MPs set to vote on movement to acknowledge Emancipation Day throughout Canada

It was known as “the greatest freedom show on earth.”

From the Despair period till 1967, annual Emancipation Day celebrations on Aug. 1 drew huge acts, such because the Supremes, Duke Ellington and Stevie Marvel, throughout the U.S.-Canada border to Windsor, Ont..

The pageant was common sufficient to quickly double town’s inhabitants and draw politicians and civil rights activists from throughout to listen to folks speak concerning the wrestle for equality.

Now, campaigners are hoping to make Emancipation Day a nationwide celebration. MPs are set to vote on a movement calling on the federal authorities to acknowledge the day that slavery was formally abolished throughout the British Empire.

Movement supported by MPs from all events

On Monday, MPs debated a movement calling on the federal government to acknowledge the day the Emancipation Act got here into pressure in 1834. It is set for a last vote on Wednesday. If it passes, it can nonetheless be as much as the federal government to resolve whether or not it can take any steps to formally acknowledge the day.

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In December 2020, Liberal MP Majid Jowhari launched a movement calling on the federal authorities to formally acknowledge Emancipation day in Canada. (CBC)

The movement was launched by the Liberal MP for Richmond Hill, Majid Jowhari.

The movement additionally calls on the federal authorities to acknowledge that slavery existed in British North America previous to its abolition in 1834, and the contributions folks of African descent have made and proceed to make in Canada.

Jowhari mentioned the movement’s intention is reconciliation.

“It’s about being an informed and inclusive society that is willing to listen to the experience of various ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, and acknowledging the wrongs done in the past,” Jowhari advised CBC Radio’s The Home

It additionally represents years of effort by different MPs and senators — together with Sen. Wanda Thomas Bernard, who made an identical push within the Senate in 2018.

Jowhari’s movement was seconded by Alex Ruff, a Conservative MP who represents Owen Sound, the place Emancipation Day has been celebrated persistently since earlier than Confederation.

“The root advantage of bringing this motion forward is to make sure we never forget, and at the same time that we educate,” Ruff mentioned.

Matthew Inexperienced, NDP MP for Hamilton Centre, additionally supported the movement, telling MPs his ancestors’ lengthy historical past right here and contributions to Canada are sometimes missed.

“My people go back six generations. I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams,” Inexperienced mentioned.

“[But] like many Black and racialized Canadians, I am often asked the question, ‘Where are you from?'”

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stands with different civil rights leaders and Windsor’s Emancipation Day founder Walter Perry (far proper) throughout the metropolis’s 1956 celebration. King was one among a number of civil rights leaders who visited Canada to mark Emancipation Day. (Courtesy Silver Wave Movie Competition)

‘It is about time’

Preston Chase, who was born and raised in Windsor, mentioned “Emancipation” — as locals known as the annual pageant — drew folks of all backgrounds collectively.

The Ottawa trainer launched a documentary in 2020 concerning the driving pressure behind the present till his demise in 1967 — his personal great-uncle, Walter Perry.  

The occasion boosted the civil rights motion in North America and featured speeches by luminaries from the civil rights motion and past: Martin Luther King Jr., Olympian Jesse Owens, boxing legend Jack Johnson, Eleanor Roosevelt and, in 1958, former U.S. president Harry Truman.

“For Black America, it was a break from Jim Crow and a stage for a lot of those civil rights leaders to openly speak,” Chase mentioned, referring to the system of state legal guidelines that continued to implement segregation and condone mob violence in opposition to Black folks throughout the Civil Rights period.

“They weren’t worried about being lynched once they actually came to Windsor.”

Chase mentioned he thinks his late great-uncle can be elated to see the movement go.

“But he’d probably say, ‘It’s about time.'”


Preston Chase says his great-uncle, who based the most important Emancipation Day celebrations in North America, can be “ecstatic” if the motion calling on the government to officially recognize Emancipation Day in Canada is passed. (Submitted by Preston Chase)

Rosemary Sadlier has been a driving force behind the campaign to get Canada to officially recognize Emancipation Day. She said that while Canada was a beacon for people escaping slavery in the U.S., and for civil rights leaders decades later, our own history is marred by racism.

“Freedom did not at all times equate into fairness,” she said. “It did not permit for folks of African origin to have clear title to their land. It did not permit for folks of African origin to have entry to varsities or skilled associations and even cultural icons, cultural entities locally.”

‘Improving the quality of life’

Irene Moore Davis is the president of the Essex County Black Historical Research Society. Her family keeps the largest archive of records and memorabilia from Windsor’s Emancipation Day events. 

She said her ancestors — who, like Sadlier’s, came to southwestern Ontario on the Underground Railroad — have celebrated Emancipation Day for generations.

Historian Irene Moore-Davis says official recognition of Emancipation Day would encourage educators to teach students about the contributions made by African-Canadians. (Submitted/Ben Froese)

Moore Davis said the day was marked with picnics and parades, speeches and debates — part celebration, part education.

“There have been issues that had been geared toward enhancing the standard of life for folks of African descent,” she said.

“They had been additionally form of utilizing that day as a possibility to maintain agitating for additional rights and for additional freedoms, and to take care of the persevering with issues round racism, segregation and discrimination.”

If the motion passes, Moore Davis said, it would “put the load of Canadian heritage behind marking the event” — which could inspire educators, municipalities and community organizations to do something to honour the legacy of African-Canadians.

Sadlier said she has high hopes for the vote. 

“I have been engaged on this since 1995. To see it taking place now’s extremely satisfying,” she said. 

Historian Rosemary Sadlier has been calling on Canada to officially recognize Emancipation Day since 1995. (Submitted by Rosemary Sadlier/Lawrence Kerr Photography)

Sadlier’s lobbying has resulted in Emancipation Day being officially recognized by the cities of Toronto and Ottawa and by the province of Ontario. She notes that many other nations already mark Emancipation Day. 

“If we actually want to see ourselves as welcoming and as a rustic of variety and as a rustic of freedom, this can be a crucial date that ties us into the worldwide expertise,” she mentioned.