By overlooking the lives and achievements of blacks in the larger story of Canada’s development, historians have done a disservice to the thousands of Africans who came to Hamilton beginning in the 1800s, when the area was known as Head of the Lake. In what is clearly both a labour of love and an extensively researched document, Adrienne Shadd has corrected this oversight in The Journey from Tollgate to Parkway.
The first arrival of Africans to the Hamilton area is inextricably linked with the drive to escape the bondage of slavery in the U.S., and Shadd’s narrative occasionally crisscrosses the borders of the two nations. Much of the book is biographical in nature, lending it immediacy. The biographical detail is augmented by copious names, statistics, and historical images.
Shadd seamlessly blends into her story the many aspects of life in Hamilton’s black community, including education, church, contributions to both world wars, music, and the fight for equal rights. She revels in the human details of her story, while eschewing too much impersonal analysis, especially in the early part of the book. The author does endeavour to bring some analytical weight to bear on the community’s social and economic decline through the 20th century, pointing to the effects of Jim Crow laws in the American South that extended their influence to interactions between blacks and whites in Hamilton and elsewhere in Canada.
The book is extensively footnoted, and should find a welcome place in university history courses and on the shelves of high school libraries.