Thornton and Lucie Blackburn - Black History Month

Thornton and Lucie Blackburn’s Story of Hardship and Hope

| February 9, 2022

Having escaped the horrors of slavery, Thornton and Lucie Blackburn would embark on a treacherous journey along the Underground Railroad. They faced challenges at every turn but persevered to become prominent members of Toronto’s Black community. This Black History Month, we will be sharing stories like this as we learn, reflect, and celebrate Black achievements  

Escape from slavery

In 1831, Thornton and Lucie Blackburn escaped from slavery by fleeing from Kentucky to Michigan, via the Underground Railroad. But, two years later, they were recaptured and jailed in Detroit. In the wake of their arrest, Detroit’s Black community advocated for their release.  

With the help of the Black community, the Blackburns managed to escape to Windsor, Canada. After arriving in Canada, they were again jailed, as the Governor of Michigan demanded their extradition. However, Canada rejected the Governor’s demands. And after being released, the Blackburns made their way to Toronto.  

Settlement and entrepreneurial success in Canada

While working at Osgoode Hall, Thornton learned about the arrival of horse-drawn hackney cabs in Montreal. Thornton decided to introduce this new method of public transportation to Toronto.  

In 1837, Thornton and Lucie hired a mechanic to build them a cab and decided to call it “The City.” Their horse-drawn cab was painted yellow and red, and the cab stand was located on Church Street. They ran a successful business that lasted until the 1860s. The historian and archaeologist Karolyn Smardz Frost notes, “Memories of the Blackburn cab are echoed in the Toronto Transit Commission’s red and yellow logo colours.”   

Community involvement and advocacy

The Blackburns were prominent and affluent members of Toronto’s Black community. They staunchly supported the abolitionist movement, and their house served as a shelter for incoming freedom seekers from the United States on multiple occasions.   


In 1985, an archaeological dig in downtown Toronto led to the discovery of the remains of the Blackburns’ house, where they had lived for over 50 years. In 1999, Thornton and Lucie Blackburn were designated as “persons of national historic significance” by the Government of Canada.