New Brunswick prepares to celebrate inaugural Emancipation Day

·5 min read
The New Brunswick Black History Society's poster commemorating Canada's first official Emancipation Day on Aug. 1.  (Mia Urquhart/CBC - image credit)
The New Brunswick Black History Society's poster commemorating Canada's first official Emancipation Day on Aug. 1. (Mia Urquhart/CBC - image credit)

A number of Black-led organizations will gather in Fredericton on Sunday to commemorate Canada's first official Emancipation Day.

Husoni Raymond, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Fredericton, says "it's about time" the day was marked in Canada.

It's been commemorated for years in many countries around the world, including his native Jamaica, where it's an annual holiday.

In March, MPs in the House of Commons voted unanimously to designate Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day across Canada.

The date marks the anniversary of when Britain's Parliament abolished slavery in the British Empire in 1834. The Slavery Abolition Act freed about 800,000 enslaved people in most British colonies, including Canada.

Raymond believes the timing of the first official Emancipation Day in Canada was triggered by a number of events, including the Black Lives Matter movement across the world.

"I think now Canada is finally coming to terms with its legacy of exploitation of Black people," said Raymond.

Miriam Lafontaine
Miriam Lafontaine

"So this is the first step in actually making people aware that slavery existed here in Canada, in New Brunswick, and what Emancipation Day represents for people of African descent, particularly those who are descendants of formerly enslaved people."

Raymond said the day represents freedom and liberation for Black people.

For him, it also means "reflecting on the resiliency of my ancestors who endured the harsh practice of slavery and persevered and also their resiliency in resisting the institution of slavery, so we can be free here today."

Raymond said Emancipation Day is a time to reflect on how far Black people have come but also on the work that still needs to be done.

"I mean, it was only 75 years ago that Viola Desmond couldn't even sit in the white-only section of the movie theatre."

He said there's still discrimination in employment, housing, and within the criminal justice system.

"So we still have the legacy of slavery and colonialism that impacts the lived experiences of Black people living in Canada," said Raymond.

Black Lives Matter Fredericton is working with the New Brunswick Black Artists Alliance and the New Brunswick African Association to organize a series of events in Fredericton on Sunday.

Participants are asked to meet at noon at Fredericton City Hall. Following a number of speeches, the group will march to the New Brunswick Legislature at 12:50 p.m., where there will be a barbecue, photo booth and live music.

In a Facebook post about the event, the New Brunswick Black Artists Alliance said: "Inspired by the law abolishing slavery 187 years ago, many of our ancestors walked thousands of kilometers to reach New Brunswick (which was the most northern and last stop on the Underground Railroad). On August 1st, we will honor them by marching from City Hall 1 kilometer, going by the river, to the legislative building."

Kings Landing

Events will be held at several other locations in the province, including the Fredericton Regional Museum and Kings Landing.

Members of the New Brunswick Black History Society will be at Kings Landing on Sunday to help commemorate the event, said the group's program co-ordinator Ralph Thomas.

"It's a day to celebrate freedom from bondage," said Thomas.

Mia Urquhart/CBC
Mia Urquhart/CBC

He said it's particularly meaningful to do so in light of recent events in the Black community, including the death of George Floyd in the United States and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Deborah Coleman, a representative of the United Empire Loyalists Association, will be at Kings Landing on Sunday to talk about Black Loyalist history.

Joe Gee will also be at the historical settlement on Sunday to talk about the Tomlinson Lake Hike to Freedom, a group he started in 2013 to promote North America's northernmost route of the Underground Railroad ended between the St. John River at what is now Perth-Andover and the Canada-U.S. border.

The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses that helped Black families escape from the United States to Canada roughly during the period between the British emancipation and the U.S. emancipation in 1863.

On Sunday, Gee will be talking about the "ripple effect" of emancipation.

Submitted by Joe Gee
Submitted by Joe Gee

"Having a day like Emancipation Day will give Canadians an opportunity to have conversations that are long, long overdue," he said.

Gee said it will also give Canadians a chance to learn "about the rich Black history and culture" that has existed for hundreds of years throughout Canada.

'Our Black History' exhibit

To commemorate Emancipation Day, the Fredericton Region Museum will open an exhibit it's been working on for two years, said Cynthia Wallace-Casey, the project co-ordinator for the exhibit.

Our Black History — Early Black Settlers of York-Sunbury Counties 1783-Present will open on Sunday, although the official ceremonies will be held at 3 p.m. on Monday — and by invitation only.

Wallace-Casey said visitors can register for a personalized tour of the new exhibit by emailing frmoperations@gmail.com.

She said the new exhibit is "very profound" and focuses on the history of Black people who settled in the Fredericton area, including the never-before-told story of Nathaniel Ladd, which was uncovered during research for the exhibit.

Wallace-Casey said Ladd was one of several Black Loyalists who petitioned in vain for the land grants they had been promised when they came to New Brunswick.

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