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City of Toronto memorializes U.S. slave who found freedom in Etobicoke
Aug. 4, 2021
Tamara Shephard

The city unveiled a statue of former slave Joshua Glover -- who escaped to freedom in 1854 to what is now Etobicoke on June 30 -- on the eve of Emancipation Month in Toronto.

Emancipation Month acknowledges the legacy and history of slavery in Canada and the contributions of people of African descent to Toronto and the country.

Rexdale-born and raised award-winning artist, storyteller and educator Quentin VerCetty’s bronze and black galaxy stone monument depicts a suit-wearing Glover clutching his freedom papers and books and looking toward the future, with a mangled cyborg arm dangling chains behind him.

It’s titled “Step Forward Into History.”

VerCetty said he felt a kinship with Glover, whose story is about "expanding the limits of imagination and recognizing a person's humanity," at his monument’s unveiling at the new Joshua Glover Park at 25 Ackley Hts.

“His story is all about transformation,” VerCetty said in an earlier interview, adding his design came to him in a dream. “His robotic arm is about the limitation, a metaphor for his enslavement. I felt growing up I was in bondage to my circumstances, living in poverty and not having access to certain resources.”

In 1852, Glover escaped a Missouri slave owner. Two years later, he was beaten, captured and jailed, but freed by abolitionists. The Underground Railroad delivered him to freedom in Canada, where slavery had been abolished in 1833.

Glover worked as a labourer for Thomas Montgomery on the family’s 120-hectare property, which includes Montgomery’s Inn.

Glover died on June 4, 1888. He had lived more than half of his life in slavery.

VerCetty noted that while it is not known what Glover looked like, he took details from writings about him to create a “collage of metaphoric symbolism” of Glover’s story; the cyborg arm represents when Glover was considered owned property.

“Glover’s story will be remembered for many tomorrows as a reminder that the greatest human quality is the ability to make life better for others through the validation of love and support,” VerCetty said.

VerCetty’s monument is the first in Toronto to honour a person of African descent.

Mayor John Tory spoke about how important it is for all Torontonians to understand people’s history.

“I have learned what goes on and what went on, even generations ago, there is intergenerational impact on subsequent generations irrespective of the way the world saw them,” Tory said. “That affects how they see themselves in the present tense, and sometimes even the way other people see them today. And so, it’s important that these people feel truly enhanced and feel they truly belong.”

A Heritage Toronto plaque detailing the historical context of Glover’s journey to Canada and freedom stands adjacent to the statue.

“The Black community has helped shape Toronto,” Heritage Toronto board chairperson Liza Chalaidopoulos said. “For too long, too little has been known about their history. We’re prioritizing our diverse city and experiences, which date back to its founding and beyond. The extraordinary life of Joshua Glover is one of those stories.”

In 2017, the Etobicoke Historical Society (EHS) initiated the History and Art in the Parks project and partnered with the city on the Glover commission.

“We saw there was, and still is, a great need for historical monuments and plaques in Etobicoke,” said EHS former president Joel Winter, who headed the project, thanking city culture division staff. “EHS, like all historical societies, works hard as volunteers to bring our history to the surface and share it with others.”

During the 1960s, EHS saved Montgomery’s Inn from demolition, Winter said.

As a volunteer gardener at Montgomery’s Inn, which is a museum now, Winter said his thoughts often drift to Glover.

“I often think of Joshua Glover and how he must have felt as a free man earning a wage versus being a slave,” he said.