Islanders gather to celebrate 1st official Emancipation Day on P.E.I.

·2 min read
'We've been working really hard to build community for the last year, year and a half. I think this proves we are doing just that,' says Tamara Steele, executive director of the Black Cultural Society of P.E.I. (Tony Davis/CBC - image credit)
'We've been working really hard to build community for the last year, year and a half. I think this proves we are doing just that,' says Tamara Steele, executive director of the Black Cultural Society of P.E.I. (Tony Davis/CBC - image credit)

It was an exciting and emotional day for Black Islanders as P.E.I. recognized the province's first formal Emancipation Day.

More than 70 Islanders gathered at Rochford Square in downtown Charlottetown on Sunday afternoon to celebrate and remember the day when Britain's Parliament abolished slavery in the British empire in 1834.

"I'm a little overwhelmed," said Tamara Steele, executive director of the Black Cultural Society of P.E.I. "I am so happy, I am very proud. I'm very proud of our community."

The event featuring drumming, dancing and speeches from members of the Island's Black community was only put together in the past few days, Steele said.

"It just happened. It was magic, I think. We have some strong community members who I know when they call them they come through."

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King signed a proclamation Friday officially recognizing Emancipation Day on P.E.I. — a proclamation he read on stage Sunday afternoon.

"We've been working really hard to build community for the last year, year and a half. I think this proves we are doing just that," Steele said.

While Steele said there is more to work to do in terms of abolishing systemic racism, this day is a "monumental" one for P.E.I.

"Let's acknowledge the truth of our history and how we can be better moving forward," she said. "I think when we talk about racism that still exists, anti-Black racism that still exists that stems from the days of slavery.

"If we can acknowledge Emancipation Day we can acknowledge the truth of our history."

Tony Davis/CBC
Tony Davis/CBC

Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly is hoping Emancipation Day will become an official holiday in the province in future.

"We are at least going to table it in the fall. It's very important and I want to make sure we do it properly. Whether I can bring it to the floor in the fall or the spring, it will be coming forward."

McNeilly was excited to see so many Islanders out celebrating the day. "This is how it is done in Prince Edward Island," he said.

Tony Davis/CBC
Tony Davis/CBC

Chevy Edgecombe, from the Bahamas, drummed at the event.

Edgecombe moved to the Island four years ago. In the Bahamas, he said, Emancipation is celebrated every day and he's happy to be able to celebrate with the Black community on P.E.I.

"It just does my heart well," he said. "Let's just move forward as a global planet, not just as a particular race."

Edgecombe said it's been amazing to see the Black community become more and more active over the last four years he's lived in the province.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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