history. Hubbard topped the polls in the election to the Board in 1906; as vice-chairman of the board, he served as Acting Mayor on occasions when the Mayor was absent. He was re-elected in 1907 but defeated in 1908, and again in the 1909 and 1910 municipal elections.
Hubbard was the first visible minority, and the first black citizen, to be elected to public office, at either the local, provincial, or federal level, in a Canadian city. (While two black councilors had been elected in local elections prior to Hubbard, both were from smaller towns with populations of less than 4,000 each. One of the black city councillors, Mifflin Gibbs, was from Vancouver Island which at the time was still a British colony; since British Columbia had not yet joined Confederation and was not yet a part of Canada).
Hubbard gained passage of almost 100 initiatives in his years on council. He advocated improved waterworks and opposed its privatization, sought roads, and the authority to enact local improvement bylaws.
Hubbard joined with Sir Adam Beck to advocate a publicly owned Hydroelectricity utility system in the province and led efforts to create the publicly owned Toronto Hydro-Electric Commission. He was opposed in this campaign by some businessmen who wanted a private system, leading to his defeat in 1908, his first loss at the polls in 24 years.
He was appointed justice of the peace for York County in May 1908. Hubbard returned to city council in the 1913 election, this time representing Ward 1 which included the Riverdale neighbourhood. He retired at the end of his one-year term due to his wife’s ill health.
Retirement and death
Hubbard retired to the Riverdale area of the city, building a home on Broadview Avenue near Danforth Avenue. He lived there until his death from a stroke at the age of 93. Coincidentally the alderman, dubbed the Grand Old Man by Toronto press in his political days, and serving well into his 90s, was the quite literally the oldest man in the city for a short period before his death. Flags at Toronto City Hall, St. Lawrence Market, and other public buildings in the city flew at half mast to mark his death. He is buried in the Toronto Necropolis.
- Hubbard’s portrait hangs in the office of the Mayor of Toronto.
- The City of Toronto’s William Peyton Hubbard Award For Race Relations was established in 1989 and is awarded annually. Recipients have included Leonard Braithwaite, QC, George Elliot Clarke, Dub Poet Lillian Allen, and former Ontario cabinet minister Alvin Curling.
- The William Peyton Hubbard Memorial Award is a scholarship established in 2000 and funded by Hydro One which is awarded annually to two black students studying power industry-related disciplines at a recognized Ontario post-secondary institution. The award includes an offer of a work term or summer employment at Hydro One.
- A historical plaque commemorating Hubbard is located in front of his former home at 660 Broadview Avenue; it is now named Hubbard House and houses several classrooms for the Montcrest School.
- A park at the site of the former Don Jail, at the corner of Gerrard Street and Broadview Avenue, is to be named Hubbard Park.
Toronto Board of Control (top 4 candidates elected)
- Frank S. Spence – 12,294
- John F. Loudon – 11,121
- William Peyton Hubbard – 8,950
- Fred H. Richardson – 8,923
- Burns – 8,641
- Joseph Oliver – 8,598
- John Shaw – 7,184
- Frank S. Spence (incumbent) – 13,032
- J.J. Ward – 12,993
- William Peyton Hubbard (incumbent) – 12,880
- John Shaw – 12,436
- J.R.L Starr – 9,823
- Joseph Oliver – 8,141
- Thomas Foster – 6,395
- G.R. Ramsden – 5,839
- Frank Moses – 5,048
- A.R. Denison – 4,925
- Edward Hanlan – 2,178
- William Peyton Hubbard (incumbent) – 14,081
- S. Alfred Jones – 14,039
- J.J. Ward (incumbent) – 13,770
- John Shaw (incumbent) – 12,524
- Hastings – 11,308
- J.J. Ward (incumbent) – 9,362
- William Spence Harrison – 9,054
- Horatio Clarence Hocken – 8,639
- William Peyton Hubbard (incumbent) – 8,483
- Robert Fleming – 7,077
- S. Alfred Jones (incumbent) – 6,710
- John Shaw (incumbent) – 6,465
- John Dunn – 5,038
- Davies – 1,390
- Joel Marvin Briggs – 496
- Horatio Clarence Hocken (incumbent) – 16,844
- Frank S. Spence – 11,512
- William Spence Harrison (incumbent) – 10,312
- J.J. Ward (incumbent) – 10,075
- William Peyton Hubbard (incumbent) – 9,203
- John Shaw – 6,385
- Robert Fleming – 5,640
- Oliver Sheppard – 5,099
- John Dunn – 4,434
- John Enoch Thompson – 1,291
- James Lindala – 1,220
- Hugh MacMath – 1,013
- Robert Buist Noble – 745
- James O’Hara – 367
- Joel Marvin Briggs – 232
- George Reginald Geary – 19,027
- Horatio Clarence Hocken (incumbent) – 17,380
- J.J. Ward (incumbent) – 15,782
- William Spence Harrison (incumbent) – 13,509
- Frank S. Spence (incumbent) – 12,933
- William Peyton Hubbard – 11,275
- Hales – 8,171
- Robert Buist Noble – 1,287
- James O’Hara – 779
- Frank S. Spence – 13,879
- J.J. Ward (incumbent) – 13,401
- Tommy Church – 12,657
- Thomas Foster – 10,841
- William Spence Harrison (incumbent) – 9,946
- William Peyton Hubbard – 9,498
- Mark Bredin – 8,708
- James Henry McGhie – 7,511
- James Hales – 5,852
- Albert Chamberlain – 2,730
Alderman for Ward 1 (top 3 candidates elected)
- Ward 1 (Riverdale)
- William D. Robbins – 4,030
- Albert Edwin Walton – 3,789
- William Peyton Hubbard – 3,611
- William John Saunderson (incumbent) – 1,935
- William Edward Orr – 1,209
- Frank Britton – 602
- “Son of slaves changed the face of Toronto as first black councillor”. Toronto Star. February 11, 2011. Retrieved August 2, 2014.
- “Historicist: Public History and William Peyton Hubbard”, The Torontoist, February 14, 2009