It was a joyous occasion as dignitaries and guests gathered in the distance to raise the Pan-African flag.
The ceremony, held at the Museum of Dufferin on Monday, Feb. 2, kicked off Black History Month, commemorating Black Canadians' historic contributions to the country.
“Black history is Canadian history, and we all play a part in this celebration,” said Steve Anderson, deputy mayor of Shelburne.
“It’s only fitting because the museum is here to honour, preserve and recognize the history, and that’s exactly what we’re here to do,” said Anderson.
Those in attendance were Warden Darren White; Alethia O’Hara-Stephenson, chair of the Dufferin County Canadian Black Association (DCCBA); and Sarah Robinson, curator of the Museum of Dufferin.
“It’s important, symbolically, to show people who are already live here, and those considering (it), that we recognize, we see you and we celebrate you,” said Anderson. “This is a step in that direction to show how welcoming and inclusive we are as a community.”
O’Hara-Stephenson points out the solidarity of hundreds of demonstrators marching peacefully in Orangeville and Shelburne in opposition to anti-Black racism as an example that ending discrimination is more necessary than ever.
The DCCBA has many scholarships, such as the $1,000 Black excellence award presented to one Black man and one Black woman in Dufferin County who are enrolled in a post-secondary program.
Shelburne has made progressive steps toward combating racism and xenophobia, creating a task force to implement identified community changes.
“That task force, after spending a few months engaging the community, presented to council many recommendations to end racism and discrimination,” said Anderson. “Council has adopted those recommendations.
“The committee would provide insight and advice and make recommendations to council relating to emerging equity or diversity issues or trends arising in the town; initiatives to combat racism, acts of prejudice or hate in the town; and identify systemic barriers faced in accessing Shelburne services, among many other things.
“We named — in a new development that is coming up — a parklet after William and Mary Ghant, a Black couple, who were prominent in Dufferin County,” said Anderson.
According to Banner archives, William and Mary — believed to be emancipated slaves — moved to Melancthon township with their two sons sometime around 1849.
The family-owned more than 300 acres of farmland, producing an abundance of crops, including oats, peas and barley. During the maple syrup season, the Ghants tapped an average of 250 trees.
Street signs of local Indigenous groups were established, while a portion of the community garden was named after the No. 2 War Battalion, the first Black war battalion in Canada.
According to the Canadian encyclopedia, Canadians flocked to recruiting stations following the outbreak of the First World War.
From Nova Scotia to British Columbia, hundreds of Black volunteers, eager and willing to serve, were turned away from enlisting in what they were told was a “White man’s war.” The No. 2 Construction Battalion was created after several appeals and protests to top military officials.
Anderson said community leaders in other jurisdictions have already reached out to their council to learn more about their inclusive activities.
“You would think, a lot of these municipalities would have already had something established, and here they are, inviting us, small-town Shelburne, to these larger tables because they want to see the blueprint we put in place,” said Anderson.
“It’s a moment of pride that a town up north is leading the charge in the way when it comes to diversity, inclusion and equity for all people.”
Joshua Santos, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Orangeville Banner