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Windsor rich in Black cultural heritage

28 February 2011 No Comments

The Tower of Freedom monument in Windsor (only partially shown) depicts formerly enslaved African Americans rejoicing and celebrating their new found freedom in Canada.

By Takara Small

Today is the last day of February also known as Black History Month. For the last 27 days radio stations, TV programs and newspapers have bombarded us with information about the great things African-Canadians have contributed to our country for centuries.

You’ve heard about Harry Jerome, Elijah McCoy and Portia White — or at least you should have — for days on end, but what does Black History Month really mean? Should the month be judged simply by the number of black history references found in popular media or is it bigger than that?

The City of Windsor and the local tourism office want to help a lucky few find out by offering a tour of the very same streets Black Canadians once walked decades ago.

As one of the southernmost areas in Canada, Windsor was a well used entry point for Black refugees escaping oppression in the United States and, the memories and hardships seeped in every piece of stone, wooden house and monument you come across.

The opportunities afforded today’s African-Canadians can at times cloud over past hardships. The 48-hour adventure tour, by a select group of 20 to 30 Torontonians, inspired and reawakened the passion and respect for those who had come before them.

The lives of early Black residents is an important fact that Rosemary Sadlier finds hard to forget. As the president of the Ontario Black History Society, she is well acquainted with Black history and sees tours like this as important for all Canadians not just Black citizens. “This goes beyond race,” she says. “This is our history.”

When asked whether or not Black History Month, and to some extent tours like this, is still necessary, she sighs and settles deeper into her seat. “I’ve been asked this a fair bit,” she says, “especially a few years back. I think we’re not quite there yet; we still have places left to go so this is still very important.”

The group, which I am lucky to be a part of, ventured out to Windsor to learn more about Canadian Black history and along the way learned more about our country’s complicated past than we had ever hoped for.

Instead of the standard walk around with local guides, visitors were treated to an extensive tour that zigged and zagged across the city. There was no awkward silence; just the sound of our tour guides’ voices, the occasional song and the ever-present sound of camera’s clicking away.

Retracing the steps of slaves and seeing for ourselves what they endured at sites such as the Underground Railroad Museum was inspiring. Gwyneth Chapman, a host for Inspiring Youth Television, felt the same way and called the tour “a great opportunity for all Canadians.” Says Chapman: “After going [on the tour], I’m ready to explode in a positive way. It would be great even if you’re not African-Canadian.”

Although the tour itself went by quickly, it provided the group with an insight into Canada’s rich cultural past, identifying the pivotal role Canadians played in abolishing slavery here and in the U.S. One month isn’t enough to define black Black Canadian history, but it is enough to get people thinking about our diverse history, even if it’s only a few at a time.

For more information about the Underground Railroad Tour visit the Windsor Essex website.

Myth or Reality?

While on the train, passengers were treated to a little quiz to test their knowledge of Black history. Take the test and find out how much you know!

1. Africville was a town established by Black refugees in British Columbia.

2. John Newton, the author of the hymm Amazing Grace was a slave trader.

3. Abolitionists were people who believed in the institution of slavery.

4. Viola Desmond was a black anti-racism activist who resided in Nova Scotia.


1. b) NO: Black Refugees of the War of 1812 in Nova Scotia established Africville. These veterans had accepted an offer of freedom issued by Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane for their support of British interests during this conflict.

2. b) YES: John Newtown was an English ex-slave trader who in later years became a supporter of abolishing slavery and a clergyman. He wrote popular hymns such as “Amazing Grace” and “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds.”

3.  NO: Abolitionists wanted to end slavery and were a part of the movement to end Black slavery. Some famous Black abolitionists include Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass and David Walker.

4 b) YES: The NSAACP supported Viola Desmond, a Black woman from Halifax, in her case against a New Glasgow theatre where she was arrested for sitting in the “White-only” section, even though she was willing to buy the more expensive ticket.

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