The history of Mississauga's "Dr. Ben"

Modern Mississauga and Heritage Mississauga have come together to present an ongoing series called “Way Back Wednesday’s."
We’ll share information about the history of Mississauga here and answer your questions.

Today’s topic is the history of Mississauga's Dr. Ben.

In honour of Black History Month in February, we will explore some of our place name connections – both current and former - to early black settlement in historic Mississauga.

Former First Methodist Church, Port Credit, c1900.jpg

Former First Methodist Church, Port Credit, c1900.jpg

Every community has its stories of colourful or beloved “characters” who, in one way or another, connected with the residents of the place. One such story is that of “Dr. Ben” in Port Credit. “Dr. Ben” was described as a “white-headed old negro who lived in a cottage with his white-headed wife” in Port Credit. “Dr. Ben” said that he had been born in Africa, where he was captured and sold into slavery, was sent to Virginia, and escaped to Canada in the late 1840s. Very little is known for certain, although there are some clues.

There is reference to short stub of Park Street West, as it runs west of Wesley Avenue in Port Credit today, as locally being called “Ben’s Lane”. We do not know who the “Ben” was in reference to, but given its proximity to Wesley Avenue (originally known as “Old Sam’s Lane” in reference to Samuel Carter, another former slave), the reference to “Ben’s Lane” is intriguing.

Davis Garage, Port Credit, 1905.jpg

Davis Garage, Port Credit, 1905.jpg

It is likely that “Dr. Ben” was Benjamin Workman (c1810-1885), who appeared on the area census from 1851 until 1881. Benjamin Workman was listed as negro, born in the United States, a farm labourer by profession, and Methodist in religion. Benjamin and his wife, Hannah, were married in Virginia c1828. However we have no specific information on their escape from slavery and arrival in Canada, other than census records that show they were residents of Port Credit.

The Workmans are listed as living in a small log cabin, and that they worked on farms for the Madigan, Thomas and Greeniaus families nearby. It is not known if Benjamin and Hannah has any children, although there are no children listed in the census.

There are no known images of Benjamin and Hannah Workman or of their log cabin.

Lakeshore Road, Port Credit, c1900.jpg

Lakeshore Road, Port Credit, c1900.jpg