Londoners from all backgrounds took time to reflect on the significance of Emancipation Day and the region’s rich Black history at an event commemorating the end of slavery.
Sunday’s event at the Fanshawe Pioneer Village brought speakers together, performances, and a parade around the village grounds. It was also the public opening of the Fugitive Slave Chapel, a building that was a stop on the Underground Railroad and underwent relocation and significant restoration.
“It’s an opportunity for all of us to be able to look back, understand the history, celebrate the fact that emancipation happened,” said Christina Lord, a member of the London Black History coordinating committee, and a Pioneer Village board member.
She says events like these are even more important because people forget, while others aren’t even aware that Canada had a role to play in the enslavement of African peoples.
August 1,1834 marks the day the Slavery Abolition Act ended slavery throughout the British Empire. It’s been marked by Black communities since then, but wasn’t officially recognized by the province until 2008. The federal government recognized it three year ago.
Sandie Thomas and her granddaughter Isadora Fortune stand in front of the Fugitive Slave Chapel, an historic building with significance as a stop on the underground railroad. (Alessio Donnini/CBC News)
Sandie Thomas and her granddaughter Isadora Fortune made their way to the festivities to learn about history, and experience the celebration.
“I think we’re learning a lot and and having a good time,” said Thomas, who said cross-cultural engagement and education is extremely important.
“It’s time for us to put everything else — all the other barriers — away, because we are one and we are human and that’s what we have to focus on,” she said.
Breaking barriers and encouraging education and dialogue is the best way forward, Thomas added.
Left to right, Ange, Olivier, and Gabriella Kikwaki. Gabriella, 14, is a successful bilingual author who was invited to the Pioneer Village to display her work during the Emancipation Day celebration. (Alessio Donnini/CBC News)
For Gabriella Kikwaki and her family, the celebration was a chance to display what members of London’s Black community have accomplished. The 14-year-old is an author who is releasing a new book, with already a handful of others to her name.
“It’s good to know what happened in the past so it doesn’t happen again in the future,” said Gabriella.
Gabriela’s father said he believes in the importance of showing his children the differences from his home in Africa, to his new home in Canada.
“It’s very important that my children understand the trajectory from being Black in Africa to Black in North America. I want to give them a sense of what that history is,” Olivier Kikwaki said. “It’s important and critical.”
Chi Carmody came to the Fanshawe Pioneer Village Sunday with his two-year-old daughter not realizing the Emancipation Day celebrations were taking place. He called it a pleasant surprise.
Chi Carmody and his two-year-old daughter are regulars at the Fanshawe Pioneer Village, having passes for the area. Carmody says the celebrations were a welcome surprise. (Alessio Donnini/CBC News)
“I think that we have to constantly update what it is that we think about in terms of history. This celebration, I think, gives a new focus,” Carmody said.
“The narrative that I grew up with was limited to essentially two founding peoples, the English and the French,” Carmody said. “Today, I think we’re more cognizant of a lot of other people who contributed to that.”
Sunday marked the third annual Emancipation Day celebration at the Fanshawe Pioneer Village. Lord says there will be plenty more to come.
“Hopefully, we’ll just build as the years go by, so check back with us in a few years and we’ll see how big we’ve gotten then.”