Season of Rage: Hugh Burnett and the Struggle for Civil Rights


71 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations
ISBN 0-88776-700-1
DDC 323.1196'0713






Reviewed by Nanette Morton

Nanette Morton teaches English at McMaster University in Hamilton.


In the 1950s, Dresden, Ontario, seemed to be a peaceful little
community. But in spite of its aura of calm, the town was as segregated
as any in the American South. Although the area was the destination of
African Americans fleeing slavery via the Underground Railroad, and it
was the home of Josiah Henson, the famous “Uncle Tom” of Uncle
Tom’s Cabin, worshippers who tried to attend any of the town’s
Protestant churches were politely but firmly directed to an
African-Canadian church, and African-Canadian swim- mers could not use
public change rooms.

When resident Hugh Burnett was refused service at local restaurant,
however, he decided that he’d had enough. The World War II veteran was
tired of being denied the democracy he fought so hard for abroad. With a
group of fellow African-Canadian residents, Burnett formed the National
Unity Association in order to address the problem of segregation. In
spite of public resentment and death threats, the NUA and a handful of
Toronto activists made repeated attempts to dine at local restaurants
and were consistently denied service, even though the Ontario government
had recently made such discrimination illegal. The discriminatory
restaurateurs were taken to court, and, after a long court battle,
anti-discrimination laws were effectively enforced. For Hugh Burnett,
the victory was bittersweet; now branded a troublemaker, his
once-profitable carpentry business suffered and he was forced to leave

Though Season of Rage is light on details about Burnett himself, it
effectively places the struggle in Dresden within historical context
through the use of timelines, which cover both the Abolitionist and
Civil Rights eras. Recommended.


Cooper, John., “Season of Rage: Hugh Burnett and the Struggle for Civil Rights,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 17, 2024,