City of Toronto unveils memorial sculpture to honour Joshua Glover as part of new park

Quentin VerCetty poses beside a picture of his winning proposal for the Joshua Glover memorial. Doug Gamey / Global News

The City of Toronto has unveiled a memorial sculpture in honour of Joshua Glover, who escaped slavery in the United States and came to Canada through the Underground Railroad more than 165 years ago.

“His story, both here and in the United States, helped to propel the abolitionist movement,” Mayor John Tory said at an announcement on Thursday at Montgomery’s Inn.

“It also brings to life, I think in a very real way, the contribution past and present of Black Torontonians to the building of the city. The stories of Black Torontonians are part of our city’s history.

“Black history is our history.”

Read more: Author calls for more Black history education, awareness in Ontario

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Glover escaped from where he was enslaved in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1852, and eventually ended up in Racine, Wisconsin. In 1854, he was recaptured and taken to a Milwaukee jail. Thousands of residents protested at the jail, releasing Glover.

Through the Underground Railroad, he made his way to a boat that brought him to Ontario. He eventually settled in the Lambton Mills area of Etobicoke working for Thomas Montgomery, the owner of Montgomery’s Inn — a then-popular community hub that serves as a municipal museum.

Fast-forward to 2015 and the Etobicoke Historical Society sought to honour a notable, local Black resident. Glover was shortlisted and eventually selected for recognition at a park to be constructed as part of the Kingsway by the River development, located just north of Dundas Street West and east of Royal York Road.

Quentin VerCetty, a Black artist, visual storyteller and an art educator, won the public art competition to design the memorial to Glover.

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“I was once told that a successful art piece is an art piece that contains a bit of the artist’s soul in it,” he told reporters, recounting how he presented Glover’s story during Black history month at his Rexdale school.

“People thought I made that story up and it was interesting because they always asked me, ‘Where’s the proof? Where are these stories in our history books?’ And this came from my teacher who said this.

“I said, ‘My mom taught me about this story.’ People didn’t believe me there was Black history that happened in Rexdale or in Etobicoke.”

For years, VerCetty said he has dedicated work to uncovering and sharing important stories. He said he was drawn to Glover’s story because Glover eventually transitioned and found freedom and because community members worked together to try to help make lives better.

VerCetty said he interpreted Afrofuturism and designed the memorial based on imagining humans as cyborgs. The sculpted bust shows the top half of Glover’s body with a cyborg-like right arm with shackles and on Glover’s left side he can be seen wearing a suit and holding books close to his chest.

“Essentially you see him going from being this machine, this robot of society, to then gaining his humanity and as he gains his humanity we see him go through this transition,” VerCetty said.

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Read more: The history of Canadian slavery goes back 400 years, except we’re blind to it

When asked if there were plans to expand the bust sculpture into a full statue, he said he would like to see that ultimately happen. However, it appeared there were budgetary restrictions — something Mayor John Tory pledged to rectify, saying he would work to find more money to make that happen.

Meanwhile, Tory stressed the importance of public art as a means to share stories like Glover’s and especially for children.

“It not only beautifies the city and brings the city alive, but it also allows people to tell stories like this, stories that must be told,” he said.

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