August 1st is Emancipation Day, the day on which Ontario recognizes the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Many runaway and freed Black slaves settled in Simcoe and Grey Counties in the 1800s. One of them was Abraham Courtney (ca. 1821-1897), an escaped slave from the United States who arrived in Owen Sound about 1860. He married Caroline Parker (ca. 1842-1891) and raised a family that included a son who moved to Simcoe County and served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) during the First World War.
A Portrait of a Black Soldier who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force: Private Jacob Courtney
2006-126 Portrait of Jacob Courtney, "A" Company, 157th Battalion, CEF. Public Domain
Jacob Courtney (1880-1957) was living in the village of Sunnidale by the spring of 1911. On February 15, 1916, he enlisted with the 157th Overseas Battalion, CEF, known locally as the “Simcoe Foresters Battalion."
Along with many other residents of west Simcoe County, Jacob Courtney was assigned to the 157th Battalion's “A" Company. A composite photograph of “A" Company and Bugle Band, dated May 1, 1916, contains 252 individual portraits. Courtney's portrait is located in the top row, 6th from the left, along with the other members of the Rear Rank of No. 4 Platoon.
2006-128 "A" Company and Bugle Band, 157th Simcoe Foresters O.S. Battalion, C.E.F., May First, Ninteteen Hundred and Sixteen. Public Domain.
The 157th Battalion was broken up in England and Courtney served with several other CEF units, including the 4th Battalion, and saw action in France. In April 1919, Jacob Courtney was discharged from service in the CEF “by reason of demobilization," sailed from Southampton, England to Halifax, Nova Scotia aboard the Olympic, and from there continued home to Sunnidale Township.
Notes on sources used:
Jacob Courtney's Service File, which contains official information about his military service (Regimental Number 642637), is available on Library and Archives Canada's website.
Information about Abraham Courtney and Caroline Parker was gleaned from census returns and available Ontario vital statistics records for themselves and for their children.
Canadian census returns are also available on Library and Archives Canada's website.
Ontario Vital Statistics records are available at the Archives of Ontario, as well as through paid subscriptions to Ancestry.
Additional information about Abraham Courtney was found in the transcription of an interview with Blaine Courtney, a great-grandson, conducted by Dr. Naomi Norquay.
“Believe It or Not, I Actually Enjoy It": An Interview with Blaine Courtney. https://greyroots.com/sites/default/files/naomi_norquay_blaine_courtney_interview_2015.pdf Accessed June 29, 2020
The 157th Battalion, CEF, was raised by the 35th Regiment, Simcoe Foresters, which was the local militia unit. Both are perpetuated by the Grey and Simcoe Foresters Infantry Regiment of the Canadian Forces Reserve. The Grey and Simcoe Foresters Regimental Museum is located at 36 Mulcaster St. in downtown Barrie.
The Simcoe County Archives' online exhibit, The Black Settlement in Oro Township.
The Simcoe County Archives' Emancipation Day 2017 blog post.