Canada may have been the end of the line for the Underground Railroad and a haven for slaves escaping from the United States, but African Americans suffered from racism here too.
That point was driven home during “Colour Blinded,” which was as much about the struggle of African Americans at the time as it was about murder. Mary Pedersen’s script—directed by one of last week’s guest stars, Leslie Hope—shed light on a not-so-wonderful truth about Toronto the Good through the eyes of Rebecca James. Rebecca is one of the lucky few treated with respect, but she’s certainly not the norm. Most African Americans worked as low-paid drivers, gardeners and labourers, and were viewed with distaste.
Chief Constable Jeffrey Davis was a summation of that, eager to make an arrest in the murder of a white man in an African American church and fingering a parishioner simply because he had a cut on his hand. His directive that every church member have their fingermarks taken because it’ll save time when they commit crimes in the future was awful to hear, but was likely commonplace at the time.
Yes, Crabtree was there to offer some levity regarding raccoons (“I don’t trust anything that has hands for feet!”), but for the most part “Colour Blinded” was an education, including featuring real-life Toronto alderman William Hubbard, who was the city’s first black councillor. Though Hubbard only appeared in a few minutes of Monday’s instalment, he left a large footprint in Toronto’s history. As outlined in Mark Maloney’s 2011 piece in the Toronto Star, Hubbard’s parents escaped to Canada from Virginia. Born in 1842 near Bloor and Bathurst streets, he became a baker, created a commercial oven and was working for his uncle’s livery service when fate stepped in.
Hubbard saved George Brown—newspaper editor and father of Confederation—from drowning in the Don River. Brown hired Hubbard as his driver and the two became friends. Eventually, Hubbard entered politics, eventually winning a council seat in Ward 4. By the time Murdoch Mysteries catches up with Hubbard in 1903, he’s on the verge of becoming Toronto’s first controller, pushing forward plans to improve waterworks, road upgrades and having the authority to enact local improvement bylaws.
Murdoch Mysteries is, at its core, a TV whodunnit. But by addressing actual events—and people—from history, it’s one heck of an entertaining and important lesson about Toronto, this country and the people living in it.
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.