At the tiny, historic chapel in Queenston, the Niagara Parks Commission hosted its first Black history symposium Saturday, with three community historians telling riveting, stories of themselves and their families.
Parks commission heritage manager Jim Hill says the event sold out very quickly, and it was the personal stories as told by the speakers that made the afternoon such a success.
“These were dramatic experiences, brought to life for us by people who were personally connected to them, and also connected to important historic sites where they are accustomed to talking about generations of history to visitors every day,” says Hill.
The speakers at the Queenston Chapel, which has been renovated to make year-round events more comfortable, included historian Rochelle Bush, who spoke of Harriet Tubman, and her last stop in St. Catharines. Bush, a descendant of a freedom-seeker, is the trustee of the Salem Chapel in St. Catharines, and operates Tubman Tours Canada. Her great-great-grandfather was the minister at the church on Geneva Street when Tubman was a member.
Author Saladin Allah gives talks at the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and spoke of the history of the Underground Railroad in Niagara. He is a descendant of freedom-seeker Josiah Henson.
Ayo Adewumi came from Nigeria in 2004, and spoke of living in Canada and the Afro-Canadian experience.
‘The depth of their knowledge is incredible, and very detailed,” says Hill. “Yet Saladin can condense 500 years of history into two minutes.”
The parks commission has recognized Black history and incorporated it into events and plaques, but is beginning to do more, and trying to ensure they are telling the correct stories, says Hill.
“We’ve been getting lots of questions about Black history,” he says. “More and more people are asking questions, and have more of an interest as time goes by. The older generation is realizing there was a lot they weren’t taught in school, and the young people have far more resources and are learning more, but also want to know more. We were just providing the venue to let these stories be told, these incredible stories of bravery and sacrifice.”
And not just during Black History Month, he added — watch for more such events hosted all year long on parks properties, says Hill.