William Peyton Hubbard (1842 - 1935) a City of Toronto alderman from 1894 to 1914, was a popular and influential politician, nicknamed 'Cicero' for his oratory; he was the first politician of African descent elected to office in Canada, introduced in Season 9 of Murdoch Mysteries, portrayed Rothaford Gray.
Born in 1842 in the rural area near Bloor and Bathurst Streets, known as “the bush,” William Peyton Hubbard was raised a devout Anglican. By the 1870s, he had married Julia Luckett, a high school sweetheart, and was working with his uncle's livery-cab chauffeur service.
It was a chance encounter with a famous mentor that inspired Hubbard's entry into public life. On a cold winter morning in the early 1870s, Hubbard drove his horse-drawn cab down Don Mills Rd. and came upon an accident. In the distance was a man perilously close to the river's edge, in danger of plunging into the cold Don River.
Hubbard jumped out and saved him from drowning. It was George Brown, the noted Toronto abolitionist, newspaper editor and father of confederation. As a measure of gratitude, Brown hired Hubbard as his driver. Over time, they became good friends. Years later, the fatherly Brown would urge his young friend to consider politics. He was well known for his strong political opinions, his sharp wit, and his convincing oratory and for his strong sense of public duty. His eloquence was such that his fellow politicians dubbed him “Old Cicero.”
At a time when blacks were being refused entry into many restaurants and hotels in Toronto, a man whose parents had once been slaves in Virginia - and escaped via the Underground Railroad - would often stand in as Toronto's mayor. In 1860, Toronto's first homeless shelter opened next to the future site of Hubbard Park (2014). Called The House of Refuge. The park named after him symbolically borders Chinatown east where in the late 19th century Chinese residents' only viable means of making a living was running restaurants or hand laundries. When white affluent shop owners wanted to drive the Chinese launderers out of business by demanding the city charge them high licensing fees, Hubbard vehemently opposed them. In the late 1800s, Hubbard as acting mayor was appealing to council for better treatment of the city's Jewish community asking for "steps to be taken to prohibit attacks being made on the Jewish religion".
Of his own race Hubbard wrote: "I have always felt that I am the representative of a race hitherto despised but if given a fair opportunity would be able to command esteem." Back then, however, Blacks had little in the way of fair opportunity in Toronto. They could be porters, factory workers, laborers but mostly their numbers were too small to make any political difference.
For years William Peyton Hubbard sat on the Board of the House of Industry on Elm Street, railing against those who claimed the city's unemployed were shiftless good-for-nothings. By the time Hubbard took office in the late 1890s his first-hand experience had given him a lifelong empathy for the plight of the needy. He would never be moneyed enough to consider replacing public policy with personal patronage. His mission was always hard work and dedication as when he petitioned the province for Toronto's legal right to acquire land to be used for city parks. When the then privately-owned High Park was donated to the city, he fought councilors who voted against accepting the gift. He kept up the battle for the thoughtful acquisition of parkland, commenting: "Many years ago the city of Toronto was so desirous to obtain railways that we gave away, almost for a song, the whole of our beautiful waterfront to the railways."
William Peyton Hubbard trained as a baker and worked for 16 years at his trade, specializing in cakes. It is said that every January (even as he entered his tenth decade) he baked his own birthday cake. He invented a bakers' oven, which he patented and called the Hubbard Oven.
In 1935, William Peyton Hubbard was on record as Toronto's oldest native born inhabitant. He was 93 and he died that same year.
Appearances and Mentions
- Having been on the Board of Control, Alderman Peyton Hubbard has long suspected two men on the board of graft, "but their support runs deep into City Council"; his statement foretells the corruption continues into Hell to Pay and Season 11.
- Rothaford Gray, who plays William Peyton Hubbard, is noted for his reoccurring character Nahum in Slings and Arrows (2003-2006) by both Canadian and American TV fans.