City of Windsor names park after slavery abolitionist, pioneering Black publisher

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A park in Sandwich Town has been renamed to honour Mary E. Bibb, a slavery abolitionist and publisher who lived in Windsor.

An event to unveil the park's new sign was held virtually on Tuesday, the second day of Black History Month.

Bibb and her husband, Henry Bibb, were the publishers of The Voice of the Fugitive, an anti-slavery newspaper founded in 1851. Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said Bibb is the first Black female journalist in this country.

"Mary Bibb helped to shape this community, and today we are honouring her as we continue to nurture and support a strong, culturally rich and significant Sandwich Town and broader community," he said.

The park, which is adjacent to Mackenzie Hall, was formerly named Mackenzie Hall Park.

According to the city, a request to change the name of the park was made by the Mackenzie Hall volunteer group The Friends of the Court, and it was passed unanimously by Windsor City Council.

'Astonishing' story of Mary Bibb

Irene Moore Davis, author and president of the Essex County Black Historical Research Society, said Bibb's story is "astonishing."

In a presentation on Bibb's life during the virtual ceremony on Tuesday, she noted that Bibb was one many figures of the anti-slavery movement who once walked the streets of Windsor.

Dale Molnar/CBC
Dale Molnar/CBC

Bibb was born around 1820 in Rhode Island to free parents, which meant she was afforded privileges such as education, Moore Davis said. She had been a teacher in Boston, New York, Albany and Cincinnati, she added.

"But you know, she could have just stopped there but she didn't," Moore Davis said. "It was through her activities in the abolitionist movement that she truly shone."

She and her husband Henry Bibb, who became an author and advocate after escaping slavery twice, moved to Canada after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made living in the U.S. more dangerous, Moore Davis said.

She called the couple a "powerful team" in the abolitionist movement.

"They choose to settle in Sandwich and then in Windsor, where they could enjoy the relative safety of Canada West but still remain in close contact with their network of abolitionists and Underground Railroad operatives on the U.S. side of the border," she said.

While Henry was officially the publisher of their publication, Mary Bibb had a far greater role in it than has been acknowledged, Moore Davis said.

The Bibbs operated the Refugee Home Society, which helped formerly enslaved people purchase homes and land, she said.

Mary Bibb also founded several schools, opened a dress-making business, offered settlement services and founded literary societies. She died in New York in 1877.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.