Born at Dumfries, Scotland on 8 January 1818, eldest son of William Black and Margaret Halliday. He taught school for a short time in Cumberland, England, before emigrating with his parents in 1841 to Bovina Township, New York, where he taught school. He also continued his education in Delhi, New York, with the intention of entering the ministry.
In 1844 he was one of the students in the first class of the new Knox College, Toronto. He graduated in 1848 and spent the next three years as a missionary in various places in eastern Canada. He was ordained on 31 July 1851, after which he came to Red River to take up what was to become his life’s work. He opened a church building at Kildonan and soon established a school beside it. That same year he married Henrietta Ross (1830-1873), the daughter of Alexander Ross. They had seven children, including William Ross Black, Sarah Black (1856-1937, wife of Frederick Henhurst Francis), and Henrietta Ross Black (?-?, wife of Thomas Laidlaw). His second wife was Laurenda G. Bannatyne (?-?, sister of Andrew Graham Ballenden Bannatyne).
In 1868 he built a church in the village of Winnipeg and helped found Manitoba College in 1871. During the Red River Rebellion of 1869-1870 he preached for the preservation of law and order but against open resistance to Louis Riel and the provisional government. He resigned from the Board of Education of Manitoba in 1876 in opposition to the efforts of some of his Protestant colleagues to dissolve the province’s denominational school system. Black received an honorary doctorate from Queen’s College in 1876. He served on the Board of Education (Manitoba) from its inception until a few years before his death.
He died at Kildonan on 11 February 1882 and was buried in the Kildonan Presbyterian Cemetery. He is commemorated by John Black Avenue, John Black School, and John Black Memorial Church. There are papers in the United Church Archives at Toronto, and the Archives of Manitoba.
Historic Sites of Manitoba: Kildonan Presbyterian Church and Cemetery (201 John Black Avenue, Winnipeg)
Historic Sites of Manitoba: John Black Memorial Presbyterian Church / John Black Memorial United Church (898 Henderson Highway, Winnipeg)
Historic Sites of Manitoba: John Black School (McPhillips Street, Winnipeg)
John Black of Old Kildonan by Olive Knox
The Ryerson Press, Toronto, 1958.
“John Black,” by James D. Marnoch, pages 65-84 in Prairie Spirit: Perspectives on the Heritage of the United Church of Canada in the West, edited by Dennis Butcher et al. (1985).
John Black, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 2 June 2021
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