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One of the first Black settlements in Canada, Wilberforce (named after the leading British abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was established in 1829 near the present-day community of Lucan, 15 miles north of London, by a number of free Blacks from Cincinnati. In Ohio, violence and prejudice had escalated with the strict enforcement of the state’s “Black Laws” which, among other things, required free Blacks to register and provide a $500 bond for “good behaviour.”


Initially led by James C. Brown and later by Austin Steward, the immigrants established a farming community which, within several years, grew to include 32 families from Cincinnati and elsewhere. It then began to decline, possibly because many of the residents found it difficult to move from life in an urban setting to starting a farm in the dense bush of Upper Canada. Several of the settlers stayed on however, including Peter Butler, a former slave from Maryland whose descendants remain in the area today.

More information regarding the Wilberforce Settlement and the Butler family can be found at the Lucan Area Heritage and Donnelly Museum. The Museum includes a display on the Wilberforce settlement and also has an extensive research collection accessible to the public in their Library. There is also an Ontario Heritage Foundation plaque describing the Wilberforce Settlement on the property of the Museum. The Butler Cemetery is located just north of Lucan on the Coursey Line at Richmond Street.