N.L. marks 1st Emancipation Day with music, dancing at The Rooms

·2 min read
Barb Walsh, advisor for Black-centric programming with the Association for New Canadians, says her organization has wanted to hold an Emancipation Day event in Newfoundland and Labrador since the federal government announced last year that August would be designated Emancipation Month.  (Katie Breen/CBC - image credit)
Barb Walsh, advisor for Black-centric programming with the Association for New Canadians, says her organization has wanted to hold an Emancipation Day event in Newfoundland and Labrador since the federal government announced last year that August would be designated Emancipation Month. (Katie Breen/CBC - image credit)
Katie Breen/CBC
Katie Breen/CBC

Newfoundland and Labrador celebrated its first-ever Emancipation Day on Tuesday with a gathering at The Rooms provincial archives and museum in St. John's.

Barb Walsh, advisor for Black centric programming with the Association for New Canadians, said the group has wanted to bring the event to Newfoundland and Labrador since last year's announcement by the federal government that August would be designated Emancipation Month.

"We wanted to bring all of the Black excellence that currently exists in Newfoundland to the stage and to the people here to let them know there's a lot of Black talent here," Walsh said.

"Bringing this inaugural celebration today is an amazing milestone in history, especially here in the province."

On Aug. 1, 1834, Britain passed the Slavery Abolition Act, which outlawed the owning, buying, and selling of humans as property throughout the Commonwealth.

Tuesday's event in St. John's focused on the perseverance of Black communities in Canada and reflected on Canada's history of anti-Black racism. It also celebrated the achievements of Black Canadians, particularly those in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The event featured speakers and dancers, including Jay Heart, Tendai Mudunge, Baraka Abayo, Navel Sarr and the Black Heritage N.L. Choir. Mixed-media artist Bushra Junaid was Tuesday's keynote speaker.

Katie Breen/CBC
Katie Breen/CBC

Newfoundland has its own history with slavery, Walsh said, with 19 slave ships built in the province and evidence of slave owners who left behind property. She said she wants to see the annual celebration continue and branch out with celebrations across the province instead of happening only in St. John's.

"It's really important to celebrate Emancipation Day here to show the province that yes, we're rooted in Black history and we're moving to the future," she said.

"Our message today is strength and perseverance."

'We need that kind of togetherness'

By marking the day, Newfoundland and Labrador follows New Brunswick, which celebrated its first Emancipation Day on Monday, and Nova Scotia, which celebrated its second.

Katie Breen/CBC
Katie Breen/CBC

Singer-songwriter Baraka Abayo said the biggest takeway from Emancipation Day is "just opening the conversation."

"As long as we're a society that can talk to each other, we can address things with each other, we can share our cultures and share our experiences," he said.

"We need that kind of attention, we need that kind of togetherness in the community, and I think that's the biggest, best thing that can happen."

Singer Allia Vee said Emancipation Day is about moving forward and making a better future.

"I would like to see us not think about 'those' but to think about 'us' in general, to all feel like we're living in harmony," she said.

"The only way we'll learn is if you ask and if we're also willing to respond with love."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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