Black History Month: The Legacy of Robert Sutherland

Alexandra Manthorpe
Posted February 12, 2021 Category: News & Updates

Did you know that one of the most important early African-Canadian lawyers had a strong connection with Kingston?

Robert Sutherland was born in Jamaica in the 1830s (early records, including of his date of birth and parentage, are unclear).  He enrolled at Queen’s University in Kingston a mere eight years after it was founded and became not only the first known student and graduate of colour at Queen’s, but in all of British North America.  His time as Queen’s was very successful and he won multiple awards and participated in several clubs.

He later studied law through apprenticeship and examination (as was common at the time), and was called to the Ontario Bar as a lawyer in 1855, becoming British North America’s (now Canada’s) first known Black lawyer.  He practiced law in Berlin (now Waterloo) and Walkerton, Ontario, where he developed connections with the famous “Underground Railroad.”  He also served as Walkerton’s reeve (elected chief executive).  Tragically he died in his 40s of pneumonia. 

As he had no wife and children, under his Will Robert left his entire estate to Queen’s.  At that time of his death Queen’s was struggling financially and his gift – the largest then given to the university – helped prevent it being annexed as part of the University of Toronto.  Wouldn’t Kingston be a different place today without his generous donation?  Robert Sutherland Hall on the Queen’s campus is named after this remarkable man.

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Alexandra Manthorpe
Posted February 12, 2021 Category: News & Updates

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