Thornton Blackburn

Building a Business: New Prospects

Image 6.1 Osgoode Hall, Queen St. W., n.e. corner. Brigden’s Ltd., 1926. Image Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

Seizing an Opportunity

In 1835, Thornton and Lucie moved from Amherstburg to Toronto. Toronto, away from the American border, presented new opportunity and the chance to be mobile.

Thornton worked at Osgoode Hall as a waiter, but two years later he decided to pursue a new career path (Smardz Frost, 2007; 262). Thornton, now 22, acquired the blueprints for a horse-drawn cab from a Montreal taxi company, which he used to create his own company plans. The taxi business may have appealed to Thornton because he could now set his own hours and be his own boss. Additionally, everything he earned would belong to him and Lucie (Smardz Frost, 2007; 268).

In 1837, Thornton founded Toronto’s first cab company, The City, which had only one horse and carriage at the time and was stationed outside St. James Cathedral where he picked up wealthy citizens. The colours of the Blackburn cab company, red and yellow, are still used by the Toronto Transit Commission today (Smardz Frost, 2007; 268).

Work for the Free and Escaped

Although Toronto’s Black population was small, many of them owned businesses. Both those born free and former slaves owned taverns, fish stalls, and grocery stores. There was never legally enforced segregation in Toronto and many businesses served mixed clientele (Smardz Frost, 2007, p. 260).

Toronto generally experienced less anti-Black prejudice than in communities along the Detroit and Niagara borders (Smardz Frost, 2007; 258). But despite this perceived equality in the city, there was still social segregation. Black individuals rarely worked as agents, accountants, doctors, or in other white-collar professions. Most worked in physical labour jobs (McFarquhar, 2004; 55). Outside Toronto, those who lived in small towns often worked menial jobs and lived in harsh conditions (Vinci, 2010; 3). Therefore, opportunity was still limited.


Osgoode Hall has been a site of legal activity in Ontario for nearly two centuries. How might Thornton’s work at Osgoode Hall have inspired him to start his own business?

The enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community, or establishment.

 Part 1

 Part 5

 Part 2

 Part 6

 Part 3

 Part 7

 Part 4