AfriGeneas Canada Research Forum
Dr Daniel Hill, Sr. passes on
Jun. 27, 2003. 12:52 PM
AL DUNLOP/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO
Dan Hill, 79: Ombudsman a voice for all Ontarians
NICOLAAS VAN RIJN
He was known as the founding father of human rights in Ontario, but Dan Hill's Order of Canada citation summed up his life and career much more elegantly.
"His career represents a lifelong quest for fairness," reads the citation, presented personally to Mr. Hill by Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson during a visit to his Don Mills home in February, 2000, when he was made an officer in the prestigious honour.
Mr. Hill, the first director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and Ontario's Ombudsman from 1984-89, died yesterday at St. Michael's Hospital of complications from diabetes. He was 79.
"He was proud of the things he'd done," his son Larry, a writer and novelist, said yesterday. "He was lucky, he lived a good life. He was a man who succeeded in following his passion and his work. And as his children we got to see a man who was really excited about the things he did."
The great-grandson of American slaves, Mr. Hill was born in Independence, Mo. He grew up heartily sick of America's racist past and the segregated ways of his early years, but nevertheless donned his country's uniform during World War II, serving as a non-commissioned army soldier stationed in the United States.
"He often recalled, with bitterness, that black men were deemed good enough to die for their country, but not to live on an equal footing with other Americans," his son said. "As a result of his anger over the wartime experience ?some of which involved being stationed on a military base in Texas ?he used to say, `If I had a house in Texas and a home in hell, I'd sell my house and go home.'"
And, when he moved to Canada with his wife Donna, it didn't get much better.
"As an interracial couple," his son recalled, "they could not find an apartment to rent in Toronto in 1953, and he was obliged to step aside while his wife hunted for an apartment with a white friend who pretended to be her husband."
Instead of becoming embittered by such experiences, Mr. Hill resolved to change things.
"He was a man who was committed, in every molecule of his body, to human dignity and quality among all human beings, and who was prepared to fight for it until his last breath," his son said.
A sociologist by education and an activist by nature, Mr. Hill first made his mark here as a historian, publishing his groundbreaking thesis Negroes in Toronto in 1960. Years later, in 1981, he published his seminal The Freedom Seekers: Blacks in Early Canada. The book, the first history of blacks in Canada written for the popular market, sold through many editions and remained in print until the recent bankruptcy of his publisher, Stoddart.
Before serving as Ontario's Ombudsman, Mr. Hill worked as the Ontario Human Rights Commission's first director, in the 1960s, and served as its first paid chairman from 1971 to 1973. And, when he took over as Ombudsman in 1984, Mr. Hill was determined that no one else should experience the racism and isolation of his own youth.
He hired Cree and Ojibwa-speaking workers to visit remote reserves, and insisted the nature of the ombudsman's office itself must change.
"This office must reflect the new population characteristics of this province ?Asians, blacks, women; they must be the people we see in this office, as we see them in the new Ontario," Mr. Hill said at the time of his appointment.
"When people come into this office and see the new Ontario, the rich diversity, I want them to say Dan Hill did it. That's my orientation to this job."
Mr. Hill leaves his wife Donna, sons Larry and Dan, a singer-songwriter, daughter Karen, a poet, sisters Jeanne Flateau and Doris Cochran, and five grandchildren.
A private family funeral has been planned. A public memorial service to celebrate Mr. Hill's life and achievements will be held