Since Tony and I moved to Lucan, we’ve really enjoyed exploring the area around us. When a friend from Toronto visited us in February, she told us about a project at work to mark Black History Month. The staff were encouraged to share a story about Black history in Ontario. I took her to our local Foodland store where there is a very large mural on the wall in the adjacent building that faces the parking lot. I hadn’t heard of the Wilberforce settlement until moving to Lucan.

Ed Butler and family in front of the Lucan mural in 2020. Photo courtesy of Max Martin and The London Free Press.

Here is the description of the Wilberforce Settlement from the Ontario Heritage Trust:

In 1829, a group of free Blacks from Cincinnati, Ohio set out for Biddulph Township in Upper Canada with a bold vision: to establish an organized colony where they could enjoy freedom, self-determination and equality. They were joined by African Americans from New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and other places. Settlers purchased 323 hectares (800 acres) of land from the Canada Company, aided by a group of Ohio Quakers, and named it after British abolitionist William Wilberforce. By 1832, there were 32 families, a sawmill and two schools, Baptist and Methodist congregations, a temperance society, a blacksmith, shoemaker and tailor. Because the number of settlers was much smaller than originally planned, and due to the unwillingness of Canada Company agents to sell them more land, the colony did not expand. Many of its leaders left by the 1840s. A core group remained, however, and their descendants continued to live in the area into the 21st century. Through land ownership, hard work, education and legal equality, these freedom pioneers struck a blow at American oppression and carved a path for others to follow.

Peter Butler III before 1913. Photo courtesy of CTV News London, image source: Butler family.

When I read that there were Quakers who helped support this settlement, I wanted to learn more. In the local museum, Lucan Area Heritage & Donnelly Museum, there is a little library. One day, after my third visit to the museum, I sat down with a delightful book titled Vanished Villages of Middlesex by Jennifer Grainger. On the page describing “Sauble Hill,” I read: “Funding for the settlement scheme came from Quakers in Oberlin, Ohio, who bought 800 acres of land from the Canada Company. The settlement consisted of 400 acres near Clandeboye, 200 in what is now Lucan and two 100-acre lots southeast of Lucan, opposite St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church. Eventually Biddulph township became very Irish, but there were pockets of Black settlers in the area right up to the end of the nineteenth century.”[1]

So, that was the Quaker connection. Faith in action! One of the participants in Friendly Friday lives in Oberlin, Ohio! Small world.

Not only is this interesting history, but you may not know that the first Black police officer came from Lucan. In 2021, CTV News London wrote an interesting article about Peter Butler III, the first Black OPP officer who served more than fifty years. The mural in Lucan pays tribute to the refugee settlement and to Peter Butler III, a descendent of the original settlers.

Tony and I enjoy continuing to discover local history. Especially if we find an ice cream shop along the way! One never knows where history will be found, even in the parking lot of a grocery store!

-Donna Moore

[1] Jennifer Grainger, Vanished Villages of Middlesex (Toronto: Natural Heritage/Natural History Inc., 2002), 35.