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Susannah Maxwell: A Life Well Lived

This past February, Richmond Hill Public Library’s Local History and Genealogy Librarian Peter Wilson shared the story of Susannah Maxwell, one of Richmond Hill’s prominent historical figures with the Richmond Hill Liberal.

Susannah Maxwell, circa 1880s (courtesy of the Richmond Hill Public Library)

At the time of her death in February of 1923, she had reached the astounding age of 117 and only a month short of her next birthday. She was likely the oldest person in Canada at the time of her death, made even more remarkable by the life she led. Born to free black parents in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, she barely escaped being captured and sold into slavery after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. She and her family escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad, eventually settling in the Brick Tenement on Yonge Street across from St. Mary’s Anglican Church.


Lot 3 on Yonge Street (courtesy Richmond Hill Public Library)

While Susannah could earn what was known as a York Shilling, or about 12.5 cents per day in Richmond Hill, she could make as much as 50 cents per day 7 miles away in Markham. To support her family she would make the trek until she collapsed on her way home in a blizzard. She likely would have died if she had not been found by a dog who alerted others to her location. She eventually ran a laundry business out of her home with two of her daughters, Mary and Matilda, or Tillie as she was known. Mary died in 1899 and the Village Council agreed to pay for her funeral and grave in the Presbyterian Cemetery. Tillie died in 1920.

Susannah was an early orphan, and early widow and a mother who outlived all of her children.

Read the full story in the Richmond Hill Liberal. The story was also picked up by CityNEWS and was broadcast on February 28, 2019 and is viewable through their website.

The Richmond Hill Public Library has a number of items related to the story of Susannah Maxwell in the Mary-Lou Griffin Local History Room.

Honouring Bert Hunt

Tuesday August 28th, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.

Bert Hunt Bench Dedication
Mill Pond Park – North of Mill Street on the walkway halfway towards the north end of the pond.

On behalf of the RHHS Executive Committee, we are pleased to extend an invitation to members who would like to attend the dedication of a park bench in Bert Hunt’s honour at Mill Pond, Tuesday August 28th, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.

Mayor Barrow will be on hand to dedicate the bench to Bert Hunt who was a great advocate of history and heritage in Richmond Hill. In his later years he was most adamant that Richmond Hill should have a larger museum and set into motion a flurry of meetings and feasibility studies to see if this was a possibility – to be included in the future Richmond Hill’s cultural plans.

In 2017, the Richmond Hill Historical Society gave the first Certificate of Recognition-The Bert Hunt Heritage Award and will continue to do so every year going forward to a deserving recipient. We are proud to be able to honour Bert Hunt in this way and are sure Bert would be very glad to have his name on a bench at Mill Pond where people can relax and ponder about the past and the future of his beloved town of Richmond Hill.